Former foster father pleads guilty to child rape

February 26, 2016

slo county sign

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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40 Comments

  1. TaxMeAgain says:

    Not exactly the stuff of the “happiest city.”

    What should we do to preclude these events going forward?

    (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  2. CentralcoastRN says:

    This story is sad on so many levels.

    I don’t know this family, but I do know the system.

    Ideally, the system works in a clean, transparent way. What I mean is that families are given a case plan to follow that is basically their blueprint for reuniting with their kids. It is supposed to be simple, and it is supposed to be set up for success. The plan is based on family needs, so if I were to try and make an example one for this family, I would expect to see something like this:

    1. Mom will attend counseling sessions at mental health as recommended by therapist.
    2. Mom and dad will attend parenting class series once a week for 13 weeks.
    3. Mom and dad will begin job search.
    4. Mom and dad will sign up for all benefits at social services.
    5. Mom and dad will attend all supervised visitations at social services on Tuesdays and Thursday’s.

    With a plan such as this, it would be easy enough for parents to go down the list and make records of their efforts of working on this plan. Appointments would be written on a calendar, as would dates for parenting classes,etc. If there were any question regarding whether or not these parents were following their case plan, it would be easy to prove.

    The problem with this case is that there seems to be so many shady characters involved. How do we allow a psychologist being sanctioned for unethical behavior have ANY say over the future of an entire family? I would have to say DO OVER on that set of evaluations right then.

    Next, it seems from the responses to the story that there are clear supporters of these parents; enough so that it doesn’t seem reasonable to permanently sever parental rights. If the family was making strides on their reunification plan such as finding housing, why terminate their rights?

    I am always saddened when biological parents are not allowed to parent their children. Studies show time and time again that kids will do better with their family of origin. I hope these children do well in life in spite of their tragedies.

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
    • DragonLady says:

      While most cases have a clear plan laid out for them by DSS, you are correct that there were shady charaters involved in this one. When Findley made the statements in the court room (record on the court documents) in regards to the Bergners being better off then the biological parents- it was clear what direction this case was going to take. It all came down to who had more money.
      As far as a case plan for this family, According to the court records, the parents were doing their case plan. Mom attended her mental health appts, Dad was working at the time this all happened. They were signed up and using services at SS and Housing Authority. They attended visits both at DSS and outside of it with the kids. They attended all but 1 parenting class due to the class being canceled and the courts were informed of the cancelation.

      I can tell you that the young lady involved with the current court issue listed here isdoing well. She has shown such strength during all this and has been a rock for her younger sister as well.. She is working and attending collage as well as moving forward with her life. She is remarkable young women.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  3. achillesheal says:

    The social workers should be tried as co conspirators.

    (20) 24 Total Votes - 22 up - 2 down
    • DragonLady says:

      There is a LONG list of people who should be tried as co conspirators aside from just the social workers. There are several people who were involved (both directly and indirectly) who knew this was wrong at the time but didn’t want to speak up cause they work for the agencies involved. Another fine cause of “I can’t do what is right for fear of repercussion” (which is sad cause there is a law in place that protects them for such a thing).
      I hope that they (as well as others who read this article) can see how your unwillingness to stand up for something you see is wrong could have drastic results down the road.
      I wonder how many of you might have a bulls eye painted on your back when bigfoots law suit comes into play?

      (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • bigfoots says:

      the funny thing is its more then just social workers,judges,and dee ,its also family,and friends when this suit starts no one is off limits not even family thats all i have to say on this,my name is Bigfoots AKA RICHARD CARROLL

      (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  4. Pelican1 says:

    The sleaze factor that surrounds Tweetle Dee and Tweetle Dumber is remarkable…yet oh so consistent. Like to peas in a pod.

    (18) 18 Total Votes - 18 up - 0 down
  5. JB Bronson says:

    Dee has earned the negative descriptors herein while Lee Collins and Tracy Schiro hold their breath while thinking, “I hope they don’t figure out we are responsible here because Dee was only as powerful as we let her be.”

    (14) 16 Total Votes - 15 up - 1 down
    • kayaknut says:

      Don’t forget Biz Steinberg, just as much guilt belongs to her.

      (9) 11 Total Votes - 10 up - 1 down
      • bigfoots says:

        no she was on our side through the whole court thing

        (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
      • DragonLady says:

        While Biz was on the side of the parents when this happened, I can see why kayanut would say that she is as guilty as Dee. She did allow Dee to not only pull stunts like this but allowed her to remain in a position of authority after the fact. A wise employer would have repermanded an employee for doing wrong not turning a blind eye to the behavior. I am sure this was not the only case where Dee pulled something like this on top of all the other wrongs she did while employed for CAPSLO (EOC at the time).
        Another case of an agency allowing nasty behavior by their emploees to suit their own agendas.

        Truely Heartbreaking.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • DragonLady says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Collins and Schiro do have a hand in what took place both then and now in the lives of the 2 younger children involved as well as what happened then for the Victim since she is now 18. Nothing happens at Child War Fare Services with out their knowing and allowing such behavior.
      SS was working with what was EOC at the time closely when this all took place. They had workers at Prado to help people with resources that they provide so it only makes sence that Dee would push for what is best for SS not for the clients she was there to serve. Some where along the line she forgot that with out the homeless and low income coming to Prado to use their services- she wouldn’t have had a job there.

      We all know that money makes the world go round, but it is a heartbreaking fact that people put money over what is best for Childern in this day in age.

      (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  6. Earth Girl says:

    Bringing this to light is 1 of the most important steps towards change. The foster care system is corrupt – I used to be a foster parent – the fact that this entire families lives have been shattered must be addressed. Criminal charges must be filed against any public employee involved in this disgraceful mess. Dee is an egomaniac – I used to work for her. She’s the type of person that attempted to pit 1 staff person against another in order to “rule her roost”. On top of blatantly lying to my face about other staff’s actions. Social Services. ….what can be said – ugh.

    (40) 48 Total Votes - 44 up - 4 down
  7. smartmouth says:

    Dee Strikes again!

    (63) 71 Total Votes - 67 up - 4 down

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