Officials in Puerto Rico have decided to expel a Virginia tent-revival preacher who moved to the island last week after spending 11 years in federal prison for running a child prostitution ring.
Mario "Tony" Leyva, 55, was released from the Brunswick Correctional Center in Lawrenceville, Va., in April after serving more than half of a 20-year prison sentence. In 1988, the self-ordained evangelist admitted to having had sex with as many as 100 boys, and pleaded guilty to charges that he used his traveling ministry to recruit youths and transport them across state lines as part of a prostitution ring.
On Oct. 14, Leyva arrived in Puerto Rico to join his wife, whom he married in the 1990s while behind bars, and stepson. But officials with the Caribbean island's Department of Correction and Rehabilitation said yesterday they would not agree to oversee Leyva's parole. They ordered him back into the supervision of Virginia officials and gave him 72 hours to leave.
"He is really a dangerous citizen," said Victor Rivera Gonzalez, secretary of Puerto Rico's Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, in a telephone interview from San Juan. "We went over his file, his previous indictments and everything concerning the way he acted with children, and in the best interest of Puerto Rico decided not to accept him under our supervision."
Leyva, a Cuban American, proclaimed his innocence yesterday on Puerto Rico radio station NotiUno. "I am innocent of all of those things. . . . It's a fabrication of the government," he said.
Michael Price, a senior U.S. probation officer based in Roanoke, said that authorities in the island commonwealth had accepted Leyva on a temporary 90-day transfer of his supervision based on the fact that his family had established a home there and because Leyva had stayed out of trouble with the law since his release.
But the high-profile nature of the case may have caused a turnabout in their thinking, officials said.
"Today in the newspaper, you can read about members of the clergy involved with children," Price said. Leyva's "crime occurred years ago. And while incidents with the clergy were undoubtedly going on then, at the time it was unheard of. A lot of the attention that's being placed on this case is based on the circumstances we live in."
Price said Leyva will return to Virginia's Western District, which extends from Winchester south to Danville and west to the state line.
At the time of his arrest, Leyva owned the Tony Leyva Evangelists Association Inc. and the Tony Leyva International School of Evangelism and Conference Center in Columbus, Ga. He is said to have begun his ministry in 1958 and conducted revivals in Virginia, Georgia and elsewhere in the East.
The ministry's troubles surfaced publicly in 1988, when Leyva and two Pentecostal evangelist associates were indicted by a federal grand jury. They were charged with participating in the interstate transport of boys for prostitution from 1983 to mid-1987 -- conspiring to molest youngsters in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio and Indiana.
The men subsequently pleaded guilty to using their ministry to recruit youths for homosexual acts. Leyva specifically pleaded to five felony counts of transporting minor boys for criminal sexual activity and for engaging children in prostitution.
At the time of his 1989 sentencing, Leyva already was serving 2 1/2 years in prison on state charges that he sexually abused two boys. Prosecutors estimated that Leyva molested hundreds of boys over a 25-year span.
Before imposing sentence, U.S. District Judge James C. Turk in Roanoke admonished Leyva and his associates for preying on the uneducated and the poor. "I think anyone else would have seen through you," Turk said from the bench. "You've blackened the eye of religion."