The Boy Scouts of America's bankruptcy filing on Tuesday is expected to eventually end in the largest settlement of childhood sexual abuse claims in American history, according to a lawyer who represents about 100 former Boy Scouts from New York who say they were abused.
"Thousands of survivors are likely to come forward," said Michael Pfau, a Seattle attorney. "The Boy Scouts are active in all 50 states."
The Boy Scouts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday, a direct response to 78 Child Victims Act lawsuits in New York State and other lawsuits across the country filed by former Scouts who say they were sexually abused by Scout leaders.
The Boy Scouts said they plan to create, through the bankruptcy process, a victims compensation trust to provide compensation to those abused by Scout leaders.
In Erie County, 13 men have sued the Boy Scouts in the past six months under New York's Child Victims Act law.
For these plaintiffs and others, the bankruptcy filing is expected to halt the lawsuits in State Supreme Court. Instead, a bankruptcy court judge in Delaware will examine the cases, determine how much of the Boy Scouts' assets can be used to settle the claims, and determine how the assets should be divided among the plaintiffs.
"There is still a path forward for the Boy Scouts abuse survivors in the bankruptcy filing," said Pfau, who has represented clients with claims against Catholic diocese in bankruptcy court. "This does not extinguish the legal rights for survivors. It just changes the forum that their cases will be judged or adjudicated."
He said it is unlikely that the bankruptcy court would hold evidentiary hearings or trials to determine the merits of the thousands of potential claims against the Boy Scouts. Instead, the process would be streamlined. Pfau said the bankruptcy court judge is likely to resolve the claims faster — probably over the next 18 months — than they would otherwise be resolved in state courts across the country.
“The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting," said Roger Mosby, president and chief executive officer of the Boy Scouts of America. "We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children. While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process – with the proposed Trust structure – will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”
Some of the Child Victims Act lawsuits in New York detail horrendous allegations of abuse by Scout leaders.
For instance, T.C., a Buffalo man, alleged in a lawsuit filed Jan. 27 that Scoutmaster Edmund Schroer of Troop 256 in South Buffalo raped him in the early 1970s when he was 13 and attending Scouting camping trips in Little Valley and Wales. His lawsuit, filed by attorney Jordan Merson of New York City, alleges that Schroer, who is now deceased, would give the Boy Scouts marijuana and alcohol and show them pornographic movies during these camping trips. In cabins at the sites, Schroer would masturbate in front of Scouts and molest them, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit also alleges that Schroer sexually abused T.C. at Schroer's apartment between 1970 and 1974.
It alleges that the Boy Scouts knew or should have known that Schroer was a predator who was sexually abusing Scouts and that the organization did not protect the children from him.
In addition to the Boy Scouts, the lawsuit naming Schroer also names as defendants the local Boy Scouts chapter, the Greater Niagara Frontier Council; the Diocese of Buffalo; and St. Ambrose Church in Buffalo, where the Boy Scout troop was based.
For decades, the Boy Scouts maintained a national file – called "the perversion files" – that detailed inappropriate behavior by thousands of Scout leaders and the names of adults barred from participating in Scouting.
Schroer's name was not included in the records that the Boy Scouts were forced to make public as a result of prior lawsuits settled decades ago.
Some of the other former Scout leaders named in lawsuits in Erie County do show up in those files. Some of the former Scout leaders named in suits have also been convicted of criminal charges involving child sexual abuse or child pornography.
