Latest Scout documents reveal alleged known sex offenders nearly double in W.Pa.
By Carl Prine
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012, 2:30 p.m.
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
A second deluge of documents from the Boy Scouts of America's so-called "Perversion Files" has nearly doubled the known number of suspected sex offenders linked to the organization in Western Pennsylvania to 40 and sparked new questions about the once-trusted institution's duty to kids.
Compiled by Scouting officials from across the region between 1960 and 1991, the Boy Scout case files so far provided to the Tribune-Review also detail the pastors, judges and community leaders across the region who conspired to preserve the reputation of Scouting ahead of justice by allowing adult volunteers to evade criminal prosecution. That was a pattern Boy Scout leaders today acknowledge occurred but say internal reforms now should prevent from happening again.
This afternoon, the Portland, Oregon law firm of O'Donnell, Clark & Crew released internal Scout records linked to more than 1,200 adults blacklisted by the organization for suspected sex crimes. On Oct. 8, Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff published a less detailed index of nearly 1,900 cases. While some of the so-called Ineligible Volunteers files overlap, both sets of documents appear to show Scout leaders here so obsessed with preventing the media from latching onto sex abuse scandals that they would ask well-placed contacts for help.
For example, Cambria County Scouting officials in 1962 were relieved there would be little stir over Troop 186 Scoutmaster Harry P. Holtzman and Assistant Scoutmaster Robert B. Updyke, two Johnstown men arrested for sexually abusing boys in their care: "No mention of Scouting was involved in the (court) case in as much as two of the three judges who pronounced sentence are members of our Executive Board," wrote Scout Executive E.M. McAllister to the organization's national headquarters.
In the 1985 file for Stephen E. Wingard - a married father of three, Webelos leader and Scout District Committeeman in Summerville, Jefferson County - an unnamed official told superiors that he personally thanked an Oil City newspaper reporter "for keeping BSA's name to as low a profile as possible. Thought you would want to know."
Wingard was convicted of repeatedly abusing five of his Cub Scouts over a 10-month span, but the Scouts connection wasn't mentioned in the newspaper articles. In other stories before and after the sentencing, however, Oil City reporters did point out the link.
Pittsburgh leaders were equally concerned in 1970 when a mother accused a Scoutmaster of molesting her son on a camp out. Officials sought advice from an unnamed local judge about how to keep the matter out of the courts, and appeared more concerned about the accused volunteer leaking the story than they did the fate of the boy.
"May go to the press?? News media??," asked an unnamed investigator in handwritten notes attached to the file. Their uncertainty stemmed from the fact that the accused Scout leader was a reporter for an unidentified publication.
Another man put on the blacklist in 1960 appeared on a weekly WQED nature program for children.
It's the Trib's policy to name neither the victims of sexual abuse nor those accused of the harm unless they're arrested for the crimes.
Scout officials often avoided scandal because they didn't involve law enforcement, no matter how heinous the alleged crimes might've been or how much evidence they had compiled. That was the case in the early 1960s, when a Scoutmaster of Pittsburgh's Troop 304 "admitted to his Pastor, Troop Committee Chairman, and former Troop Committee Chairman that he had homosexual relations with nine boys in his troop," according to his file. But officials didn't report the man to police and instead allowed him to quietly resign from Scouting.
A review of both the files and Pennsylvania court records by the Tribune-Review show that blacklisted leaders in Western Pennsylvania were only prosecuted in about a third of the cases. And those men weren't turned in by Scout officials here but rather by abused children and their parents who went directly to the police.
In a prepared statement of apology released this morning, National President of the Boy Scouts of America Wayne Perry said that his organization has emerged as a leader in preventing child abuse thanks to background checks, comprehensive training programs and mandated reporting of suspected pedophiles.
"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 said. "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."
Citing concern for these victims - whose names were all redacted in the released files - Perry's Boy Scouts long fought the release of the confidential case files. Critics claim that the Scouts really were motivated more by fears of another scandal, part of a culture of secrecy that only fostered more abuse over the decades.
"There was an effort by the Scouts to maintain the confidential nature of these files, but too often that was a detriment to other children who were molested later," said Portland attorney Paul Mones, part of the legal team that won a judgment for nearly $20 million against the Boy Scouts in a 2010 lawsuit and triggered the release of the files.
The dossier was so secret that some banned volunteers didn't even realize they were in it.
"I have no idea why I'm on that list," Michael L. Flavin, 61, of Erie told the Trib. "I went to camp out one time. I froze my butt off."
