TAMPA, Fla. — A family is suing a Tampa Bay area mosque it claims allowed their young boy to be sexually abused by a volunteer youth leader.
The negligence lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in compensation from the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, which it alleges "actively concealed" abuse by Ehab Moustafa Ghoneim.
Ghoneim, of Pinellas Park, was recently arrested in Chicago as he returned to the United States from Egypt. He'll be extradited to Pinellas County, where he will face three charges of unlawful sexual activity with minors.
Police began investigating the 51-year-old after officers say they learned he'd molested minors at his home in Pinellas Park.
The Pinellas Park Police Department said its subsequent investigation discovered Ghoneim met the children through his youth director role at the mosque.
"While the detectives have been able to locate and identify at least five victim's to date, it is believed there may be more," the agency wrote in a statement on Aug. 6.
The Islamic Society says it learned of the accusations roughly four months ago. At the time, a spokesperson says the organization barred Ghoneim from its property, demanded he have no further contact with children, and alerted authorities in Pinellas County.
The sexual abuse did not happen on the organization's property, the Islamic Society stated.
Lawyers say the child at the center of the lawsuit, who is being referred to as "John Doe No. 01," grew up in a devout Muslim family and regularly attended prayers and activities at the Islamic Society.
The lawsuit claims Ghoneim began grooming the boy at "a very young age."
Ghoneim invited children to his home after youth events and would often have them sleep over, the lawsuit alleges. It goes on to claim Ghoneim gave the boy sedatives to molest him while he slept.
The lawsuit says Ghoneim touched the boy's genitals after a basketball event and later molested him on a camping trip.
The child's parents had been honored a religious leader took interest in their son, not knowing he was a "serial predator," the lawsuit adds.
According to the court filing, Ghoneim preyed on underage boys and put himself in positions to get close to them. He molested "multiple boys" during and after the timeframe when he sexually abused "John Doe No. 01," the lawsuit says.
In a news conference Tuesday, the lawyers who filed the lawsuit said all the children were boys ages 11 and older. While they say they don't have an exact number of people they believe Ghoneim abused, they estimate the number is in the double digits.
According to the lawsuit, when other leaders at the Islamic Society learned of the molestation claims, they removed Ghoneim from his role and reassigned him as an advisor. But, the lawsuit claims the organization "actively concealed" the abuse, including by destroying documents related to its investigation of Ghoneim.
The reason for his reassignment was not properly disclosed to the congregation or families, the lawsuit claims.
Police say Ghoneim also has ties to a mosque in New Jersey. They are asking anyone with information that could help detectives to contact them at 727-369-7864.
The Islamic Society released the following statement to 10 Tampa Bay via email:
"Reference current turmoil in the community regarding the arrest and ongoing investigation of Br. Ehab Ghoneim and the victim’s statement.
A few months ago, the management at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, had learned of an ongoing investigation of Br. Ehab.
At the time he was a volunteer who helped in organizing Halaqas with a group of youths from our local community. All activities were monitored by our Imams who also attended many of the fieldtrips. The investigation did not involve any activities on ISTABA’s grounds/property. The investigation involved activities that took place in Pinellas County.
We like to inform the community that at the time when ISTABA learned of the activities (approximately four months ago) ISTABA took the following actions. First, Mr. Ghoneim was barred from entering the property of the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area. Second, it was demanded to have no contact with any of the youth that attended ISTABA. Finally, we contacted the investigating authority in Pinellas County to facilitate the investigation.
As of today, ISTABA is taking a position to allow the authorities to take every opportunity to complete their investigation and uncover the truth. We ask the community that has any information to come forward and contact the Pinellas County Police Department. Allah swt only know the complete truth better than anyone else. We ask Allah swt to have Mercy on all involved. We want to ensure our community that complete background checks are conducted on all individuals that interact with our youth, students and Sisters that work and interact on our campus."