ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) – Authorities wasted no time when a 23-year-old woman walked into the district attorney’s office last week to report that she’d endured years of sexual abuse inside the police and fire departments of a northeastern Pennsylvania town.
Within days of the report, state police had arrested the police chief, a captain and a former volunteer firefighter in Old Forge, a Scranton-area borough with about 8,300 residents. The FBI has joined the investigation, and Lackawanna County prosecutors say there may be still more arrests as authorities work to confirm details of the accuser’s story.
“We felt we had to move quickly. When you’re talking about police officers, they’re in a position of trust within the community. It really wasn’t something we could afford to wait on,” Deputy District Attorney Jennifer McCambridge said Thursday, one day after the arrest of Chief Larry Semenza on charges that include aggravated indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor.
Also facing charges are Capt. Jamie Krenitsky, 34, and a former volunteer firefighter, Walt Chiavacci, 46, both of whom were arrested last week.
McCambridge declined to say whether any additional accusers have come forward, but confirmed the investigation is ongoing.
“It’s certainly possible there could be other charges or other arrests,” she said.
The woman approached prosecutors on May 2 and told them she’d had sexual contact with members of the police and fire departments starting in 2004, when she was 14 years old.
An arrest affidavit says that Semenza, then a police sergeant and fire captain, met the teen when she became a junior firefighter. Semenza trained her and became a mentor, and soon was taking her out for coffee and buying her expensive fire equipment, including a helmet that cost hundreds of dollars.
Within months, the relationship turned sexual, documents say, with multiple encounters in the firehouse kitchen, living area and shower beginning when the girl was 15. Semenza plied her with jewelry, including a Claddagh ring and a Maltese Cross charm and gold necklace, according to police.
It’s not clear how the alleged relationship broke off.
Semenza did not respond to questions from media as he was led out of court Wednesday. A message left at his home wasn’t returned Thursday and his attorney, David Solfanelli, also didn’t return a phone call.
Krenitsky’s attorney, Jason Mattioli, said his client intends to plead not guilty. He said he wasn’t prepared to address the specific accusations against Krenitsky but would do so at a June 27 preliminary hearing.
“Do not always believe what you read in the early stages of an investigation,” Mattioli said.
No one from the public defender’s office was available to speak about Chiavacci.
While none of the suspects are accused of using force, Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said child predators often employ more subtle forms of coercion. And there’s an inherent imbalance of power between a police officer and any civilian, much less a minor, she noted.
“I’m just not sure how any teenage child would feel like they have a right or a place to not comply with a police officer,” she said. Such cases “become even more egregious and outrageous because what path is left to those victims? Can I report it, will people believe me, what kind of danger will I put myself in if I tell his colleagues he’s been doing this?”
McCambridge, the prosecutor, also said the suspects’ jobs played a role in the alleged abuse.
“Your moral compass isn’t developed at 14 and we can’t expect them to look at things through the same prism of wisdom and experience that we as adults do,” she said.
“That’s where their positions of authority would have had such a huge impact on what happened.”
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