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Lawsuit: Amherst High was 'feeding ground' of victims for serial abuser

A popular retired guidance counselor was a serial predator who sexually abused numerous girls he met at Amherst Central High School, according to the latest of several lawsuits filed against him under the state's Child Victims Act.

Three women now accuse John "Jack" Koch of manipulating them into having sex while they were students in the 1980s. The first lawsuit was filed in September and the most recent claims were filed in January and this month.

The women also are suing the high school and the Amherst Central School District, saying the pattern of abuse was obvious but school staffers failed to protect them from Koch.

"Jack Koch was notorious for this kind of behavior in Amherst," said attorney Paul Barr of Niagara Falls, who represents two of the women.

Koch has denied the allegations.

"These false accusations have placed an extreme hardship on me and my family," he emailed The Buffalo News on Tuesday. "I have worked in the Amherst school system for over 30 years with not one negative report or review in my file. Yet my name and reputation have been destroyed because of these false accusations that have been reprinted in the media."

Amherst Superintendent Anthony Panella declined comment Tuesday but referred to the district's September statement that noted it is investigating the claims against Koch and emphasized student safety is the district's highest priority.

Koch retired in 2007 as the high school's dean of students following a 35-year career there, according to a contemporaneous Amherst Bee article featuring praise from former students and colleagues alike.

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However, since last year, three women separately have filed lawsuits accusing Koch of sexual abuse.

The most recent was filed March 2. It claims the abuse started in 1983, when the woman was 15 and a high school sophomore.

Koch, according to the lawsuit, was a teacher's aide allowed to work as a guidance counselor. The lawsuit said Koch used his position to take advantage of a girl with a troubled family life and academic record.

During closed-door counseling sessions, the plaintiff contends, Koch convinced her he loved her and persuaded her to engage in sexual intercourse and oral sex. This abuse took place on and off school grounds, she said, including on occasions when Koch would pick her up from her home to take her to secluded areas.

Koch continued abusing the plaintiff during her junior and senior years, she claims. Further, the lawsuit states, Koch was "moving on from one girl to the next as each school year progressed, and sometimes engaging multiple girls in sexual intercourse during the same time period."

The plaintiff also claims Koch viewed "the constantly rotating class of young students as a perpetual feeding ground to acquire new victims."

The lawsuit doesn't state whether the plaintiff reported this alleged abuse at the time.

The woman, who lives in Sonoma County, Calif., is identified as Jane Doe. She is represented by New York City attorneys Jordan K. Merson and Matthew G. Merson, who say the plaintiff continues to struggle with emotional damage and began seeing a psychologist.

The woman who filed the second lawsuit against Koch, the high school and the school district lives in Fentress County, Tenn., and is identified as PB-15 Doe. She claims the abuse started when she was 16 and in 11th grade, around 1986, when Koch began taking her to his office.

"Koch stated that instead of disciplining me for behavior issues he would help me," she wrote in an affidavit accompanying the Jan. 8 lawsuit. "While Koch said this to me, he put his hands on intimate parts of my body without my consent."

Child Victims Act (updated 2/13/20)

The Tennessee woman claims the abuse escalated over two years to sexual intercourse on and off school grounds.

She said Koch coerced her not to report the abuse and she still has feelings of self-hatred, anxiety and depression related to Koch's mistreatment.

This woman is represented by Barr and attorneys Diane Paolicelli and Michael DeRuve of New York City. Paolicelli and Barr also represent the first woman to sue Koch and the district.

That lawsuit, filed and publicly disclosed in September, involves a woman who claims Koch abused her for about two years beginning in 1981 when she was in ninth grade.

The plaintiff sought counseling from him because she had been sexually assaulted by someone else. He told the girl, who was 14 or 15, that he could give her lessons so she could be a better sexual partner and enjoy sex more, the suit claims.

Afterward, Koch abused the plaintiff on school grounds and elsewhere, according to the woman, PB-7 Doe, who lives in Erie County.

Barr said neither of his clients reported Koch's alleged abuse to school authorities or the police. But Barr said numerous Amherst high school graduates have reached out to say Koch's reputation for pursuing young female students was well-known. All three accusers say district employees were aware of the abuse but failed to protect them from Koch.

Koch retained an attorney, Mark P. Della Posta of Buffalo, to represent him in the first lawsuit but he is representing himself against the most recent claims.

"It costs the plaintiffs not one cent to file these lawsuits and have an attorney to represent them – even if they lose," he wrote. "It has cost me thousands of dollars to defend myself for something I never did, and I will never get that money back, even if I win. All the while, the plaintiffs remain anonymous."

Koch and the school district went to court to seek permission to make the name of the Erie County woman public. A State Supreme Court justice in December turned down that request.

The district also disclosed in recent legal filings that Koch, according to his doctor, is terminally ill from cancer of the throat. Koch is set to provide expedited trial testimony, recorded on videotape, next month.

"We want him to receive the kind of justice that a case like this deserves," Barr said.

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