Pa. police chief faces sex accuser in court

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SCRANTON – A police chief charged with having a three-year sexual relationship with a teenage girl faced his accuser Monday for the first time in court.


The accuser, now 23, testified at length about sexual encounters she said she had with 48-year-old Larry Semenza, who is suspended from his job as chief of the Old Forge police department in northeastern Pennsylvania.


Semenza was arrested last May, shortly after the accuser came forward, on charges that include aggravated indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor.


An arrest affidavit says that Semenza, then a police sergeant and fire captain, met the teen when she became a junior firefighter. Semenza trained her and became a mentor and soon was taking her out for coffee and buying her expensive fire equipment, including a helmet that cost hundreds of dollars, court documents say.


“We were always together, like as if we were dating,” the woman testified at a pre-trial hearing Monday. “I didn’t feel that I needed to tell anybody. I didn’t feel it was wrong.”


The relationship eventually turned sexual, she said.


The woman avoided eye contact with Semenza and showed little emotion as she testified. Semenza did not take the stand.


Lackawanna County Judge Vito P. Geroulo refused a defense bid to dismiss all charges, Scranton’s The Times-Tribune reported. No trial date has been set.


Also facing charges in the case are police Capt. Jamie Krenitsky and former volunteer firefighter Walt Chiavacci.


Both police officers deny the accusations, contending the accuser is motivated by money. The accuser has filed a federal lawsuit against Semenza, Krenitsky, Chiavacci, the borough and the police and fire departments.


Court documents reveal a transcript of a phone conversation between Krenitsky and Semenza, recorded by investigators after the accuser came forward, in which the chief denied a sexual relationship.


“What relationship?” the chief asked, according to the transcript. “I didn’t do a ... thing with her, nothing. Never! Never laid a hand on her.”


But Deputy District Attorney Jennifer McCambridge said Monday the accuser “has been consistent and credible from day one.”


In other testimony Monday, state police Cpl. Benjamin Clark said Chiavacci admitted to investigators he told Semenza he had a sexual encounter with the accuser. Police say Chiavacci, who has pleaded not guilty, is cooperating with them.


The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.


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