Roger Keene was on his way to work that brisk April morning when he stopped at the BP convenience store for a cup of coffee. He was on his way out, clutching the warm Styrofoam cup with both hands, when he passed a stack of newspapers and saw a bold, black headline that stopped him cold:
CONVICTED MOLESTER RETURNING NEXT WEEK
"I took one look at that man's face in the paper, and bam! The coffee went all over me," he says. "I was trembling."
That man was Mario "Tony" Leyva, a self-ordained traveling evangelist who, in one of the most disturbing criminal cases that many here can recall, admitted in 1988 to molesting more than 100 boys over two decades in Virginia and several other states.
Roger Keene was one of them.
It has now been seven months since Tony Leyva's release from prison, and Keene and others in this historic railroad junction are still struggling with the crime and the criminal, unsure how they should react to the serial pedophile living in their midst.
Not that Leyva wants to be here. Just last month, the Pentecostal preacher tried to escape the glare of his infamy by moving to Puerto Rico with his wife and stepson. But authorities there had other plans: They condemned him publicly as a threat to their children and gave him 72 hours to get out.
So Leyva came back to Roanoke, and to the Jefferson Lodge, a two-story, $40-a-night motel in the heart of this community of 235,000. State and federal parole officers check on his whereabouts every day, and for now he is tagged with an electronic monitor shackled to his ankle. It's as much for his protection as the community's: Since his release from prison April 30, there have been a few credible death threats, officials say.
The 56-year-old Florida native has no ties to this city 230 miles southwest of Washington, except that it's where his sins were exposed. And where they still resonate. Every eye seems trained on him. Everyone has an opinion.
Preparing for the lunch rush at Paul's restaurant just a few blocks from Leyva's new home, waitress Linda Edwards is blunt. "They should castrate him," she says.
At the Cutting Edge hair salon across town, Marie Lovell, a mother of three, wonders whether his presence could provoke violence.
"There's a lot of vigilantism out there," she says. "People think in those terms, that they'd blow his brains out if they got the chance. I'd feel that way if I was a parent of one of those kids."
And yet Leyva still has followers, true believers who stood by him as he pleaded guilty and denied his culpability, blaming everyone from the devil to the CIA.
Should he stay or should he go? Some would happily see him leave this place, away from his grown but still-suffering victims, some of whom continue to live in this valley. Others, though, say the best way to ensure that there are no more victims is to keep Leyva here, where folks can watch his every move.
"Knowing where he is is a lot more comfortable than not knowing," says Ian Smith, 50, a contractor enjoying a late breakfast at Paul's.
There are no easy answers, agrees diner Tony Williams, 51. But this much he does know: "Puerto Rico sent us a message -- 'He's your problem.' "
Tony Leyva was just 9, a charismatic font of Scripture, when he began preaching in his home town of Miami. Self-ordained at 12, the young Cuban American held sway among his peers by age 16.
Mike Echols, a child welfare advocate, spent years researching his 1996 book "Brother Tony's Boys," which describes how Leyva used his charm, and later his ministry, to gain the trust of teenage boys.
Leyva himself was molested by an adult while in high school, Leyva's first wife told Echols. A few years later, when Leyva began to prey on others, he targeted fatherless and underprivileged boys, boys who craved attention and friendship. Once alone with them, his victims told Echols, Leyva performed oral sex on them, claiming it was a special covenant with God.
Before he was 20, Leyva hit the southern revival circuit, eventually moving into the Midwest and as far north as Pennsylvania, and creating a Caribbean ministry via radio. His sermons were dynamic, his style increasingly Vegas-like. In later years, he sometimes preached in a Superman costume, calling himself "Superchristian."
Over time, his flock growing, he founded two evangelical organizations in Columbus, Ga. And he replaced evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, himself disgraced by a sex scandal, with a one-hour weekly television show that aired briefly before Leyva's own problems surfaced.
By then, 20 years had passed since he first began enlisting teenage boys -- many of them uneducated, like their parents -- to work on his tent crew.
He promised the parents a unique educational opportunity for their sons; perhaps they would become ministers, too.
Once out on the road, away from home for as long as a year, the boys were molested by Leyva and other preachers, including two of his close associates, who were later convicted with him.
Says Roanoke Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Leach, who prosecuted Leyva: "There are those in this area who believed, and still do, that he was God's chosen gift. But his ministry was merely a tool to select his victims."
His downward spiral began in 1987, when two Roanoke boys, who were 11 and 14 when they were molested, alerted police. Testifying in state court, they said Leyva had given them food and gifts and driven them in his limo to a motel.
As the case moved forward and other victims began to surface, federal authorities took interest. In Georgia, they found Leyva's "little black book," and from it they culled the names of more than 30 men and boys who agreed to talk.
They were embarrassed and concerned about a public backlash to their testimony, but they wanted justice, says Jennie Waering, the assistant U.S. attorney who handled the case. "They admitted things they never wanted to admit" to others.
When Leyva was called before a grand jury in April 1988, he denied having oral sex with another male. "I have been accused of it, but I never have," he said.
In a letter that month to his followers, Leyva described feeling helpless about the charges and sitting in church with "tears in my eyes and my insides like Jell-O." He urged supporters to stand up to the devil by sending him money for his defense. He had planned to ask for $30 donations in honor of his 30th anniversary as an evangelist, but "the crisis now presses for 100s -- even 1000s," he wrote.
That September, Leyva was convicted in state court on two molestation charges and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Still facing federal charges and as much as 50 additional years behind bars, he suddenly dropped his claims of innocence, pleading guilty to transporting minors across state lines for criminal sexual activity and for engaging children in prostitution.
