Boy accused of 57 crimes sent to Fla. charm school

April 08, 1993|By April Witt | April Witt,Knight-Ridder News Service

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- "Crime Boy" is going to charm school.

In a strange turn of events, the 12-year-old Fort Lauderdale boy charged with his 57th crime last week is spending this week at the ABI Charm and Dance Academy in Miramar, Fla. He's learning table manners and polite conversation, courtesy of the charm school owner.

And that's just the beginning of the freebies that are rolling in, giving this inner-city child's life a sudden game-show quality.

The little kid with the big rap sheet is dogged by TV cameras -- they even followed him to church Sunday -- and is fielding talk-show offers. (While he has been seen on television, newspapers are withholding his name because he is a minor and has not been charged with any crimes as an adult.)

On Tuesday, a Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., church that promised to reform and redeem the troubled child gave a suburban dinner party in his honor and started a fund for him at a Fort Lauderdale bank.

"It's for all his daily needs, whatever the church is not able to pay for," said Dennis Grant, an elder at the Fellowship Center, a predominantly Jamaican congregation of about 150.

If the fund-raising drive is successful, it could pay for his education, Mr. Grant said.

Church members have taken the child roller-skating, escorted him to youth group meetings and arranged a quick make-over: a haircut and new shoes.

The congregation is now shopping for furniture to make the home the boy shares with his grandmother less desolate.

His mother is in prison for murder, and he doesn't know where his father is. He lives with his grandmother, who works.

"He's not a criminal," said Broward County Circuit Judge Robert O. Collins, who has seen the child frequently in his courtroom. "This boy is a victim of society."

Last week, the Broward Sheriff's Office arrested the youth and some buddies trying to break into a convenience store in the wee hours -- and charged him with his 57th crime.

Press accounts of his lengthy rap sheet dubbed him "Crime Boy" and "Boy Bandit," while children's advocates fumed that the juvenile justice system in Broward County has no money for programs to help a seriously troubled boy of 12.

The irony is not lost on children's advocates, who say there are many poor, unsupervised children in trouble in Florida, but little political will to change their environment or pay for programs to help them.

"Isn't it the height of tragedy that a child has to have threescore crimes on record before there is this kind of outcry and response?" said Jack Levine, executive director of the Florida Center for Children and Youth, based in Tallahassee.

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