Celebration, Florida's First Murder Victim Sexually Abused Miami Beach Kids, Report Says

The brutal 2010 murder of Matteo Patrick Giovanditto was doubly shocking. It was the first killing in the idyllic, planned community of Celebration, Florida -- built by The Walt Disney Company near Disney World. Then there was the brutality of the crime: Giovanditto was found strangled with a shoelace and hacked with an ax in his condo.

But the horrible slaying was actually much weirder and worse than imagined. Giovanditto wasn't an innocent victim but a pedophile who had sexually abused boys across the country for years, according to a new article by The Daily Beast. And some of his victims were students of his at Lehrman Day, a private Jewish school in Miami Beach.

In the article, reporters Barbara Spindel and Maria Elena Fernandez use police reports and interviews with half a dozen of Giovanditto's former students to paint a picture of a sexual predator whose abusive habits led to his own grisly death.

The article describes two instances in which Giovanditto allegedly abused Florida children.

First, a mother tells how she sent her teenage son to Crossroads School (now called the Kentwood Preparatory School) in Davie. There, Giovanditto took her 10-year-old son under his wing, only for their relationship to abruptly sour after four years.

When her son's marriage fell apart years later, the mother discovered that her son had been sexually abused by the Crossroads teacher. The abuse included "oral sex 'all the time, many times a week,'" according to the article.

In Miami Beach, at least one of Giovanditto's former students told The Daily Beast that he was abused by the Lehrman Day teacher.

"He's the person who introduced me to masturbation," the anonymous victim says in the article. "He never forced anything; he manipulated me. At one point, we were at his apartment -- I can't even give you the setup to how it happened ... All I remember -- almost as a challenge -- he would put it: 'You can't make me come.' So I rubbed his pants until he had an erection and then he came. It was like a dare. It didn't seem unusual at the time."

Other Lehrman students told The Daily Beast of their suspicions of Giovanditto. One described traveling to Mexico with the teacher, a trip he now realized seems "insane."

Lehrman's principal at the time recalled Giovanditto as an "excellent employee." However, current principal Jodi Bruce told The Daily Beast that the allegations were "disappointing, disturbing, and heartbreaking."

New Times could find no criminal records or public documents on Giovanditto's time in Miami Beach. But The Daily Beast's investigation shows how he went from predatory teacher to targeting young men on Craigslist.

On Thanksgiving Day 2010, Giovanditto's dark past caught up with him. That's when he asked 30-year-old David-Israel Zenon Murillo to wash his car for money. Giovanditto gave Murillo a beer and the younger man fell asleep. When he woke up, Giovanditto was allegedly on top of him trying to sexually assault him.

Murillo tried to leave the apartment, but instead found an ax and allegedly hacked away at his attacker. He then strangled Giovanditto to death, according to police records reviewed by The Daily Beast.

Murillo is now on trial for Giovanditto's murder. The October 8 trial promises to reveal more details about the teacher's dark Miami Beach past.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes. Follow this journalist on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

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