SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The principal of a small private school in the suburbs of the state capital was arrested Wednesday on charges that he fondled at least seven girls over the past 15 years, months after he was accused of touching female students under their clothes.
Robert Benson Adams, 60, was the owner and principal of the Creative Frontiers School in Citrus Heights, a middle-class suburb about 20 miles northeast of Sacramento. It was shut down in mid-July after a complaint was filed by the California Department of Social Services.
Adams has denied the allegations and said he welcomed "a full investigation" at a press conference a few days after the closure of the school.
"But I assure you, I am very confident that nothing inappropriate has happened," he said then.
Adams now faces six felony counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on children under 14 and one misdemeanor charge of annoying or molesting a child under 18, according to a criminal complaint filed in Sacramento County Superior Court. He was scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
The girls, who were between 4 and 7, told investigators that Adams, known as "Mr. Bob" to his students, often called them into his office, where he would pull them onto his lap and fondled them, according to the complaint.
Citrus Heights Police Chief Christopher Boyd said more witnesses have come forward since July and that the most recent crime occurred this June.
"We took the time that was necessary to find the facts and the truth that has resulted in these charges being filed today," Boyd said.
Two teachers separately told investigators they walked in on Adams touching young girls.
Bethany Soloman, a teacher at the school, said she saw Adams put his hand under the skirt of a young girl who was sitting on his lap in his office in 2007, according to the complaint. It did not say whether she reported the incident then.
Preschool teacher April Thompson, who was listed as a staff member on the school's website before it was closed, told investigators she came back from her lunch break one day in June to find Adams lying on a mat next to a 4-year-old during nap time.
The child's shirt had been pulled up and Adams was rubbing her stomach, according to the complaint. The girl's parents told Thompson the next day that their daughter said Adams had touched her inappropriately.
Thompson did not return a phone message left Wednesday by The Associated Press. Messages left with Adams' attorney, Linda Parisi, also were not returned.
Adams suffered a medical condition when he was arrested and was taken to a local hospital, where he remains in police custody, Boyd said. He declined to elaborate on Adams' condition.
Adams ran the school from its opening in 1975 until the city of Citrus Heights and state officials revoked the school's business and daycare licenses in July. The school sits on an idyllic tree-lined campus with a horse pasture and red, cottage-like classrooms.
About 180 students in preschool through sixth grade attended Creative Frontiers. Tuition for a full year was $6,507, according to the school's website.
Since the school was shuttered, parents have inundated a Facebook page for Creative Frontiers in support of Adams and his family. Many have volunteered at rallies and fundraisers in an effort to reopen the school.
Theresa Del Biaggio, a parent who said she has been actively involved with trying to reopen the school, said she was devastated to hear about the charges filed against Adams.
"I did read the charges that were filed, and I have to be honest, it still seems relatively ambiguous," she said. "It seems fishy and far-fetched to me the way it's coming out."
Lisa Lambert, whose 10-year-old daughter would have started her second year at the school this fall, said her daughter thought the world of Adams.
"Currently, I'm pretty shocked. I'm saddened. But in a way, I'm kind of relieved, because I'm hoping they can start their defense and clear his name," she said.
Adams could face up to eight years in a state prison for each of the six felony counts if he is convicted. He could also face a fine of up to $5,000 and at least a year in a county jail if convicted on the misdemeanor charge.