The mother of a 6-year-old girl molested by an elder at a West Side church calls the crime more than just a criminal act.
It was a breach of trust in a spiritual setting.
Abel Poloche gained the confidence of her and other church members, the mother said, in part because he once worked as a doctor in Venezuela and conducted himself in a caring manner at the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Vermont Street, especially when working with the children.
Poloche, 61, was sentenced earlier this summer in Erie County Court to six months in jail after pleading guilty to felony attempted sexual abuse of the girl in a computer room at the church as she sat on his lap.
"I thought he was a nice person, and I really trusted him. We all trusted him. He came to our house with his wife and grandchildren. This was family and church, and you trust people. He was in a high position at the church," the mother said.
"It's still very painful for me. I'm a single mother and trying to protect my daughter. I take my daughter to therapy, and she is doing well."
Because the child did not want to testify, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said prosecutors were placed in a difficult position and chose instead to offer a plea deal, reducing the charges from sexual abuse and forcible touching to attempted sexual abuse.
"The mother also did not want to see her daughter retraumatized by testifying," Sedita said, pointing out that under the conviction for attempted sexual abuse, Poloche could have been sentenced to up to four years in state prison.
In addition to county jail time, Judge Kenneth F. Case sentenced Poloche to 10 years' probation once he is released from the Erie County Holding Center.
The mother said the incident occurred the evening of Dec. 16 while she and other adults were in choir practice. Her daughter asked if she could visit the church computer room in the balcony area overlooking the choir, where Poloche was working, and the mother gave her permission.
"I could see her waving at me through an opening in the room. We called Poloche 'doctor.' On my life, I never thought he was doing something like that. He taught children at the church," the mother said.
When authorities began digging into Poloche's past, they said there was cause for concern.
Police officials said that after Poloche moved to the United States more than two decades ago, he began a residency at a New York City hospital to become a pediatrician in the mid-1990s and was abruptly dismissed.
Poloche then moved to Buffalo and tried to become an anesthesiologist and again was let go for unexplained reasons at a local hospital, police said.
In both cases, police said, there were no criminal investigations.
"He was touching people who were under anesthesia," a police official said, upset that local authorities were never contacted to investigate. "Someone dropped the ball on this."