Vermont police charge ex-NY detective with obstruction in 1987 child rape case



BENNINGTON, Vt. (NEWS10/AP) — A former New York police detective awaiting trial on charges that he raped a child in the ’80s now stands accused of misrepresenting his health to avoid that trial. Vermont State Police based in Rutland County say they lodged new charges against Leonard Forte, 78, who now lives in LaBelle, Florida.

Forte is now charged with two counts of obstruction of justice over claims of poor health and an inability to travel to Vermont to stand trial. In 1988, he was convicted by a jury on three counts of felony sexual assault—rape—of a 12-year-old girl at his Vermont vacation home. He appealed the conviction, and a motion for a new trial was granted in 1989 by a judge who said the prosecutor was too emotional.

Up through 1996, Vermont’s Attorney General went to the State Supreme Court to try to reinstate the initial verdict. In 1997, the AG refiled charges, but the criminal prosecution was held up after Forte said a terminal illness prevented him from leaving Florida. Vermont then agreed that Forte must provide a medical update every six months.

Forte has maintained that he was too sick to travel from Florida to Vermont. He’s been appearing at hearings by phone for many years, saying he was ill and awaiting a heart transplant. He provided medical records and was admitted to hospice in 2016. But an investigation by USA Today in November 2019 questioned Forte’s dire claims.

A judge released an order last year specifying deadlines for the case, including to be ready for a trial. Prosecutors have said they don’t believe Forte is being honest about his health because of reports that he and his wife own multiple boats and have taken several extended trips, including to New York.

Vermont police say they conducted a lengthy joint investigation into Forte in collaboration with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Those investigators determined that he misrepresented his health and inability to travel leading to the charges filed on Wednesday. Forte was issued a citation through his attorney for an arraignment scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on July 7, 2021, in the Criminal Division of Vermont Superior Court in Bennington.

Forte’s attorney, Susan McManus, said in an email to the Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon that she hasn’t seen the paperwork on the allegations because it had not yet been filed with the court. Vermont state police say that the affidavit of probable cause will be filed with the court and made public after the arraignment.

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