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Jury indicts ex-group head in molestation

Author(s): CHRISTOPHER BAUGHMAN Date: October 4, 1996 Section: city

A grand jury Thursday indicted the former head of a group that grants wishes to sick children on a charge that he molested a girl 11 years ago. John "Jay" Hartzog, 49, can go to prison for 15 years if found guilty of molestation of a juvenile, prosecutor Jennifer Pate said.

Hartzog, the former president of Dreams Come True, is accused of fondling the girl and performing lewd acts in front of her, according to an arrest warrant.

The incidents occurred seven to 10 times between 1985 and 1988, Pate said. The victim, now 16, was between the ages of 5 and 8, Pate said.

The victim is not one of the children that Hartzog's former group aided, Pate said.

According to state law, molestation victims have until they are 27 to report allegations from years past, Pate said.

Hartzog's lawyer, Tommy Damico, said the acts never occurred.

"We obviously deny the allegations," Damico said. "The fact that the allegations occurred 11 years ago certainly causes one to doubt their truthfulness."

According to the arrest warrant, the victim, who lived near Hartzog, did not tell her mother about the attacks until March 18 of this year. The mother contacted the Sheriffs Office the same day.

However, the girl told a friend about the incidents at the time they allegedly occurred, the warrant says.

Pate said that is important to her case.

"That child remembers being told," Pate said.

Pate also said she is investigating two similar charges against I lartzog.

Damico said he was surprised Pate took the issue before the grand jury Thursday.

He said he told the Hast Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office that a lie-detector test showed Hartzog was telling the truth when he denied the girl's charges.

And nobody told him that the issue would go to the grand jury Thursday, Damico said.

"I certainly thought that this was going to he properly handled by dismissal," Damico said.

Sheriffs deputies arrested Hartzog, 4009 Downing St., on April 15. He has been out of Fast Baton Rouge Parish Prison on a $20,000 bond, Pate said.

In February, Hartzog was elected president of Dreams Come True, according to a newspaper report. Damico said Hartzog stepped down from his position when he found out about the girl's allegations.

"He did that voluntarily," Damico said, "lie believed it would be the proper thing to do."

Damico said his client, whose 9-year-old daughter died in 1988, has dedicated his life to helping seriously ill children.

"This is a man who has done nothing in the past but help terminally ill children," Damico said.

According to Hartzog's arrest warrant, he was arrested in 1975 for indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Pate said her office reduced the charge to obscenity, but never took it to court.

"That was dismissed at the request of the victim on March 18, 1976," she said.

Copyright 1996 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.

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