Blacklisted by the Scouts in 1990 following an indecent assault arrest in Arnold, Flavin finished two consecutive sentences for a string of sex crimes against children and was released from prison in 2009. He's registered on the Megan's Law list of Pennsylvania offenders, but insists police coerced his 1990 confession.
The Boy Scouts marked Flavin as a volunteer who was wanted by out of state authorities when they unwittingly allowed him to mentor kids. Flavin told the Trib that they were Arkansas bench warrants for failing to pay child support. He believes the Scout ban is hypocritical because it hooked someone with few tangible ties to the organization but didn't touch abusers higher in its chain of command.
"There was a Scoutmaster there who had a camcorder and was filming the boys all the time and gave them booze," he recalled. "I bet they did nothing about him."
Questions about who in Scouting was policing whom pepper the files provided to the Trib. In 1970, a District Scout Executive and Camp Director was tasked with investigating the leader of Pittsburgh's Troop 575, who was accused of molesting a boy at Camp Sandcrest near Wheeling, W.Va. In his report to New Jersey superiors, however, the executive seemed more concerned that allegations would tarnish the suspect's "reputation, etc" than he was about the allegedly abused boy.
The scout executive later was himself caught molesting a terrified boy in his tent in 1972 at Camp Sandcrest and banned from the organization, according to his file.
The report filed by Scout Executive John E. Richmond said that he gave the other executive the choice of resigning "as a member ... and to seek immediate psychiatric assistance" or face the police. "He agreed to the first proposal." Richmond died in 2009.
Scouting officials sometimes had trouble tracking banned volunteers. In 1964, a community leader in McDonald, Washington County, who had served as the Iroquois District Commissioner and received the organization's coveted "Scouter Award," resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct dating back a dozen years.
A decade later, however, officials found that he was a leader at another Washington County troop.
"Why didn't you get him pulled out of your operation?" wrote Pittsburgh Scout Executive George F. Cahill in an internal memo. The man was subsequently caught trying to join another troop in Mohnton, Berks County, in 1990.
Echoing the Boy Scouts' Perry, David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said that this sort of hopping from troop to troop likely wouldn't happen today.
"But that doesn't get to the problem," he said. "There's a statistic I like to tell people - only 10 percent of those who get caught for molesting have a prior history of offenses."
The good news, Finkelhor said, is that most molesters who are nabbed and punished don't reoffend and rates of childhood sexual abuse appear to be declining nationwide.
Scouting doesn't put boys at a greater risk of molestation, Finkelhor said. "Parents, don't pull your kids out of Scouting," he said.
Like Arnold's Flavin, Samuel "Tiny" Nugent, 63, of McKees Rocks, hasn't been in trouble since his release from prison three years ago. He was banned by the Scouts in 1989, following his arrest for molesting a Cub Scout and another boy he was baby sitting.
"The only thing I'm upset with the Scouts is the cold way in which they handled it," Nugent told the Trib. "They sent me a letter that said I was no longer welcome."
An Assistant Scout Master for Troops 527 in East Liberty and 274 in Garfield, Nugent's victims weren't in his units but they were the same sort of vulnerable kids: poor black children with parents who trusted him because of his position in the Scouts.
"I'm truly sorry for what happened," said Nugent. "If I could go back and make it not happen, I would."
Nugent told the Trib he was behind bars for nearly two decades before he agreed to get psychological help. The former Marine said that as a child he was molested by his uncle, the late Ronald O'Shea of Shaler, an allegation confirmed to the Trib by their relatives. Family members recall Nugent as a child perched on his bed, gripping a baseball bat on watch for what he warned were "the monsters in the house."
Convicted of the machete murder of Homestead's Herbert Kleber in 1985, O'Shea died on death row years later. In court filings, O'Shea also claimed to have been molested as a child, revealing a cycle of sexual violence that's found with inmates nationwide, Nugent said.
Nugent emphasized that the incest he suffered as a child doesn't excuse what he did to the boys in 1990. He believes that his mother's death shortly before his arrest put him into a spiral and the pain he encountered from a pair of car wrecks didn't help. Nor did his daily drinking of a half-gallon of vodka and the "cocaine nose with a hole in it" he'd developed while a Scout leader - substance abuse that he said primed him to harm children by lowering his inhibitions.
Nugent said that his supervising Scoutmaster, George R. Starz, knew about his battles with the bottle and dope but didn't block him from kids.
"What was funny about it was George saying, ‘I don't want you coming to a meeting having done any of that.' He said, ‘OK?' I said, ‘OK, George, I'm trying."
Starz died in 2000, having given 52 years of service to the Boy Scouts. Nugent told the Trib that he let Starz down, too.
"I became the monster under the bed I never wanted to be," he said.
Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826.
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