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Delaware man sues Scouts, Mormons in sex abuse case

December 12, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Melvin Novak tries to hold back his emotions at a Philadelphia news conference Wednesday.
Melvin Novak tries to hold back his emotions at a Philadelphia news conference… (Matt Rourke / Associated…)

A Delaware man on Wednesday sued the Boy Scouts and the Mormon Church, charging that he was sexually abused by a scoutmaster, the latest suit to be filed in connection with the scandal that has rocked the youth movement.

Melvin Novak, 28, announced his suit, filed in Philadelphia, at a news conference. In his complaint, Novak alleges that pedophiles were involved in scouting for decades, as demonstrated when the Boy Scouts of America in October released confidential documents -- known as the “perversion files” -- that  list 1,200 alleged abusers who were weeded out of the organization between 1959 and 1985.

In recent months, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation of those files and thousands of case summaries from 1940 to 2005. The files and summaries were obtained from Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who has sued the Scouts on behalf of dozens of abuse victims.

According to Novak, the Scouts had appointed Vance Hein to be a scoutmaster of one of its Chester County troops. Hein, who had moved to Chester County from California, was a trusted family friend and leader at the Mormon church that Novak attended as a boy, Novak said.

While a scoutmaster, Hein sexually assaulted Novak, then 14. Novak said he was abused at Hein's home, on a trip to Canada, at parks, campsites and other locations.

Novak claimed that Hein told him he was introducing him into a “special brotherhood” and used gifts and other incentives to persuade Novak to keep it a secret. Novak says he told his parents about the abuse in 1999.

Hein was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to the offenses against Novak in 1999. He was sentenced to 15 years of probation and was recently convicted of violating that probation by having child pornography on his computer and is serving 15 to 30 years in prison.

“This guy is still worshiped by people in that church today,” Novak said at the news conference. “Their kids' lives are changed while mine was screwed up. Nobody had any idea. My parents had no idea. In their eyes, he was helping me in scouting, computers, college, everything. To them he was a positive influence. They had no idea it was a hoax just to abuse me.”

Novak said he is suing the Mormon Church because it failed to conduct a background check before Hein was hired. Now living in Newark, Del., Novak said he has left the Mormons, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“My childhood just fell apart,” he said. “I guess you could classify me as a quitter. I never finished after that what I started. I never finished college. I finished high school, but only through a home schooling program after not graduating with my class.”

Novak said he abused substances for about five years as well.

The Boy Scouts have acknowledged that there were incidents of abuse.

In an October statement, the Boy Scouts' national president, Wayne Perry, stressed the organization’s enhanced child-protection efforts in recent years, including beefed-up background checks and training of leaders and mandatory reporting of all suspected abuse.

"There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong," Perry stated. "Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families."

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