Alleged Adelaide Hills cult leader James Salerno granted third trial over child sex charges

ABC News, Australia/July 28, 2022

By Meagan Dillon

An alleged Adelaide Hills cult leader has won a third trial on charges that he sexually abused a girl at an Aldgate mansion about two decades ago.

James Gino Salerno — known as "Taipan" in the alleged cult called the "Ideal Human Environment" — walked free from prison on Thursday after being granted bail.

Last October, a District Court jury found the 75-year-old guilty of six child sex offences before he was sentenced to eight years' jail, with a non-parole period of almost six years after a second trial.

Mr Salerno appealed against the verdicts — the second time he has successfully overturned convictions for the same alleged offending.

The Court of Criminal Appeal today ordered a third trial after finding evidence from the girl's cousin was earlier admitted in error.

"That erroneous admission constituted a miscarriage of justice," justices Sam Doyle, Sophie David and Chris Bleby said in their judgement.

Salerno ranked highest by 'Wisdom Bank'

The justices said the alleged victim, a young girl, lived with Mr Salerno at a large, dormitory-style mansion at Aldgate called "the Barracks", where the "Wisdom Bank" would rank the members that lived at the property.

"The prosecution case was that Mr Salerno was always ranked the highest in the group, he was the unchallenged leader," they said.

They said that, when the girl finished school, she would look after Mr Salerno by putting away his clothes, running him baths, cooking for him and giving him massages.

"She estimates that sex following the bath routine happened on over 50 occasions. She said that the abuse lasted until she was 18 and left the group," the justices said in their decision.

Mr Salerno has always denied the offending and alleged the girl fabricated the offending.

In 2019, Mr Salerno faced his first trial for the alleged abuse and District Court Judge Paul Slattery found him guilty of eight counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a child.

He was jailed for 10 years, with a non-parole period of eight years, later that year.

Mr Salerno successfully appealed those convictions and faced a second trial two years later, but opted for a jury to decide his fate.

As a result of his successful appeal, Mr Salerno will be arraigned in the District Court for the third time in August.

Key points:

  • James Gino Salerno was found guilty of child sex offences after trials held in 2019 and 2021
  • He was part of an alleged cult called the "Ideal Human Environment"
  • Three justices say evidence from the alleged victim's cousin was admitted into evidence in error in the second trial

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