SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) – A former bishop who founded the Westcoast Center for Human Development in Sarasota was arrested Thursday and charged with sexual assault on a child under 12 years of age.
Sarasota Police began investigating 72-year-old Henry Lee Porter, Sr. in October 2019 for abuse dating back to the 1990s.
At least three people have come forward and alleged Porter sexually abused them when they were boys. The alleged victims told detectives the abuse primarily happened at the Westcoast Center on North Washington Boulevard in Porter’s Inner Office and in Porter’s home on 47th Street.
Detectives say in addition to these victims, they spoke with eight others, all males, who say they were sexually assaulted by Porter.
In a probable cause affidavit filed in Porter’s arrest, Sarasota Police noted two prior investigations into Porter, once in 1990 and a second time in 2001-2002 after an anonymous letter identified 40 alleged victims.
Police say in the 2001-2002 investigation, 20 of the alleged victims provided statements to law enforcement outlining their alleged sexual abuse that occurred at the Westcoast Center, on mission trips across the country and on church-sponsored trips, but police say the statute of limitations prevented charges from being filed.
According to his website, Porter started the Westcoast Center in 1980 and a school in 1981, which he led until 2000. The Herald Tribune reports Porter led the church until June 2016 when he stepped down to allow his son, Henry Porter II, to take over as pastor.
The investigation into Porter is ongoing and he’s currently being held without bail. If you have any information, contact Sarasota Police.
Police say they are planning to discuss this case further next week