The politically connected serial predator on the Poynter Institute board – why is he employed there?

Barry Edwards’ 1998 mug shot

Barry S. Edwards is a member of the Poynter Foundation board of directors and (according to their bio of him) also a “frequent guest on several of the local Tampa Bay market political shows.”  However, while a professor at FSU twenty years ago, Edwards was a serial predator, unlawfully and immorally preying on multiple students under his supervision for sex and favors.

Previous media reporting on Edwards’ activities at FSU mentioned only the accuser who filed the complaint with FSU police. But the investigative report, which the Guardian obtained through a public records request, shows multiple students giving remarkably similar written statements of predation and extortion by Edwards.

The 251 page police investigative report contains written statements by a dozen people alleging various improprieties by Edwards. It also contains allegations by the Boy Scouts of America national headquarters, allegations which led them to revoke his membership when Edwards was 32 years old. This new  information suggests a pattern of predation, not just a single incident of bad judgment.

Importantly, Edwards has in the past said the charges against him were “unfounded” and called the allegations by his accuser “lies.” So who’s lying: Edwards or his multiple accusers? Was Edwards a serial predator or was his arrest the result of a single lapse in judgment? Has his behavior changed since that time?

It began on June 5th, 1998, with a criminal complaint by a 19-year old male FSU student alleging that Edwards had asked the student to come to his apartment, plied him with beers, taken him cruising for prostitutes, made him masturbate in front of Edwards, asked for a massage, and threatened him with bad grades if he didn’t ‘’get into’’ these activities.

The student reported the incident to the police and Edwards was arrested for extortion on June 9th, 1998.

Barry Edwards at WMNF in 2016

The FSU police department  duly investigated. In a recorded statement, another student told police that he had also been asked to visit Edwards in his apartment, that Edwards put on a pornographic video tape, asked the student to give him a blow job and asked for a massage.

The student was able to describe the inside of Edwards’ apartment, and had made contemporaneous statements to others about his discomfort with the incident.

There was yet another student interviewed by police who had contacted police after Edwards’s arrest and said he “had a similar incident” with Edwards. The Guardian is not publishing the police records in order to protect the innocent.

We contacted Edwards through the Poynter Foundation and included written allegations by six additional accusers from the police report. We asked if Edwards also denies their allegations, and whether he still claims that that the accusations by the initial accuser were “lies.” We wrote “if the accusations [by the initial accuser] are true, do the honorable thing for the alleged victim and his family” since the statute of limitation has passed.

We asked a total of 14 specific questions, including asking Edwards to confirm or deny allegations made by the Boy Scouts of America (more on that below). Neither Edwards nor Poynter Foundation executive director Elisa Jackson responded.

The allegations by a dozen student and staff paint a picture of a then 36-year old FSU faculty member neglecting his work to prey on students under his tutelage for sex for himself….and perhaps procuring students for sex with others.

Click for full newspaper article.

Edwards also sold a stolen FSU laptop to a friend. Other computer equipment stolen from the student union was found in his apartment, and there were allegations that he also dealt in equipment stolen from the Florida House and Senate. Edwards was arrested a second time on these charges.

Court records indicate that Edwards served less than three months in jail, and only for dealing in stolen property. With several people telling similar stories of sexual extortion, why didn’t the State’s Attorney’s office pursue the more serious extortion charge?

Questioning the actions of the State Attorney is warranted. The initial accuser told police that Edwards claimed that the same State Attorney’s Office would keep Edwards “informed” when there going to be street arrests in the Frenchtown area. This is the area where Edwards took the 19-year old initial accuser to go cruising for prostitutes. Edwards threatened the student with a bad grade if he didn’t come along.

Red flags? What red flags? Where?

As a FSU faculty member in the Department of Political Science, Edwards taught no classes. His only responsibility was the department’s small internship program. A university investigation before his arrest found that 21 of 28 students who had participated in Edwards’ internship program were not eligible to be in the program. 

The abuses in the program were so plentiful that FSU changed many internship application procedures as a result of Edwards’ abuses,

Then student senate president Edward Dandrow formally complained to Edwards’ department chairman 11 months before Edwards’ arrest. In his complaint, Dandrow alleged theft of computer equipment by Edwards, questionable fraternization, and guaranteed A grades and legislative internship position for members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

The then provost Lawrence Abele was copied on Dandrow’s complaint letter. There is no evidence that FSU investigated Dandrow’s allegations or took any action.  Edwards’ was reappointed as adjunct professor one month after Dandrow’s complaint. He was reappointed twice again before his arrest.

The police report also reveals that Edwards had his membership in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) revoked at the age of 32 in 1994 for “spending a night with a youth without another adult being present” (see BSA’s letter).  The BSA told police that Edwards picked up a “young boy”, took him to a location approximately 20 miles away, said he got tired and they spent the night at another man’s house.

Edwards and the boy were the only ones in the house, and Edwards had obtained a key to the house without the owner’s permission.

BSA revoked Edwards membership in July of 1994 and reported Edwards to the Florida Child Abuse Hotline. The then the Department of Health & Rehabilitation Services believed there was insufficient information to initiate an investigation.

Former student body president Fred Maglione told police that it “was known by all students that you could get an ‘A’ in Mr. Edwards’ internship, all you had to do was do something personally for Edwards.” After stating that there was a strong “Gay Caucus” in the State Legislature and that no one would come forward for that reason, Maglione refused to provide a written statement on the advice of his legal counsel.

Other notable allegations from the police report:

  • A female straight-A student who received a B- from Edwards said he told her that her grade would “wash out” if she took two more classes with him.
  • After being arrested and being released on bond, Edwards immediately called another alleged victim and said things like “remember we are friends,” “I trust you,” and “we are buddies.”
  • Edwards told a sorority sister that “if you take me to a date function, you will get an ‘A.'” He asked another sorority sister to “gather some of her sorority sisters to go out with some people.”

FSU let Edwards stay on despite all the warning signs. He had access to powerful people in Tallahassee. One student told police that “Edwards seems to know every politician and lobbyist in Florida.”

If Edwards is gay, who did he want those sorority sisters to go out with? This is an important question, given the recent revelations of sexual improprieties by members of the Florida Legislature.

If Edwards provided members of the Legislature “fresh meat” in the form of students he had extorted, and FSU looked the other way, that oversight be the kind of career-ending offense that any ambitious university administrator would’ve wanted to cover up. If after Edwards’ arrest the SAO “went easy” on him because its staff had been corrupted by Edwards, that would earn an SAO attorney a career-ending disbarment.

The Guardian requested the police report on May 25th. FSU asked for a check a month later, and waited another two months after receiving it, until August 28th, before cashing it. FSU provided the police report on December 14th, but only after we threatened to sue if they didn’t provide the public records we had requested and waited for over 6 months to receive,

Redactions were made to the records we requested, but without providing a legal basis. Such action violates state law. FSU’s top lawyer, general counsel Carolyn Egan, then provided an erroneous exemption and we again offered to sue to improve compliance. Only then was a relevant public records exemption cited.

Did FSU sit on our public records requests and hope we would go away? We will probe further and report back.

Given this pattern of sexual predation, why does the Poynter Institute (a self-described “global leader in journalism”) have him on their foundation’s board? Why does Edwards still appear on 88.5 WMNF and many other local political shows? Why did prosecutors go easy on Edwards? Why did the Tallahassee Democrat not dig deeper into this case all those years ago?

Why, indeed.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.

Editor’s Note: this is not the same Barry Edwards who is a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida.

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