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Former Radnor commissioner disputes claim he fondled his 103-year-old mother-in-law

She was not, says former Radnor Township Commissioner William Spingler, a 103-year-old stranger assaulted at a nursing home.

William Spingler is charged with assault. He is a longtime civic leader in Radnor.
William Spingler is charged with assault. He is a longtime civic leader in Radnor.Read moreLAURENCE KESTERSON / INQUIRER

She was not, says former Radnor Township Commissioner William Spingler, a 103-year-old stranger assaulted at a nursing home.

The woman with dementia that Spingler, 75, is accused of fondling was his mother-in-law, he says, and he meant her no harm.

In his only public remarks since his arrest last month, Spingler rebutted the indecent assault charges. He told the Inquirer he has cared for the woman since the 2007 death of his first wife - the alleged victim's daughter - and took her into his home for eight years until her dementia took hold.

And he said that during his near-daily visits to Wayne Nursing Home, he frequently and boisterously hugged and kissed her in plain view of others.

"I wasn't sexually assaulting my mother-in-law, who I respect and love," he said, slamming his palms on a desk during a two-hour interview at his Paoli real estate office. "My intent was to hug her and love her and let her know I was there. That's all I was doing."

The interview on Monday, which he said he granted over the objections of his defense lawyer, came about three weeks after Radnor Police filed charges against the Democrat who until 2015 had been active in Main Line and Delaware County politics for 40 years.

According to police, three nursing home employees reported seeing Spingler grope the woman during visits on Dec. 15, Dec. 17, and Dec. 23.

Eleven days after his Dec. 23 arrest, Radnor Township Manager Robert Zienkowski called a news conference at which he described the case as "horrible" and said he had asked prosecutors to look into other matters concerning Spingler, though he declined to elaborate.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan later said there are no allegations of additional assaults and that Zienkowski's concerns were mere "suspicions" that would be reviewed.

Spingler, a Villanova University graduate and longtime Wayne resident who helped the university push through controversial development plans in 2015, said his real-estate business and reputation had been destroyed by publicity of the arrest.

He accused Zienkowski of "piling on."

"He's taking me to the cleaners," Spingler said.

But Spingler said he was not worried about other charges: "I didn't do anything to worry about."

Spingler said he is now considering moving to Florida from Paoli, where he shares a home with his fiancee.

"The sad part about being innocent until proven guilty?" Spingler said. "You're not innocent until proven guilty."

His relationship with his mother-in-law, he said, was one of mutual admiration and devotion forged over decades. She had helped with his children as his political career became demanding on him and his wife, Phyllis, to whom Spingler was married for 45 years.

"In 1975, Phyllis and I went to 105 chicken dinners," Spingler said. "And [the mother-in-law] was our babysitter. [She] was there all the time. This was her only child, and these were her two grandchildren that she loved."

Phyllis Spingler died in 2007 of an infection related to cancer treatment, he said. He took in her mother, he said, to spare his children from the burden of care.

His second wife, before she died of a heart attack, knew that his mother-in-law "was part of the package," he said, as does his current partner.

After she moved out, he visited her regularly.

A Wayne Nursing Home employee told police that Spingler greeted the woman in the dining room on Dec. 15 with a kiss on the lips, took a seat next to her and "began to briefly touch [her] right breast," according to court records. The employee left to tell her manager, returned to the dining room and saw Spingler fondling the woman's breasts under a blanket, police said.

Two days later, another employee reported seeing Spingler apparently rub his mother-in-law's breasts under a blanket in the dining room, police said.

On Dec. 23, a nurse told police Spingler had kissed the resident goodbye and apparently grasped her chest while hugging her, police said.

Spingler last week waived a preliminary hearing and is awaiting arraignment on the charges, which include indecent assault on a person with a mental disability.

In the interview this week, Spingler said the woman does not often recognize him anymore, which he called "sad."

He was asked: Did you fondle her?

"All I did was hug her," he said. "I'm not going to discuss that."

Pressed again later about the charges, he said: "I wanted her to know I was there. This was a woman I loved that I lost. You know? . . . That I took care of for eight years."