Charlotte summer camp owner faces deportation after sex charge involving 7-year-old

The co-founder of the former “PlaySpanish” educational summer camp in Charlotte faces deportation after being accused of sexually assaulting a then-7-year-old girl at the camp last summer.

Police arrested 52-year-old Ricardo Mata of Charlotte on Friday and charged him with indecent liberties with a minor-lewd and lascivious. Mata was in the Mecklenburg County jail on Monday on $50,000 bail. Jail records show U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has placed a hold on Mata, meaning he could be deported.

Ricardo Mata Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

The girl’s parents reported the assault to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police on Feb. 12. An investigation by detectives with CMPD’s Crimes Against Children Unit led to Friday’s arrest.

PlaySpanish operated in the 1000 block of East Morehead Street, according to a CMPD news release on Monday announcing Mata’s arrest.

Mata and his wife, Carmela Tondo-Mata, started the camp in 1997 with five students, according to the camp’s website. The program served at least 15,000 Charlotte area children over the years, the website said.

The program dissolved last summer, according to documents on file with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office in Raleigh, but the program’s phone number is still active. No one returned a message left by the Observer on Monday.

Mata has degrees in business administration and hotel management, according to the PlaySpanish website. “After several years in the corporate world, he went back to his true passion: Working with children,” the website says. “During his high school and college years in Venezuela, he taught English as a second language to elementary, middle and high school students.”

While his wife was temporarily in Italy attending to family matters, Mata taught most of the classes at the camp and handled the business side of the program, according to the website.

The program’s play-based curriculum included games, music, dancing, puppets, arts and crafts, stories and role-playing, its website said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call CMPD Detective Brandy Lingle at 704-336-4076 or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak