Editor's Note: This investigation is part of a series of stories on sexual violence at UF. The following allegations are from a UF Title IX investigation.
A UF professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences was allowed to resign in May instead of being fired –– but not before he allegedly assaulted or had inappropriate relationships with multiple women, some of whom were his students.
UF’s Office of Title IX Compliance conducted an investigation that found Andrew Lotto, a 51-year-old who started teaching at UF in 2016, touched several women in ways that made them uncomfortable. Students and faculty alleged in the investigation that Lotto was in a romantic relationship with one of his students, was caught in the midst of a sexual act with a student in his office, and pushed an undergraduate against the wall and stuck his finger in her ear, among other incidents.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that bans discrimination based on gender or sex and manages cases of sexual harassment.
Lotto told The Alligator that he didn’t fight the allegations because he was planning on retiring soon. He said his concern was primarily for his students who were pulled into the investigation and left without a mentor.
“I saw how much my students were suffering being brought back into this, being interviewed over and over,” he said.
Conversations about sexual violence, misconduct and protective measures have come to light on campus this semester. Three days ago, the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct found that at UF, almost one in three undergraduate women and about 8 percent of men experienced nonconsensual sexual contact this year.
But not every case of sexual assault or harassment is between students.
“Lotto’s relationships seem kind of cultish,” a student said in an investigation interview. “Minds have been manipulated and women have been cut off with no other systems of support –– other than him. They are pitted against each other and in competition for Andrew’s attention.”
Cheryl Betz, the author of the investigation, directed The Alligator to UF spokesperson Steve Orlando.
“We take these matters very seriously and we strongly encourage anyone who has experienced sexual harassment to report it immediately so that the university can take appropriate action,” Orlando wrote in a statement.
Lotto was placed on paid administrative leave on March 11, 2019 due to the serious allegations and resigned from his position on May 23, 2019, the investigation reports.
The 149-page investigation spanned September 2018 to May 2019 and featured interviews with 20 witnesses of at least eight incidents of inappropriate behavior.
Almost every name is redacted from the report in accordance with a Florida statute which bans universities from releasing identifying information of a person who filed a complaint or a witness in a sexual harassment investigation.
“Did I go too far?”: A look into some of the allegations
The earliest recorded incident happened on Dec. 9, 2016 at a house party hosted by a UF faculty member who would later become the first person to report Lotto for inappropriate behavior, according to investigation records.
The host said Lotto entered her daughter’s room, laid himself on her bed and began to ask questions about the male friend she was speaking to online.
The daughter, whose age is uncertain, confirmed the incident in an investigation interview, saying he reeked of alcohol and had asked “Who’s more important for you to talk to –– him or me?” and “What does he have that I don’t have?”
He later asked her to change into a onesie and then picked her up, swung her from side to side and whispered “I love it when you wear your ‘onesies’!” in her ear, the daughter told investigators.
The investigation included 43 pages of text screenshots between Lotto and the daughter. Some of the texts discussed topics such as National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day and pumpkin carving, but in others, Lotto asked to see a picture of her in a dress and said he was hanging out with 16-year-olds at Busch Gardens.
“Did I go too far tonight?” he texted after the party.
“I’ll let you decide that,” the daughter responded.
Lotto told The Alligator that he had known the daughter since she was five and frequently celebrated holidays at the initial reporter’s house. He said he walked into the daughter’s room at the party after the mother told him to go get her.
“That was a normal interaction between the two of us. There was nothing about it that seemed odd,” he said. “I'm very disappointed to hear that that was used against me.”
But not every incident happened at a party –– one took place in Lotto’s office.
In June 2018, the case’s initial reporter said she saw a student lying on the couch in his office. Lotto was leaning over her torso with the lights off, according to records. He stumbled and fell back when he saw her at the door and moved his hands toward his crotch like he was zipping his pants or buckling his belt, the reporter told investigators.
Lotto said that the student just had a migraine and was resting in his office while he sat on the edge of the couch.
Another incident took place at a February conference on Amelia Island in Nassau County, Florida.
A faculty member attended a social mixer on the first night of the conference where Lotto approached her, took her hand and started swaying before inviting her to come into the hot tub with him and several other women, she said in the investigation.
The faculty member chuckled and said she hadn’t brought a bathing suit, but Lotto allegedly suggested she climb in naked because it was what he and other women were planning to do, according to investigation records.
The faculty member said she started to walk away and Lotto called after her: “Don’t go! Don’t go!”
She left anyway.
Lotto didn’t deny every aspect of this interaction.
“She said ‘I didn’t bring a swimming suit’ and I said ‘Apparently it might be optional at this point’ because of stuff that was going on. I actually didn’t end up going in the hot tub. I wasn’t a part of any of these things,” he told The Alligator.
But the faculty member was still surprised by his actions, she said.
