Sexual abuse investigated in LA Fitness day care

Tampa, Florida -- 10 News has learned a Bay area LA Fitness drop-in day care was the center of a law enforcement investigation in 2012 after a police report showed a three-year-old girl was sexually abused while day care workers were supposed to be supervising her.

Last week, a group of moms complained about problems at the LA Fitness gym on Park Boulevard in Seminole. On Friday, another mom came forward to say her son got hurt at the LA Fitness on Brandon Boulevard in Valrico. She says her son had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

Then on Monday, April 28, we heard about problems from a former worker from the day care at the LA Fitness gym in Lutz. On Tuesday however, we're hearing concerns from another former employee who says she ran the day care at the gym in New Tampa.

Sandy Pehl says she spent two years working at the drop-in day care inside the gym on County Line Road East. With more than a decade of day care experience she says she was always worried about the number of children -- including infants -- that they were watching while the kids parents worked out.

"We would have over 50 children in that one room and there were times when there were only three of us working," she says.

Sandy says what three mothers complained about a week ago regarding distracted day care workers at other area LA Fitness gyms happened at the New Tampa facility where she worked too. She says she complained and took pictures of distracted day care workers to show her managers. She says the managers did nothing and in two years she saw eight different managers come and go.

Meanwhile, she says, "I was seeing children getting hurt."

But she says the unthinkable reportedly happened two years ago in February when Tampa Police investigated a sex crime in the day care after a three-year-old was reportedly sexually abused by a five-year-old. Pehl had already gone home for the day. Her co-workers told investigators they discovered the abuse when they saw the victim with her pants down.

"There weren't enough eyes watching the children," Sandy says.

Pehl says she immediately called The Department of Children and Families Abuse Hotline and says she was fired for creating conflict on the job. She hired an attorney at the Linesh Firm in Palm Harbor who said then, "It was a clear cut case of wrongful and unlawful termination in violation of the Florida Whistleblower Act."

Pehl says LA Fitness never responded to her attorney, and with two kids with special needs to keep her and her husband busy, she dropped the matter until she saw recent reports on 10 News.

The Department of Children and Families does not license child care facilities within gyms. Pehl says lawmakers need to change that quickly to protect children.


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