Civilian Army leader led child sex abuse ring, risked US security
SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. - David Frodsham was a top civilian commander at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan when he "jokingly" asked an IT technician for access to YouPorn, the video-sharing pornographic website.
During his time in the war zone, Frodsham told one woman that he hired her because he "wanted to be surrounded by pretty women," and routinely called others "honey," "babe," and "cougar" before he was ordered home after the military verified multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
"I would not recommend placing him back into a position of authority but rather pursuing disciplinary actions at his home station," wrote one commanding officer when recommending that the Army order Frodsham to leave his post at Bagram Airfield and return to Fort Huachuca, a major Army installation in Arizona, according to a U.S. Army investigative file obtained by The Associated Press.
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But when Frodsham returned to his home station in fall 2015, he rejoined the Network Enterprise Technology Command, the Army’s information technology service provider, where he had served as director of personnel for a global command of 15,000 soldiers and civilians, according to his Army resume.
This 2016 mugshot photo provided by the Sierra Vista, Ariz., Police Department shows David Frodsham. Frodsham pleaded guilty to sex abuse charges in 2016 and is serving a 17-year sentence. (Sierra Vista Police Department)
By spring of the following year, he was arrested in Arizona for leading a child sex abuse ring that included an Army sergeant who was posting child pornography to the internet. Among the victims was one of Frodsham’s adopted sons
Frodsham pleaded guilty to sex abuse charges in 2016 and is serving a 17-year sentence. But records reviewed by the AP show that the U.S. Army and the state of Arizona missed or ignored multiple red flags over more than a decade, which allowed Frodsham to allegedly abuse his adopted son and other children for years, all the while putting national security at risk.
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The state permitted Frodsham and his wife, Barbara, to foster, adopt and retain custody of their many children despite nearly 20 complaints, and attempted complaints, of abuse, neglect, maltreatment and licensing violations. Meanwhile, the Army gave Frodsham security clearances and sensitive jobs at a time when his illicit sexual practices made him vulnerable to blackmail.
"He would have been an obvious target of foreign intelligence services because of his role and his location," said Frank Figliuzzi, the former assistant director of counterintelligence for the FBI. "Fort Huachuca is one of the more sensitive installations in the continental United States. People with security issues should not be there." In addition to NETCOM, where Frodsham worked, Fort Huachuca is home to a contingent of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, according to its website.
Public relations officials at Fort Huachuca confirmed that Frodsham was a program manager for NETCOM before he was arrested on child sex abuse charges. They declined to say whether Frodsham was disciplined after returning from Afghanistan, or whether the Army ever considered him a security risk.
Frodsham, former Sgt. Randall Bischak and a third man not associated with the Army are all serving prison terms for the roles they played in the child sex abuse ring. But the investigation is continuing because Sierra Vista police believe additional men took part.
Now, the criminal investigation is spilling over into civil court, where two of Frodsham’s adopted sons have filed separate lawsuits against the state for licensing David and Barbara Frodsham as foster parents in a home where they say they were physically and sexually abused throughout their lives.
A third adopted son filed suit Tuesday in Arizona state court in Cochise County, said attorney Lynne Cadigan, who represents all three. In the latest complaint, 19-year-old Trever Frodsham says case workers missed or overlooked numerous signs that David and Barbara Frodsham were unfit parents. These included a 2002 sex abuse complaint filed with local police by one of the Frodshams' biological daughters against an older biological brother, and the fact that David and Barbara Frodsham were themselves victims of child sex abuse.
Trever’s allegations echo those featured in an earlier lawsuit filed by his older biological brother, Ryan Frodsham, and one filed by Neal Taylor, both of whom were also adopted into the Frodsham household.
In an interview with the AP, Ryan Frodsham said his adoptive father began sexually abusing him when he was 9 or 10 years old and the abuse continued into his teens, when David Frodsham began offering his son’s sexual services to other men. "Makes me throw up thinking about it," Ryan said.
In his lawsuit, Ryan Frodsham said the state was informed that David and Barbara Frodsham were physically abusing their children "by slapping them in the face, pinching them, hitting them with a wooden spoon, putting hot sauce in their mouths, pulling them by the hair, bending their fingers back to inflict pain, forcing them to hold cans with their arms extended for long periods time," and refusing to let them use the bathroom unless the door remained open. In his AP interview, Ryan said Barbara never sexually abused him but walked into the room where David was abusing him at least twice.
"She knew what was going on," he said.
