Crime and Justice

Ex-cop facing decades-old Vermont sexual assault charges arrested on new felony accusations

Leonard Forte's booking photograph following his arrest in LaBelle, Florida, on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Photo courtesy of Hendry County Sheriff's Office

A former law enforcement officer facing decades-old child sexual assault charges in Vermont was arrested this week on two new felony charges in Florida.

Leonard Forte, 80, was arrested Monday on charges of fraud and impersonation, as well as public order crimes, according to the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. He was released from the county jail on the same day after posting a $20,000 bail.

Forte already faces two felony cases in Vermont. He is charged with three counts of sexual assault, which authorities say Forte committed against a 12-year-old girl at his Landgrove vacation home in 1987. 

This summer, state prosecutors filed twin charges of obstruction of justice, accusing Forte of faking a doctor’s note and lying about a hospice stay to evade prosecution. He’s been free on bail in the Vermont charges.

Forte, a retired investigator with New York’s Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, was convicted on the Vermont sexual assault charges in 1988. But the presiding judge granted him a new trial, saying the female prosecutor had prejudiced the jury by being too emotional.

The state recharged him in 1997, but the case remained in limbo for more than two decades while Forte continually claimed to be too sick to travel to Vermont and stand trial. He has since moved to LaBelle, Florida, a city in Hendry County, located just east of Fort Myers.

In June, the Bennington Superior criminal court ruled that Forte is physically able to stand trial. The court scheduled him for a jury draw in March.

Forte’s newest criminal case accuses him of using another person’s ID without consent and using a two-way communications device to facilitate a felony, according to the probable cause statement in his arrest report. 

No further details about his alleged crimes were available Tuesday afternoon, but the Vermont Attorney General’s Office said Forte’s arrest didn’t involve the state. The attorney general’s office referred VTDigger to the Hendry County prosecutor’s office, which said it did not yet have charging documents for Forte.

Forte’s lead defense attorney in Vermont, Susan McManus, said she has not yet seen any paperwork on his Florida charges. “I know very little about the basis for the charges,” the public defender said in an interview. She said her team won’t be representing Forte in the Florida case.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which issued Forte’s arrest warrant, did not provide answers to questions sent through a public information officer.

Forte’s next hearing in Bennington Superior Court is scheduled for Nov. 8. The court is expected to discuss the status of Forte’s mental health evaluations, which came after his attorneys expressed concerns about potential mental incapacity. 

His psychiatric evaluation was filed last week, according to court records. The document is sealed from public view. The other report has not yet been submitted.

Forte’s case drew national attention in 2019 when USA Today wrote about his decades-old, unresolved child sexual assault charges. When asked whether Forte’s arrest came as a surprise, given his serious and high-profile charges, McManus said yes. 

“I was not expecting his arrest,” she said, “absolutely not.”

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Tiffany Tan

About Tiffany

Tiffany Tan is VTDigger's Southern Vermont reporter. Before joining VTDigger, she covered cops and courts for the Bennington Banner from 2018 to 2021. Prior to that, Tiffany worked for the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and spent more than 10 years working for newspapers and television stations in Manila, Singapore and Beijing.

Email: [email protected]

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