Church responds after educational program owner detained for alleged sexual assault

Church responds after educational program owner detained for alleged sexual assault
Mata (Source: Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The church where an alleged sexual assault took place in 2017 sent a letter to their congregation after the owner of an educational program - the man at the center of the investigation - was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ricardo Mata, the operator of Charlotte educational program PlaySpanish, was accused of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl in 2017. He was arrested March 16 and charged with indecent liberties with a minor, lewd and lascivious.

Police are investigating the incident they say happened at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Dilworth during the summer of 2017.

CMPD says a 7-year-old girl was assaulted during one of Mata's classes that teaches Spanish through local summer camps.

On Friday, the church sent a letter to the congregation addressing the situation.

"We write to inform you that we recently received grievous word of an alleged sexual assault of a minor on our church campus. Words fail to capture our sadness," the letter read.

The church said they have been in close contact with the child and family involved to offer support, love, and full cooperation.

The letter indicates that the church's commitment to the family will include a disciplined effort to protect their identity and to prioritize their family needs during the time of crisis.

The church also re-affirmed their commitment to child safety on campus in the letter, outlining security measures put in place for that effort.

We re-affirm our commitment to the safety of all children on our campus. We do this not just in word but in specific, accountable action. Two years ago we worked with legal counsel to review and strengthen our child protection policy. We require all employees, volunteers, and contractors with access to children to take Child Protection Training. Though we cannot guarantee 100% compliance with our policy, we do review compliance regularly and actively enforce it. In fact, our education staff, which works closely with children and youth, reviews compliance monthly.

The church said that the allegation was not made against any employee or member of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and that Mata has been banned from the campus.

They also mentioned that all legal obligations regarding police and DSS notifications have been met, and that they will fully cooperate with any investigation when it starts.

Mata was allegedly investigated but never charged in a similar type of situation in 2009, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The concerns about the previous case were brought up during Mata's first court appearance on Monday for the 2017 incident.

Ricardo Mata and Carmela Tondo-Mata started the PlaySpanish program 21 years ago, in January 1997. PlaySpanish is a Charlotte company that employs immigrants to teach preschoolers Spanish language and culture skills.

According to PlaySpanish's website, the program currently operates at First United Methodist Church Child Development Center, Myers Park Baptist Church Through-The-Week-School, Providence Baptist Church Weekday Education Ministry, Steele Creek Presbyterian Church Child Development Center, and Kids 'R' Kids -The Academy at Blakeney.

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