As a condition of his plea, Leyva shared with investigators the scope of his crimes. He admitted to having sex with more than 100 boys -- a number that criminal profilers estimate may be only one-third of the actual total -- and in March 1989 received a 20-year sentence.
He ended up serving about half his federal prison time before mandatory parole kicked in.
Attorneys in the courtroom had rarely seen U.S. District Judge James C. Turk so outraged by a crime. He lashed out at the defendants as "con artists, liars, cheats and frauds."
His views haven't changed over the years. "It was a terrible crime," Turk says today. Leyva "preached fire and brimstone. A lot of people flocked to him. . . . Then he conned them."
Blaming the Government Perhaps he conned the court, too.
Shortly after his sentencing, Leyva again began denying his guilt. If there was a villain in the story, he said, it was the U.S. government. In letters to supporters, he claimed to have witnessed CIA drug-smuggling while visiting relatives in Cuba. The molestation charges, he said, were part of a government conspiracy to silence him.
Waering, the federal prosecutor, says: "I put him on the stand, and he admitted everything and apologized. Then he goes outside on the courthouse steps and denied the behavior. He said the devil made him do it and then blamed it on a CIA conspiracy."
At this she rolls her eyes, adding that she doubts Leyva will ever be rehabilitated. "Would I allow him to be near my son? Never in a million years."
At the Jefferson Lodge near the Civic Center, Leyva is making a living doing maintenance work. The manager and other employees -- including one who said he is a part-time private eye working on Leyva's behalf -- support the claims of a conspiracy that one says "goes deep." The truth will eventually emerge, they add without elaborating.
Leyva remains silent as well, declining a half-dozen requests to be interviewed for this article. His parents, still in North Carolina, also declined.
As conditions of his federal parole, which runs through April 2008, Leyva must attend sex offender counseling and cannot have contact with minors or travel in parts of the city where he first met some of his victims.
Probation officer Mike Price keeps tabs on high-risk offenders in the Roanoke area. For as long as Leyva is required to wear an electronic anklet, Price can monitor his movements. If the preacher isn't in his motel room when he's supposed to be, Price's pager goes off.
But even the Jefferson poses a concern for authorities. Just minutes off the Blue Ridge Parkway, it attracts vacationers with children, who can be seen lounging by the pool on its Web site.
What's more, the lodge -- where the state found Leyva a room when he got out of prison, and where he returned after going to Puerto Rico -- doubles as a dorm for the National College of Business and Technology. Like any college, it has teenage students. Coincidentally, Roger Keene is enrolled there as well.
Daniel Crandall, Leyva's attorney, says that his client suffered horribly in prison -- that he was taunted, spat upon and otherwise abused by other inmates and had to be moved to more than a dozen facilities, including a medical center after he was doused with scalding water. Leyva told Crandall that his burns left him impotent.
"The day will come" when Leyva will tell his story, Crandall says, but for now he needs to keep a low profile with his wife, Sherry Lynn, a member of his ministry whom he married while in prison.
"The crimes he's pleaded to and been accused of are terrible," Crandall adds. "They're crimes that evoke hate. He spent 13 years of his life in prison. He suffered tremendously. Today he's alone, ostracized, a cast-out. . . . He paid a very heavy price, which, if he did the things he's pleaded to, he deserved to. Now he wants to be left alone to live a quiet life."
If so, it would appear that Leyva has had a change of heart, because in a letter to the Roanoke Times late last year, he sketched this less-than-subtle vision of his future: "I know, now that my release is at hand, and God has given me an awesome 'vision' and 'plan' that will virtually rock America and the world in just a few months ahead."
He signed himself "Bro. Tony (TIMEX) Leyva; Takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'."
Haunted by Past Robbed of his youth, Roger Keene is now 35 and still hasn't recovered. The sexual assaults began when he was 14, a country boy from Botetourt, more fit for farm work than schooling or anything else, he says.
In 1981, Leyva's ministry rolled into Roanoke for a 10-day revival. Keene's mother, an enthusiastic churchgoer, took him with her each night. Before long, Leyva was sharing Sunday dinner at their house and asking permission for Roger to join him on the road. Leyva promised to educate the boy, immerse him in the Bible.
They'd been traveling two days when Leyva woke him up from a sound sleep and molested him. "He said, 'This is my way of showing love to you. This is God's way,' " Keene recalls. "My parents never told me about sex. I had no idea."
When Leyva was through, "he said, 'If I've offended you in any way, we'll get down on our hands and knees and ask God to forgive us.' " They did.
About a year later, Keene returned home an emotional wreck. For a long time, he questioned his sexuality; drugs, alcoholism and a deep depression shadowed him well into adulthood.
Today the willowy, soft-spoken man is married with three children, ages 10, 12 and 13. His voice barely audible over the din in a Roanoke pub, Keene says he has two goals: to get a college degree and to make sure that Tony Leyva never hurts another child.
"He caused so much torment in my life, I don't care where he goes; I'll be there. People are watching him," says Keene, offering a prediction: "Within a matter of months, if not sooner, he'll be messing with young boys, and someone will find him and kill him."
Keene steers clear of the Jefferson, which is only a short distance from his home. His children don't know his story, even after high-profile appearances on the Geraldo Rivera and Maury Povich television shows. He wants to shield them, both from the horror of his molestation and the anguish he says has cost him countless jobs and irreparably damaged his relationship with his mother.
Leyva took away his ability to trust. Only recently has Keene been able to return to his faith. He doesn't attend services, but he talks to God from time to time, a big step for a man who once held God partly to blame for his betrayal. Now Keene is working on absolution.
"What Tony's done is wrong, but I can forgive him," he whispers. "If I don't, I'm no better than he is.