The lawsuits and related legal filings also say investigators with the Department of Child Safety and case workers with Catholic Community Services, which subcontracts foster and adoption work from the state, failed to effectively follow up on 19 complaints and attempted complaints regarding the Frodsham home spanning more than a decade.
The complaints began in 2002, when the Frodshams applied for their foster care license, and continued until 2015, when David Frodsham was charged with disorderly conduct and driving drunk with children in his car, prompting the state to suspend their license indefinitely and remove all foster children from their home, although the charges were later dismissed.
Five months later, the Army deployed Frodsham to Afghanistan, where he was ordered back to Arizona after only four months of service.
Reports fell on deaf ears
The lawsuits say the Frodshams’ adopted children attempted to report their own physical and sexual abuse without success.
For instance, Neal Taylor’s lawsuit says he attempted to report that David Frodsham was sexually abusing him in two phone calls to his case manager, both of which he placed from school.
The first time, the case manager reported the call to Neal’s adoptive mother, who "interrogated" him and "proceeded to punish" him, according to his lawsuit. The second time, the case manager refused to meet with him unless he disclosed the reason for his call over the phone, because he would have had to drive 90 minutes from Tucson to Sierra Vista for a private meeting.
Ryan Frodsham’s lawsuit and the related legal filings say he reported repeated alleged physical abuse by Barbara Frodsham to Sierra Vista police when he was 12 years old after running away from home. Police photographed several bruises, returned him to Barbara Frodsham, and reported the incident to the state Department of Child Safety. Despite the photographs and a police report, a case worker who met with Ryan five weeks later found his allegations "unsubstantiated."
Arizona Department of Child Safety spokesman Darren DaRonco declined to answer specific questions about the lawsuits. He instead sent an email outlining the state’s procedures for screening prospective foster and adoptive parents. "Despite all of these safeguards, people are sometimes able to avoid detection," DaRonco said, "especially if a person has no prior criminal or child abuse history."
Yet David and Barbara Frodsham have both said they were abused as minors.
In their written application to become foster parents, Barbara Frodsham indicated that neither she nor her husband had been sexually victimized. But in recent pretrial testimony for Ryan Frodsham’s lawsuit, she said she would have revealed her abuse if she had been asked by a state investigator as part of the licensing process.
David Frodsham, for his part, told a probation official after his guilty plea that he had been abused as a teenager.
Many child welfare experts believe people with a history of child sexual abuse are more likely to abuse children in their own households and should be questioned to ensure they’ve overcome their trauma before being allowed to provide foster care.
Arizona’s child welfare case workers "did not know how to interview and, therefore, they didn’t get candid answers from the Frodshams," said Kathleen Faller, an expert witness retained in Ryan Frodsham’s lawsuit. In pretrial testimony, Faller also said the state should not have granted the Frodshams’ foster care license.
Barbara Frodsham, who divorced David following his guilty plea, did not return multiple telephone calls from the AP, and did not respond to detailed questions left on her voice mail. At the time of her husband’s sentencing, she was working at Fort Huachuca as a personnel specialist, according to law enforcement records. A spokeswoman at Fort Huachuca said she still holds the position.
Attorneys for the state and the other defendants are seeking to have the cases dismissed, based in part on state law that grants immunity to state employees for mistakes or misjudgments committed in the course of their work. The law does not provide immunity for "gross negligence," which the Frodsham brothers and Neal Taylor are alleging.
The state also says all the complaints about the Frodsham children and the Frodsham home were properly handled.
Child sex abuse ring
The Frodsham case started as child sex abuse investigations often do: with an undercover Homeland Security agent lurking in a chat room favored by child pornographers. The Philadelphia-based agent, using the Kik messaging app, ran into someone calling himself "Pup Brass" who was posting videos and photos labeled "pedopicsandvidd."
Kik offers users a degree of anonymity but it stores IP addresses, which help identify a device’s connection to the internet and can help identify the device’s owner. According to a Sierra Vista police probable cause statement, federal and local law enforcement agents using the IP address and other information — some gleaned from social media accounts — soon determined that "Pup Brass" was Sgt. Randall Bischak.
When they raided his home, seizing computers, cell phones, tablets and CDs holding child pornography, Bischak confessed that he’d been having sex with a 59-year-old man he called "Dave" and his teenage son. In at least one instance Bischak had secretly recorded the sex on video. He also told investigators that he and Frodsham discussed having sex with small children and that Frodsham had supplied him with at least one of the "little ones."
