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Boy Scouts helped alleged molesters cover tracks, files show

When volunteers and employees were suspected of sexually abusing children, Boy Scout officials often didn't tell police, files from 1970-91 reveal. In many cases they sought to hide the situation.

September 16, 2012|By Kim Christensen and Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times
  • Assistant troop leader William Lazzareschi was expelled from the Scouts after he admitted engaging in a sex act with a boy, according to one file. But nothing in the file indicates the Scouts called police.
Assistant troop leader William Lazzareschi was expelled from the Scouts… (Rhode Island Parole Board…)

Over two decades, the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.

A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.

Volunteers and employees suspected of abuse were allowed to leave citing bogus reasons such as business demands, "chronic brain dysfunction" and duties at a Shakespeare festival.

DATABASE: Tracking decades of allegations

The details are contained in the organization's confidential "perversion files," a blacklist of alleged molesters, that the Scouts have used internally since 1919. Scouts' lawyers around the country have been fighting in court to keep the files from public view.

As The Times reported in August, the blacklist often didn't work: Men expelled for alleged abuses slipped back into the program, only to be accused of molesting again. Now, a more extensive review has shown that Scouts sometimes abetted molesters by keeping allegations under wraps.

In the majority of cases, the Scouts learned of alleged abuse after it had been reported to authorities. But in more than 500 instances, the Scouts learned about it from boys, parents, staff members or anonymous tips.

DOCUMENTS: A paper trail of abuse

In about 400 of those cases — 80% — there is no record of Scouting officials reporting the allegations to police. In more than 100 of the cases, officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it, The Times found.

In 1982, a Michigan Boy Scout camp director who learned of allegations of repeated abuse by a staff member told police he didn't promptly report them because his bosses wanted to protect the reputation of the Scouts and the accused staff member.

FULL COVERAGE: Inside the Scout's 'perversion' files

"He stated that he had been advised by his supervisors and legal counsel that he should neutralize the situation and keep it quiet," according to a police report in the file.

That same year, the director of a Boy Scout camp in Virginia wrote to the Scouts' top lawyer, asking for help dealing with a veteran employee suspected of a "lifelong pattern" of abuse that had not been reported to police.

"When a problem has surfaced, he has been asked to leave a position 'of his own free will' rather than risk further investigation," the director wrote. "The time has come for someone to make a stand and prevent further occurrences."

There is no indication the Scouts took the matter to law enforcement.

In 1976, five Boy Scouts wrote detailed complaints accusing a Pennsylvania scoutmaster of two rapes and other sex crimes, according to his file. He abruptly resigned in writing, saying he had to travel more for work.

"Good luck to you in your new position," a top troop representative wrote back. He said he was accepting the resignation "with extreme regret."

Scouting officials declined to be interviewed for this article. In a prepared statement, spokesman Deron Smith said, "We have always cooperated fully with any request from law enforcement and today require our members to report even suspicion of abuse directly to their local authorities."

The organization instituted that requirement in 2010. Before then, the policy was to obey state laws, which didn't always require youth groups to report abuse.

In some instances, however, the Scouts may have violated those state laws. Since the early 1970s, for example, New Jersey has required anyone who suspects child abuse to report it. In several cases there, the Scouts received firsthand reports of alleged abuse, but nothing in the files indicates they informed authorities.

In the 1970s and '80s, secrecy was embedded in the Scouts' policies and procedures for handling child sexual abuse.

A cover sheet that accompanied many confidential files included a check box labeled "Internal (only scouts know)" as an option for how cases were resolved. A form letter sent to leaders being dismissed over abuse allegations stated: "We are making no accusations and will not release this information to anyone, so our action in no way will affect your standing in the community."

That letter was included in the organization's 1972 policy on how to remove unfit leaders, which, according to an attached memo, was kept confidential "because of misunderstandings which could develop if it were widely distributed."

The files at times provide an incomplete account of how abuse allegations were resolved. In his statement, the Scouting spokesman said, "In many instances, basic details are missing as they were not relevant to the BSA's sole reason for keeping files, which was to help identify and keep a list of individuals deemed to be unfit for membership in Scouting."

Still, they reveal a culture in which even known molesters were shown extraordinary deference.

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