The Walt Disney Company has long presented itself as the voice for America’s children. According to company lore, the animation studio was founded by a wise and kindly father figure, and its theme parks are “the happiest place on Earth” for kids. In recent weeks, the company has entered the political debate about Florida’s Parental Rights in Education legislation and sought to establish itself as a moral arbiter on children’s education and sexuality.
But behind its meticulously curated self-image, Disney has had a long-standing problem with child predators gaining employment within the company and exploiting minors. In 2014, reporters at CNN published a bombshell six-month investigation that discovered at least 35 Disney employees had been arrested for sex crimes against children, attempting to meet minors for sex, and possession of child pornography over the previous eight years.
The stories are horrifying. In one case, police set up a sting operation that nabbed three Disney employees who believed they were soliciting sex from minors. Robert Kingsolver, who oversaw ride repairs at Disney World, enticed someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl for sex in a private residence. Joel Torres, another Disney employee, allegedly brought condoms with him to have sex with a 14-year-old child. And Allen Treaster, a concierge at the park’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, went to meet a 14-year-old boy to “fulfill a fantasy” of being a “Big Teddy Bear for younger chaser.” In all three cases, the men were met and then arrested by police, who had set up the trap to catch child predators in the Orlando region. Kingsolver denied the charges; Treaster admitted that he had molested a 15-year-old boy a few weeks prior to his arrest.
Other Disney employees were found to have committed child sex crimes using the Internet. According to police and court records, custodial manager Cedric Cuthbert was caught downloading child porn on a Disney work computer, giftshop employee Paul Fazio was convicted for downloading “multiple scenes of nude prepubescent children engaging in sexual activity with adults,” and security guard William Marrero-Maldonado was charged with seven counts of promoting videos and photographs of the “sexual performance of a child.”
Why Disney? Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who oversaw some of these investigations, explained why child predators would choose the Magic Kingdom as a place of employment. “Wherever you find children, you’ll find sexual predators,” he told reporters. Most employees “work at Disney because they want a good, stable job for a great company, but there is always a few that are there because they can see children. They can live in a child’s world.”
The evidence suggests he is right. Kingsolver, the Disney repairman who believed he was arranging sex with a minor female, told his perceived victim in a chat room that he “really enjoy[s] giving oral” and used the Disney brand to build trust. “I work for Disney so I love to see dads having fun with their daughters,” he wrote. “I believe in treating a lady like a princess. I treat ladies with respect because that is how I hope my daughter gets treated.” Another Disney employee, Patrick Holgerson, who was caught sending nude photos and having explicit chats with law enforcement officers posing as a 13-year-old boy, told investigators: “I just have a strong connection with kids. I like working with kids. I just enjoy helping them grow.”
Disney has claimed to have “extensive measures in place” to provide a safe environment for children, but there are reasons to doubt it. Even after the CNN report, Disney has seen a steady stream of employees caught in the dragnet for child predators. In 2019, police arrested a Disney cruise “youth host” for molesting a ten-year-old boy in the ship’s “Oceaneer Kids Lab” and, later that year, arrested another Disney cruise employee for raping a girl “over 100 times” at her home starting when she was 11 years old. (The charges regarding the molestation of the ten-year-old boy were later dropped when the parents did not want to bring the child in for testimony at trial.) Since then, three Disney employees have been arrested for soliciting sex with minors, two have been arrested on 40 total counts of child pornography, and four more were arrested earlier this month in a sting operation targeting “human trafficking, child predators, and prostitution.”
Even worse, despite its crystal-clean image, Disney has come under fire for failing to report abuse. In 2014, after a crewmember on the Disney Dream cruise ship was caught on security cameras molesting an 11-year-old girl, Disney authorities failed to report the crime until after the ship had left port, which allowed the man to evade arrest. When one security officer protested, Disney authorities allegedly told her to “keep your mouth shut” about the crime. Moreover, according to advocates associated with the International Cruise Victims organization, Disney’s trade association lobbyists had worked to oppose and then water down federal legislation that would have required stringent safety and reporting protocols for sexual abuse on cruise ships.
Instead of joining the drumbeat of fashionable left-wing sexual theories and promoting gender ideology in elementary school classrooms, a more productive campaign for Disney executives would be to identify and remove the predators from within their company’s ranks.
Originally published in City Journal.