Holiday man’s trial on child molestation charges finally opens

Author: Colleen Jenkins
Date Published: 06/14/2005

Gary Sabino spent 20 months in a Texas monastery hiding out from molestation charges involving three Pasco County girls.

Today, he will sit in a courtroom as those children tell a jury what the man they knew as ”Uncle Sparky” allegedly did to them in late 2001 and early 2002.

Jurors got a preview Monday afternoon from prosecutor Eva Vergos, who began her opening statement quoting words she attributed to the 47-year-old Holiday man.

”I didn’t touch them,” Sabino told detectives, according to Vergos. ”But I probably put my fingers inside them while I was washing them.”

The little girls, sisters who were 6, 8 and 10 at the time of the alleged abuse, spent multiple weekends at Sabino’s home after their parents split up, Vergos said. They played with his puppy Ashes and attended church with him on Sunday mornings.

But, Vergos said, they also endured the trusted family friend inappropriately touching them. Sabino performed oral sex on one child, according to the assistant state attorney.

”They loved him . . . they gave him their faith and confidence,” Vergos said. ”He betrayed their trust, their faith and their confidence.”

Sabino was charged with two counts each of capital sexual battery on a child younger than 12 and lewd and lascivious molestation. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

But assistant public defender Paul Firmani cautioned jurors against buying into the state’s version of events, noting the Salem witch trials began on the word of a few girls. He portrayed Sabino as a loving man who installed a swing set in his yard because the girls didn’t have one of their own.

It was the children who pleaded with their father to allow them to spend time at Sabino’s home, Firmani said. And the sisters never mentioned any instances of sexual abuse until a year after the alleged events occurred, he said.

”The girls never volunteered the information until they were asked,” Firmani said. ”The girls never said, ”Don’t take me over to Uncle Sparky’s.’ ”

Sabino was arrested by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office in January 2003 but disappeared after he was released on bail. Detectives tracked him down at Christ of the Hills monastery in Blanco, Texas, where he was living under an assumed name. The monastery, once linked to the Russian Orthodox Church, reportedly was founded by a man who pleaded guilty in 2000 to indecency with an 11-year-old novice monk there.

FBI agents arrested Sabino at the monastery last October.

Colleen Jenkins covers courts in west Pasco County. She can be reached at (727) 869-6236 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.