LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The owner of a Lincoln magic shop who was charged earlier this year with sexually assaulting several foster boys in his care was just relicensed earlier this year.
Graciano Lopez, 42, was charged in June with sexually assaulting at least six boys between summer 2017 and March 2021, when one of the children contacted the state Department of Health and Human Service to report the ongoing assaults.
In addition to providing foster care, Officer Erin Spilker said Lopez came in contact with some of the boys at his Jelly Beans’s Majoc Castle shop and through a lawn care business he operated, where he employed teenage boys. Investigators are still searching for additional victims.
Lopez has been charged with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a protected person, seven counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child and one count of third-degree sexual assault of a child.
During the same time frame as the assaults, Lopez remained in good standing with the state agencies that placed children in his care. raising questions about their oversight.
“There’s a number of red flags for me that says this is one of those cases that could have been prevented by doing what caseworkers and agencies are supposed to be doing,” said Dr. John DeGarmo, a Georgia-based foster care consultant and the founder of the Foster Care Institute, in a phone interview with the Journal Star.
Lopez was recommended for relicensing by the Cedars Home for Children after that agency completed a study on the 42-year-old’s house in January. Emails and records obtained by the Journal Star via a public records request show he remained in good standing with the agency.
Less than a month after Lopez paid a court-ordered $500 fine for reckless driving, Cedars recommended that Lopez be renewed as a single-parent foster care provider, allowed to house up to four children, emails show. The recommendation came after a home study, according to an email dated Jan. 11.
“Graciano has been cooperative in completing the relicensing process,” Cedars Family Resource Partner Amy Schlueter said in the email to DHHS. “He enjoys having children placed in his home and expressed his desire to continue to provide foster care for children.”
Records provided by DHHS show that Lopez had completed the mandatory 12 hours of department-approved in-service training in the year leading up to his license renewal application, though he hadn’t completed courses on healthy sexual boundaries since December 2017, the records show.
Training on healthy sexual boundaries is not required but is offered. Foster parents are to complete a minimum number of overall training hours each year, possibly including car seat safety, for example.
Alger Studstill, the deputy director of protection and safety for the state’s Division of Children and Family Services, declined to comment tot he newspaper specifically on Lopez, citing ongoing court proceedings.