Former foster father pleads guilty to child rape
February 26, 2016
By KAREN VELIE
A former foster father, who adopted three of his charges, faces 20 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty Thursday to raping a child under 14 years of age. The children were placed with the man after San Luis Obispo County officials concluded his Nipomo home was safer and more stable than lodgings the homeless birth parents could provide.
Robert John Bergner, 51, who was facing 126 charges, pleaded guilty to one felony count of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 and felony lewd acts on a child under 14. His sentencing is scheduled for March 22 in the San Luis Obispo Courthouse.
The victim, now 18, was sexually assaulted by Bergner at the home where she was placed after she and two of her siblings were pulled from their parents’ care in 2002. The abuse began when the girl was 12, the SLO Sheriff’s Department said.
The childrens’ birth parents, Richard and Elizabeth Carroll, told CalCoastNews that false allegations manufactured by former Prado Day Center manager Dee Torres-Hill resulted in their three children being placed in the home of a child rapist. This occurred, they said, after the family refused to hand over 70 percent of their income. CAPSLO required the homeless to turn over 70 percent of their non-Social Security income to remain in case management.
“I couldn’t protect my children because I was homeless,” Elizabeth Carroll said. “And then they put them in a house with this monster.”
In Aug. 2003, Superior Court Commissioner Sidney B. Findley terminated parental rights of the Carrolls in favor of a request for adoption of the three children by then-foster parents Robert and Valerie Bergner, who had more financial wealth than the birth parents. Findley noted the birth parents’ homelessness comparing it to the stability the Bergners could provide.
Questions have been raised about the process that appears to have led Superior Court Commissioner Sidney B. Findley to terminate the parental rights of Richard and Elizabeth Carroll and permit the adoption of the children by Bergner and his wife.
“I am convinced these children need permanency and that is what the law requires,” Findley said in his ruling. “All decisions that I make, I make because I believe they are in the best interest of the children.”
But a review of the process suggests that Findley may not have been given a complete or accurate picture of the birth parents.
Shortly after taking their three children into custody, social workers ordered Richard and Elizabeth Carroll to have a psychological exam with Jeffrey J. Lille, Ph.D. According to Lille’s report, the county provided him with information first generated from former Prado Day Center Manager Dee Torres. Torres claimed that Elizabeth Carroll punched her 5-year-old daughter.
The Carrolls met with Lille on Dec. 31, 2001 for a little less than an hour, they said. Lille discussed their childhoods and gave them several tests, according to court records.
In Lille’s 17-page report, he says Richard Carroll has socialization deficits stemming from his childhood and a low to average IQ, and is likely to have future legal issues. In the almost 14 years since Lille saw Richard Carroll, he has not been arrested or had other legal issues. Richard Carroll has been employed as a security officer, a job requiring a clean police record, since 2008.
Lille states Elizabeth Carroll should attend parenting classes and only have supervised visits with her children.
Lille lists himself as a licensed psychologist. It does not mention that he was on probation at the time he met with the Carrolls, and required to inform all current and potential parties in a signed release about his probation and its effects on his patients’ and employer’s confidentiality.
On Nov. 2, 1999, the state revoked Lille’s license following an investigation into charges he received oral sex from a patient during a session; that he had sex with several patients after sessions; that he smoked marijuana with patients; and that he performed exorcisms, according to court records.
“While serving as Crystal B.’s treating psychotherapist, respondent told Crystal B. he observed a three-headed monster above Crystal B.’s head during a hypnotherapy session,” according to a Dec. 14, 1998 accusation by the Attorney General of the State of California. “Respondent told Crystal B. the monster indicated that she was possessed. Respondent then worked for over a year to exorcise the demons.”
In the process that led to have the revocation stayed and five-years probation, Lille admitted to inventing the “monster” and smoking marijuana with patients.
On Jan. 21, 2000, Lille received five-years probation which included a six-month license suspension, oversight of his practice, and a requirement to have all clients sign a release stating that they were aware of issues related to Lille’s probation, according to a stipulated settlement and disciplinary order.
In Lille’s report that the county’s Department of Social Services provided to the court, it does not mention his probation.
Throughout California, multiple lawsuits have been won against counties for returning seriously abused children often deemed un-adoptable to abusive homes. At the same time, birth parents have won suits against counties and social workers who fabricated or withheld evidence in order to permanently remove adoptable children from their birth parents.
In 1998, The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reported that six times as many children died in foster care than in the general public and that once removed to official “safety,” these children are far more likely to suffer abuse, including sexual molestation, than children raised by their birth families.
In 2003, the California Little Hoover Commission reported that 30 percent to 70 percent of the children in California group homes did not belong there, and should not have been removed from their homes.
Allegations and actions of child welfare services workers and the juvenile court are shrouded in secrecy to protect children. However, the lack of transparency also protects the actions of those who benefit financially from having little or no oversight, critics say.
In the case of the Carrolls, unfounded claims that a child was “punched” and of physical abuse by the father were reported by a non-profit agency that receives county funding. The assertions were then repeated by county staffers to a psychologist paid by the county.
The psychologist repeated the initial claims by Torres at the non-profit in his reports, which county social workers memorialized in their statements to the court
On Aug. 18, 2003, Christopher Monza, a San Luis Obispo County social worker, noted psychologist Lille’s report eight times in his testimony to the court, though he never mentioned the doctor was on probation for allegedly having sex with his patients, or that he invented monsters in order to keep a patient returning to him for an ongoing exorcism.
Shortly after listening to Monza’s testimony, Superior Court Commissioner Sidney B. Findley terminated the parental rights of the Carrolls paving the way for the adoptions.
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