Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Something needs to stop people like this, who have so much money and so much power..."

Sisters sue businessman and his son claiming sexual abuse

Travis County founder of a highway construction company accused of molesting children, promising to pay them if they kept quiet.

April 12, 2008

By Claire Osborn
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Two sisters have sued the founder of a Travis County highway construction company, saying that he sexually abused them as children, promised to pay them if they didn't file criminal or civil charges, and then stopped the payments after the legal time limit for pressing the charges expired.

Jackie Fowler, 35, and Jeni Vejil Abrams, 31, sued J.D. Abrams, the 79-year-old founder of J.D. Abrams LP on April 3. They also sued his son, Jon F. Abrams, 56, alleging that he sexually assaulted Fowler in her childhood. There is videotaped evidence of the abuse, according to the lawsuit.

J.D. Abrams — who lives in West Lake Hills, according to the lawsuit — could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Jason Nassour, did not return several calls this week. Nassour was served with the lawsuit Monday, according to a public document.

Jon Abrams, who answered the phone at the company's Austin headquarters, declined to comment last week, as did his lawyer, Thomas Watkins.

The sisters are being represented by attorneys Robert Kizer and Roy Minton.

"Something needs to stop people like this, that have so much money and so much power, from doing this to children," Kizer said.

The lawsuit says there is a videotape of J.D. Abrams assaulting the sisters when they were children.

Minton said the case is "truly tragic." He has not referred it to the Travis County district attorney's office for investigation because the criminal statute of limitations has expired, Minton said.

According to the lawsuit, the mother of Fowler and Jeni Vejil Abrams moved in with J.D. Abrams when she began a 20-year relationship with him. They met while she was working at his company, the lawsuit says.

Jeni Vejil Abrams was never legally adopted by J.D. Abrams but has used his last name since she was 4 years old, Kizer said.

In 1983, the lawsuit says, J.D. Abrams began molesting Jackie Fowler, then 11, and Jeni Vejil Abrams, who was 7 or 8, while both girls were living at his house.

"J.D. Abrams regularly and continuously arranged to have the two elementary-aged young girls together with him in bed for sexual activities," the lawsuit says. He videotaped the molestation and insisted "that the girls smoke marijuana and use cocaine," according to the lawsuit.

Jon Abrams "ran errands" with Fowler while she was a child and sexually assaulted her in his truck and in his home while his wife was away, according to the lawsuit. The girls were able to end the sexual abuse when they became adults, the lawsuit says.

J.D. Abrams promised the sisters that he would always provide for their financial needs if they did not file criminal or civil charges against him and his son, the lawsuit says. He supported them, including making down payments on houses and buying them cars, until 2006, when he decided that the statute of limitations prevented them from filing charges, Kizer said.

J.D. Abrams also wrote a promise on a napkin to pay each of the sisters $500,000, which he did not do, Kizer said.

Kizer said the girls' mother, who was not identified in the lawsuit, knew about the sexual abuse but was as much a victim as her daughters. "She never pushed it forward, and he continued to take care of her as well," Kizer said.

The mother is no longer involved with J.D. Abrams and doesn't receive financial support from him any more, Kizer said.

The time limit for filing a lawsuit has expired, but in this case, it can be extended, Kizer said.

A victim has five years after his or her 18th birthday to file a lawsuit alleging sexual assault of a child. But the statute of limitations can be extended in this case, Kizer said, because J.D. Abrams and Jon Abrams are accused of coercing the sisters by making payments to them to prevent them from filing charges.

Criminal charges cannot be filed in the case because the statute of limitations law that was in effect when the sexual abuse is said to have occurred gave a victim 10 years after his or her 18th birthday to file charges, Kizer said. A new law was passed in September that does not put a time limit on filing sexual abuse of a child charges, but the new law is not retroactive, he said.; 445-3871

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