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The tawdry tale told on the Sullivan tapes: ‘Men do these things’


Whether or not the events that took place in the law office of 82-year-old Charles Sullivan Sr. were criminal will never be known because the state has dropped the sexual battery case against him, but what tape recordings reveal is certainly disturbing and disgusting.

The members of Sullivan’s defense team gloated last week when they announced that their client was off the hook. The defense lawyers’ 40-minute press conference could be boiled down to one sentence: We told you so.

They told the gaggle of television cameras and reporters that the sexual acts were consensual, and that Sullivan “proved” he believed he did nothing without the secretary’s consent by taking an expert-administered polygraph test.

Admitting that the long-time attorney and reputed “mentor” to half of Vero’s glut of lawyers engaged in a sexual dalliance with a law office employee half his age – with the news televised into the homes of Sullivan’s wife, his children and his grandchildren – doesn’t seem like a victory. But it’s apparently better than a criminal trial and likely disbarment.

On the recordings obtained by Vero Beach Police detectives who equipped the secretary with a wire and twice sent her into the office to confront and tape Sullivan, Sullivan told the distraught woman that she did not tell him “no” forcefully enough, that telling him to “just go” and motioning with her hands for him to back off was not a crystal-clear rebuff.

On the tapes – which Attorneys Bob Stone and Andy Metcalf last week urged reporters to obtain and listen to for themselves – Sullivan tells the secretary that the incident is “a learning experience” for the next time she’s alone with a man who gets aggressive with her, that next time she’ll know to protest more vehemently.

When she repeatedly asked why he felt it was okay to touch her, to grope her, to expose himself to her and to go inside her undergarments and molest her, he appeared mystified by the question – puzzled why she would even ask. He replied matter-of-factly that she’s attractive, and he is attracted to her, and “men do these things.”

“They don’t, Charles.  They don’t,” the woman replied angrily on tape.

The tape doesn’t prove the acts were consensual. It does, however, prove that they happened.

After Sullivan was arrested on June 25, his defense team said police “cherry-picked” certain parts of the recordings that were most incriminating, but that the taped conversations, in their entirety, would demonstrate that no crime occurred.   What is unquestionable is what anyone who has ever watched Sullivan argue a case in court already knows:  that he can be a master manipulator.

When the secretary said she’d gone to see a counselor because she was distraught over what happened, Sullivan said she should continue with the counseling if she needed it, and that he would give her cash to pay for it. He told her to make up a lie to tell people about why she was going to a counselor.

But he also told her to just get over it and move on, to put it out of her mind. ”In my mind, I just wiped it out, I don’t even remember what happened, and you can do the same thing,” he told her.

Laying out his arguments methodically, Sullivan told her she’d ruin her life if she told anybody what happened. He reminded her that she had a good job, a husband and a family to think about.  Why would she put those things in jeopardy? “Put a smile on your face” and  chalk it up to an innocent mistake.

He tried to persuade her that what happened is extremely commonplace. “You know how many times things like this happen probably in life, probably 10 times a day here in Vero,” he said.