Thomas Ransford, who specializes in child sex abuse cases for the Sierra Vista police, was no stranger to Frodsham. In the mid-2000s, he served as a military police officer at Fort Huachuca when Frodsham was director of Training, Plans, Mobilization and Security. "So, I knew him. I was familiar with him, attended meetings with him," Ransford recalled. He also knew that Frodsham’s foster kids were always in trouble.
When Ransford first questioned Frodsham he denied everything. "He was pompous, like he was the smartest guy in the room," Ransford recalled. Then Ransford played the video Bischak had secretly taken of himself having three-way sex with Frodsham and his adopted son, Ryan, and Frodsham began to acknowledge his crimes.
Ryan Frodsham also initially denied his father had abused him. "Ryan appeared very defensive of his father and did not want to implicate him in any misconduct," Ransford wrote in a probable cause statement.
But when Ransford showed him a compromising photograph seized from Bischak’s cell phone, Ryan began to open up. Over the course of several months, Ransford said, Ryan identified others he said were part of his father’s child sex abuse ring, fueling the continuing investigation.
"There’s others we’re aware of," Ransford said. "It’s open."
The Frodsham child sex abuse ring is part of a cluster of sex abuse cases that have come to light in Cochise County, Arizona, over the last several years, including several involving U.S. Border Patrol agents, two of whom worked at the Naco, Arizona, Border Crossing. Among them:
— John Daly III. A year ago, authorities arrested the recently retired Border Patrol agent after DNA evidence led them to suspect him in at least eight rapes, and to consider whether he is the so-called East Valley rapist, who terrorized women outside Phoenix throughout the 1990s. Prosecutors in Maricopa and Cochise counties have charged him with multiple counts of sexual assault and kidnapping. Daly, who is being held without bail, has pleaded not guilty.
— Dana Thornhill. A year ago, Thornhill was sentenced to a 40-year prison term after pleading guilty to years of sexually abusing his two children. Thornhill was charged following a stand-off with police in which he holed up in a local church. At the time, Thornhill was the chaplain at the Naco Border Crossing.
— Paul Adams. In 2017, Adams was charged with raping his two daughters, one of whom was just 6 weeks old; taking videos of the sexual assaults; and posting them on the Internet. Adams, who took his own life before standing trial, was also stationed at the Naco Border Crossing.
Ransford believes the cluster of cases should be attributed to good police work and effective prosecution, which give victims and others the confidence to report child sex abuse. "People report because they know something’s going to be done about it," he said.
But Cadigan, the attorney representing the Frodsham brothers and Neal Taylor, wonders whether child sex abuse in southern Arizona is on the rise. "Law enforcement has been very effective, and I appreciate their efforts, but I’ve been taking these cases for 30 years and I’ve never been so busy," she said.
A scandal-plagued department
The physical and sexual abuse allegedly endured by the Frodsham brothers and Neal Taylor occurred at a time when Arizona’s child welfare system was embroiled in scandal. In 2013, officials revealed that what was then the Department of Protective Services had a backlog of more than 6,500 abuse and neglect complaints it had never investigated.
The revelation prompted then-Gov. Jan Brewer to dissolve the entire department and create a new Cabinet-level office called the Department of Child Safety. "It is evident that our child welfare system is broken, impeded by years of operational failures," said Brewer, a Republican.
Underlying the scandal were deep budget cuts to family support services, leading to soaring abuse and neglect complaints and what an auditor general’s report would later refer to as "unmanageable workloads, staff turnover and the limited experience of some CPS supervisors and newly hired investigators."
In 2014, an analysis produced for the state Legislature showed that the increase in workloads in Arizona during the decade that ended in 2012 was greater than in any other state but one. It also showed that the response time for abuse and neglect complaints ballooned from 63 hours to nearly 250 hours, between 2009 and 2012.
In its defense against Ryan Frodsham’s lawsuit, the state is trying to exclude any mention of the department’s troubled past. "There is no evidence that the types of problems that led to the dissolution of CPS has any relation to or impact on his case," the state said in a pretrial motion.
But David and Barbara Frodsham were licensed as foster parents in 2002, at the dawn of what was perhaps the department’s most troubled period, and formally adopted the three men going to court about a decade later, shortly before the system collapsed. "The jury is entitled to the full picture," lawyers for Ryan Frodsham said.
In his AP interview, Ryan Frodsham said he filed his lawsuit for one reason: "I want the state to admit what it did was wrong."
This story has been updated to correct that Fort Huachuca is home to a contingent of the Intelligence and Security Command.