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Forest Hills soccer coach’s fate in hands of jury

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The coach of a Forest Hills boys’ soccer league accused of sexually molesting young boys in hotel rooms was portrayed Tuesday by his attorney as an honest man and by the prosecutor as a predator who surrounded himself with 10- to 12-year-old boys.

Fernando Colman, 37, of Elmont, L.I., a founder and former coach of the Argentina Soccer School in Forest Hills, was on trial before Justice Richard Buchter on 19 counts of sexual abuse, sodomy, attempted sodomy and endangering the welfare of a child in Queens hotel rooms two years ago.

He faces more than 100 years in prison if convicted of top counts.

The jury began deliberating late Tuesday.

Last year Colman was acquitted of 12 similar felony charges in a Nassau County court. But he was convicted of two child endangerment misdemeanors, for which he is currently serving a two-year term in jail.

Six boys, ages 10 to 13, testified against Colman during the trial in state Supreme Court in Kew Gardens. On May 5, the opening day of the trial, one 14-year-old said Colman told him and other boys to do a strip tease for him and later touched his private parts while he was sleeping.

Later on in the trial, another boy testified that Colman had kissed him on the lips and sodomized him.

But in closing arguments, defense attorney Martin Gedulig argued that medical evidence of sodomy was inconsistent for one boy’s claim of when he was abused. The boy was reported to have been sodomized on April 21, 2001 but was not examined by a doctor until 26 days later, the lawyer said.

At that point, the redness from the act should have been clearing up, according to a doctor’s testimony, but the medical exam did not indicate a fading redness, Gedulig said.

“Timing is important,” said Gedulig. “The medical exam indicates that (the boy’s) injury was not caused by Fernando Colman. It was caused by someone else.”

He later suggested that the perpetrator could have been another one of the boys, an “aggressive kid” who the defense attorney said wrote an unprovoked, “bizarre” note to his coach stating “we lost the game 4-0. You’re a good guy. I hope you get out of jail soon.”

Gedulig pointed out that Colman never made any attempt to hide his stays in hotels with the boys. The check-in and check-out times at the hotels he and the boys stayed at during February, March and April of 2001 were consistent with the timing of the games he and the boys played in, he said.

In addition, two witnesses were willing to testify that Colman was an honest, law-abiding man with a good reputation, even after they found out about the charges against him, the defense attorney said.

“What Fernando says is so - it makes sense,” said Gedulig. “He’s being truthful with you.”

Assistant district attorney Kenneth Appelbaum urged jurors not to be distracted from “good, clear evidence” by the defense attorney’s suggestion of another perpetrator.

“Six children came. They told you about being penetrated anally by their soccer coach, being rubbed on the leg, kissed by their soccer coach,” said Appelbaum. “Their testimony alone was entirely credible.”

Appelbaum pointed out that Colman is not accused of a street crime.

“This kind of predator needs to have the trust of the victim, otherwise he’s never going to get into a hotel room with them,” he said.

Appelbaum said Colman was happy to spend $400 out of his own pocket for Saturday-to-Sunday hotel stays because he got his “big pay off” when he had the opportunity to sleep in the same bed with boys dressed in only their underwear.

The prosecutor pointed out that Colman spent time with the boys and their families during birthdays and other special occasions and drove all over the city in his van, picking up and dropping off the youngsters.

“He put a lot of effort into gaining their trust and the trust of their parents and being likable,” said Appelbaum. “His whole life outside of what he gets paid for is dedicated to surrounding himself with young boys — that’s his pattern of behavior.”

Appelbaum said Colman’s ultimate goal was “being in a hotel with his favorite sex toys — 10, 11 and 12-year-old boys.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by email at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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