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Brooksville police: Hernando Christian Academy staff member used foreign exchange program to prey on teen boys

BROOKSVILLE — Police said 68-year-old Bruce McAllister made this promise to three foreign exchange students who were under his guardianship while they attended Hernando Christian Academy:

He could make them football stars.

Offering the three teenage boys from Europe the chance to become American football stars is how McAllister "courted and molested" them, according to Brooksville police, taking advantage of their lack of knowledge about the sport's norms and culture.

"He portrayed himself to the students as a physical therapist and an expert in sports medicine," Brooksville police Capt. Rick Hankins said. "He used the fact that they were unfamiliar with conventional physical training and physical therapy."

McAllister was arrested Thursday on 32 total charges, which reflects the total number of times that police said he assaulted the teenagers. He faces five counts of sexual assault by a custodian and 27 counts of misdemeanor battery.

The investigation is continuing, and police believe that more victims will come forward and that more charges could be filed.

Bruce McAllister's ties to the school and community run deep: He is the husband of principal Cathy McAllister and a volunteer with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office who worked at the Hernando County Courthouse. His wife declined to comment Thursday.

The principal's husband came under scrutiny after someone complained about his conduct to the Florida Department of Children and Families, which opened an investigation. It reported its findings to Brooksville police, which last month started its own criminal investigation.

That led detectives to the three students. Hankins said all three are 17-year-old seniors from different European countries awaiting graduation. The identities of the teens are being withheld by police because of the nature of the allegations.

At some point, the McAllisters served as the host family for all three boys at their home on Cappleman Loop in Brooksville. There are no children currently at the home, officials said.

The captain said there were also two witnesses, two other students who resisted Bruce McAllister's overtures.

"McAllister had a set method for luring the kids into the inappropriate conduct," Hankins said, "and for whatever reason, with a couple of the identifiable juveniles that we've spoken to, it didn't go to the level of criminal prosecution."

But the police captain believes more charges are likely. Detectives may have found a fourth victim, and the McAllisters have hosted foreign exchange students for years.

"I can tell you that we have interviewed a foreign exchange student that he hosted in 2006 that has reported inappropriate contact," Hankins said. "You have 10 years of juveniles that he's hosted."

The school's attorney, Deborah Hogan, issued this statement Thursday:

"Hernando Christian Academy has not had the opportunity to verify the veracity of the allegations," the statement said. "No Hernando Christian Academy employees, including the wife of the alleged offender, have been implicated. However, the Academy has begun an investigation and will cooperate with all governmental agencies regarding the matter."

The statement also said the school has been open since 1981 and "has had no prior incidents." It has hosted students from China, Brazil, Vietnam and other countries. Hogan did not return a call for comment.

Police said Bruce McAllister arranged field trips at the school. The statement did not address his employment at the academy.

Bruce McAllister was a civilian volunteer with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office at the courthouse since 2010, the agency said. Hernando Sheriff Al Nienuis dismissed him Thursday. He never volunteered with the agency's explorer program, which introduces teens to law enforcement, sheriff's spokeswoman Denise Moloney said.

The three 17-year-olds came to the United States through two foreign exchange companies, Hankins said, though he could not identify them. The academy's website said it partners with Three W International, which calls itself "the leading international student management company with the most comprehensive services for U.S. private schools." Three W declined to comment.

Bruce McAllister was a licensed massage therapist in Titusville, records show, but surrendered his license in 2007 after the state's Department of Health accused him of falsely advertising himself as a physical therapist and using chiropractic techniques he wasn't licensed to practice.

He was booked into the Hernando County jail, where he was being held late Thursday in lieu of $77,000 bail. Bruce McAllister has no previous arrests in Florida, according to state records.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.


How to help

Anyone with information about Bruce McAllister is asked to call the Brooksville Police Department at (352) 540-3800 or call
Crime Stoppers toll-free at
1-866-990-8477.

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