“I was floored that he was allowed to be around. I’ve heard rumors that he has actually had sexual relationships with his grad students. I know it’s just rumors, but I just have to get it off my chest that I think it might be true,” she wrote in an email to David Fuller, a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at UF.
And according to the investigation records, she may be right.
“The reason that I just can’t concentrate”: relationships with students and faculty
UF conducted an IT forensics exam on Lotto’s computers and other devices in 2019 and found emails between him and a student that “evidenced a romantic/intimate relationship between the two,” the investigation said.
The student wrote him poems over email. One had three parts with more than 30 stanzas about a beast-slaying prince and a princess locked in a dungeon. A second poem begged him to send her his photo and biography for a website.
“You are a heavyweight of academic glory
An example of the perfect candidate
Now all your instincts might say you should just ignore me
You’re the reason that I just can’t concentrate,” one stanza from the second poem reads.
“LOVE this poem. Please finish it. I have read it over and over in the current darkness,” Lotto replied.
Other messages detailed how much the two missed each other. The student said she felt like they were on separate continents and Lotto agreed, saying they needed to find a more secure way to speak with each other.
“I need more and better interaction with you. I am hopeful. I miss it,” he wrote.
“I am empty,” she responded.
Other students seemed to be drawn to Lotto as well. Out of the 20 comments on Lotto’s webpage for Rate My Professor, a site where students can leave comments about their professors and rate their performances, seven mention his looks. Every commenter wrote about his classes at the University of Arizona, where he taught before coming to UF.
“I admit I took this close [class] solely based on the ‘hot professor’ comments here. And it is true. One girl in front of me even blogged a steamy note about him in the beginning of class once,” one user wrote.
“Nice guy, and VERY easy on the eyes,” another wrote.
But some students and faculty supported Lotto in ways that weren’t sexual or romantic.
Five people testified in Lotto’s favor during the investigation. One student said Lotto was like her family and that “when he comforts me, it’s with words, not touching –– he is very professional.” Another student said she considered him a great resource and support system in the department.
However, the author of the investigation wrote that she didn’t find the witnesses credible given their close relationships with Lotto.
Ianessa Humbert, former associate professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, used to work with Lotto before she left to teach at the University of Iowa. She told The Alligator he was energetic, outgoing and always willing to support students and faculty.
“The way things work at UF is if you are accused of something you might as well just be guilty,” she said. “I know that their [the reporters’] opinions are completely skewed.”
Kathy Carbonell, a former UF assistant research professor and Lotto’s ex-wife, said the allegations are “a gross mischaracterization of who he actually is.”
Carbonell first met Lotto at the University of Arizona in the early 2000s when she was his student. They married in 2013 and decided to separate last month for reasons unrelated to the case, she said.
“He treats his students more like family than he does employees,” she said. “He is not some kind of sexual predator.”
“Extremely fearful of retribution”: The anonymous letters
There were no interviews between November 2018 and March 2019. The investigation report did not explain the gap, but a wave of anonymous letters from students and faculty about Lotto’s behavior kick-started the interviews again.
Michael Perri, dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions, was forwarded an email by an unknown person on Feb. 21, 2019. The letter claims that one of Lotto’s students “basically lived at his house over the last six months” and that the two were sleeping together.
From March 6 through March 13, four additional anonymous letters were slipped under the office doors of Perri and Fuller.
Fuller declined to comment and Perri directed The Alligator to a UF spokesperson.
One author of an anonymous letter said Lotto touched their backside, pulled them close and began to use sexually explicit language. Five days later, another anonymous letter detailed how Lotto ground his pelvis against the writer’s backside during a party, even when she pulled away from him several times.
“I don’t even like walking down the hall past his open office door,” she wrote. “I have seen this same type of inappropriate behavior with other students on other occasions and feel it will continue to happen.”
According to investigation records, another person wrote Lotto had created an environment so hostile that several students had mental breakdowns, and a woman who got very drunk at one of Lotto’s parties had started to strip her clothes off.
“Dr. Lotto’s behaviors towards female students are fundamentally demeaning, disrespectful and at the core predatorial,” she wrote in the letter. “It appears that every new crop of students is a new fresh batch for him to conquer.”
She added that she felt the need to be anonymous because “Like many others, I am extremely fearful of retribution.”
Lotto was told not to contact students after being placed on administrative leave in March 2019 and told investigators that he upheld this rule, but a surveillance investigation found that a student visited his house at least twice during his leave.
He told The Alligator that a visit occurred because a doctoral student about to graduate asked to have a celebratory brunch at his house. However, surveillance found a student’s car at his house at 8 p.m. and afterward on April 21 and April 24, according to the investigation.
On May 24, Perri sent Lotto a letter saying he had accepted his voluntary resignation in lieu of being fired.
“I’ve been an academic since I was young. I've never even taken a vacation. So I'm going to be a retired person for a while,” he told The Alligator.
Contact Hope Dean at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @hope_m_dean.