Eric Bodenweiser, who two weeks ago was running for a state Senate seat, has pleaded not guilty to 113 felony sex charges involving a child. A Sussex County grand jury indictment, unsealed Oct. 22, charges that Bodenweiser raped a boy 39 times over a three-year period.
Bodenweiser, 53, faces 74 charges of second-degree unlawful sexual contact in addition to 39 charges of first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse. A case review hearing is set for Monday, Nov. 19.
At an Oct. 22 arraignment at Sussex County Superior Court, Bodenweiser pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. He did not return calls or emails for comment.
The victim, now a 35-year-old Florida resident, attended Selbyville Middle School at the time he says the abuse occurred. The crimes against the victim would have begun when the victim was 10 and ended when he was 13.
In an email the victim said he could not discuss the case. “I will however say, that it is not politically motivated,” he wrote.
The victim has a criminal record of his own – according to court records, he was arrested in Pinellas County, Fla., on Nov. 16, 2010, and charged with domestic battery by strangulation and tampering with a state witness. Florida court records show he is on probation following a guilty plea.
According to a press release from the Attorney General's Office, Delaware State Police initiated the investigation of Bodenweiser several weeks ago. According to State Police Sgt. Paul Shavack, the victim contacted police and reported the abuse.
According to the indictment, the abuse occurred between Oct. 1, 1987, and Aug. 31, 1990.
Marc Felizzi, director of the Department of Social Work Baccalaureate Program at Delaware State University and an expert on child sexual abuse, said it is not uncommon for a victim to press charges more than 20 years after the crime was committed. “Especially in this day and age,” he said.
Felizzi said victims become emboldened in light of more notorious child sex abuse cases, and society is more supportive of victims than it was years ago.
Felizzi said when he heard about the case, he wondered – if Bodenweiser is guilty of the charges – what he has been doing for the last 20 years. “If he (Bodenweiser) did not receive treatment, I can probably guarantee you right now there are more victims out there,” he said. “The research shows this is not a one-and-done phenomenon.”
Felizzi said he would not be surprised if more victims did not come forward as the case progresses.
As a local businessman, Bodenweiser helped his father operate Bodie’s Dairy Markets, a chain of six local convenience stores and Laundromats, established in 1966. The family sold the chain in 2001. Felizzi said if Bodenweiser is guilty, his position could have given him access to a population of victims.
According to Bodenweiser’s campaign website, he was an active middle school mentor. Cape Henlopen School Board member Sandi Minard said she was unaware of Bodenweiser doing any mentoring in the Cape Henlopen School District.
Gary Brittingham, assistant superintendent for Indian River School District, said Bodenweiser was a mentor for children at Georgetown Middle School and North Georgetown Elementary School.
“We haven’t had any concerns raised by anyone,” Brittingham said. “We’ve taken the proper steps.”
Brittingham would not provide any details about the children Bodenweiser mentored; he said information involving Bodenweiser had been turned over to police.
Brittingham said mentors undergo a background check and must be approved by the student’s parent before they can mentor a child. He said mentors meet with children in the school library, cafeteria or playground. “Never alone,” Brittingham said.
Bodenweiser also claimed to be a past volunteer for the Big Brothers organization. Mary Fox, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware, said the organization has no record of Bodenweiser in its volunteer files, which go back more than 10 years.
In the past two years, Bodenweiser helped lead an effort to continue prayers at Indian River School Board meetings and Sussex County Council meetings. On his campaign website, Bodenweiser describes himself as a conservative Christian.
“Perhaps he was feeling a necessity to redeem himself,” Felizzi said. He speculated, if Bodenweiser is guilty, his strong Christian identification could have also been an attempt to further his political ambition and appear beyond reproach. “A lot of pedophiles don’t really feel guilt,” Felizzi said.
Josh Marlowe, assistant pastor of Sussex County Bible Church in Harbeson, where Bodenweiser was a member, said the church did not wish to comment on the situation.
Bodenweiser turned himself in to police at the Sussex County Superior Courthouse in Georgetown, where he was arraigned and committed to Sussex Correctional Institution in default of $250,000 secured bail.
According to Department of Corrections Spokesman John Painter, Bodenweiser was released from SCI Oct. 23. As ordered by Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley, Bodenweiser is on pretrial supervision and will be monitored through a GPS unit.
Bodenweiser, a well-known Republican and 9-12 Delaware Patriot, unseated incumbent Sen. Joe Booth, R-Georgetown, in the Sept. 11 primary election for the GOP nomination for Senate District 19.
Theresa Garcia, of 9-12 Delaware Patriots, said the group had no comment on the charges.
He was an ardent supporter of Sussex County Sheriff Jeff Christopher, who is also affiliated with the 9-12 Patriots, in his effort to get more training and arrest powers for his office. Christopher could not be reached at press time.
Bodenweiser was endorsed by 2010 Republican U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who spoke at a Sept. 27 fundraiser for Bodenweiser at his campaign headquarters in Georgetown.
In a radio interview, O’Donnell called the charges a potent political weapon. “It’s just, it’s tacky, and it’s what’s happened to our political system,” she said on WGMD, Oct. 23.
Annette Burgess from Christine O’Donnell’s political action committee, ChristinePAC, said in an email, “As you can well imagine, a lot of people were surprised by the news and our thoughts/prayers go out to all parties involved.”
Bodenweiser suspended his campaign after failing to appear at several campaign events after the fundraiser. He withdrew from the Senate race Oct. 18.
Former Georgetown Mayor Brian Pettyjohn filed as a write-in candidate Oct. 1. State and county Republican leaders have since endorsed Pettyjohn.
Democrat Jane Hovington, who is also running to represent voters in Senate District 19, is the only candidate whose name will appear on the Tuesday, Nov. 6 election ballot.