• A former Boy Scout accused former Scoutmaster Douglas Nail of Troop 565 in Depew in a lawsuit of molesting him from 1983 to 1987 when he was 11 to 15. Nail, a Depew resident, is named as a defendant, along with the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts' confidential files indicate that Nail resigned as scoutmaster of Troop 565 in 1984 after he was accused of fondling a Boy Scout during a sleepover at his apartment. The Scouts' records do not indicate that the Boy Scouts notified law enforcement officers about the allegation. Nail was a coach for the Depew Saints Hockey Club when he was arrested in 2004 on federal charges of possessing more than 600 images of child pornography. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2004. Nail was released from prison in 2013. He did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
• In a lawsuit containing the oldest allegation, former Scout leader Raymond W. Culbertson of Troop 547 in Lackawanna was accused of molesting a 13- to 14-year-old Boy Scout in 1958 and 1959. Culbertson resigned as the adviser for the Explorer post there in 1961, a few months before three Scouts accused him of immoral acts. The mother of one of the Scouts wrote a letter to the Boy Scouts complaining that Culbertson had attempted to have her son commit an immoral act upon Culbertson. The Boy Scouts put Culbertson in their perversion files in 1961, and in 1973 they barred him from becoming a leader at a Boy Scout troop in Pennsylvania, according to the Scouts’ files.
• Ronald C. Williams, a retired Buffalo police officer who has served prison sentences in Florida, New York and Pennsylvania for child sex abuse felony convictions, was accused in a lawsuit by Bob O’Donnell of molesting him when he was O’Donnell’s Cub Scout leader in the mid-1970s. Williams was cubmaster for Cub Pack 588 in Blasdell, according to multiple media accounts from the 1970s. O’Donnell told The Buffalo News that Williams molested him at least 10 times on canoeing and camping trips on Eighteen Mile Creek. Williams is serving a sentence of up to 15 years in a prison in Waymart, Pa., for a 2006 conviction on an indecent assault charge involving a victim under the age of 13.
• A Hamlin man accused Scout leader Norman Grimm in a lawsuit of sexually abusing him when he was 11 and 12 in the mid-1970s. Grimm was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2008 for molesting three young boys in his Ryan Street home. Grimm was also sentenced to 25 years in prison on federal child pornography charges. He remains in custody at a low-security federal prison in Butner, N.C.
In addition to the lawsuits in state courts in New York, eight plaintiffs alleged in a federal lawsuit filed in January in Washington, D.C., that the Boy Scouts failed to prevent pedophiles from entering the organization, didn’t properly investigate abuse complaints and kept secret the identity of many abusers. Abused in Scouting, a collaborative of law firms who filed the federal case, said they represented more than 1,500 people from across the country who were abused by Scout leaders and volunteers, and they’re preparing to take all of them to court.
Petruzzi, 73, who served in the 1970s and 1980s as a Boy Scouts district executive and as a troop scoutmaster in the Buffalo area, was sentenced to more than 50 years in an Arizona prison in 2011 for repeatedly molesting a boy in that state.
According to the Boy Scouts, nearly 2.2 million youths between the ages of 5 and 21 participate in Scouting throughout the United States and its territories.
The Boy Scouts said the bankruptcy filing will not put an end to Scouting activities.
"Scouting programs, including unit meetings and activities, council events, other Scouting adventures and countless service projects, will continue throughout this process and for many years to come," the national organization said. "The BSA fully intends to maintain its commitments to its members, families, volunteer leaders, employees, retirees, donors and alumni to the fullest extent permitted by bankruptcy laws. The organization also will pay its vendors and partners for all goods and services delivered from today forward."
It noted that local Boy Scout councils, which provide programming, financial, facility and administrative support to Scouting units in their communities, have not filed for bankruptcy. They are legally separate organizations.
The Greater Niagara Frontier Council sent a letter Tuesday to parents of Scouts in the Buffalo Niagara region.
"In short, we expect no changes to the local Scouting experience in the Greater Niagara Frontier Council," said the letter signed by Darlene Sprague, council president; Joe Lane, council commissioner; and Otto Goedhart, assistant Scout executive.
But Pfau, the attorney who represents abuse survivors, said the local Boy Scout councils, which own much of the camps and other real estate associated with the Boy Scouts program, face lawsuits that can proceed separately from the national Boy Scouts bankruptcy filing and settlement.
Pfau said his firm will continue to seek damages in state courts from the local Boy Scout councils even if the national organization settles claims in bankruptcy court.