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Sex abuse claimants torn over Boy Scout bankruptcy plan

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Boy Scouts Bankruptcy

The Greater Niagara Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts of America plans to sell two camps to help pay for a proposed $1.8 billion settlement of the national organization's bankruptcy case. The bankruptcy case is fueled by claims by former Scouts that they were sexually abused by Scout leaders. 

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If West Seneca resident Tracy Peterson had been sexually abused as a child in New York, his claim in federal bankruptcy court against the Boy Scouts of America could be worth upward of $1 million.

But because the abuse is alleged to have occurred in the early 1970s in Texas, where Peterson was born and raised, he said his lawyers are telling him he probably will be eligible for no more than $30,000, minus 40% in attorney fees.

The huge discrepancy is the result of New York adopting the Child Victims Act that suspended the civil statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases from decades ago, while Texas does not have similar legislation.

Peterson, 58, voted in favor of the Boy Scouts of America’s reorganization plan anyway. He said he needs the money and worries he might end up with nothing if the plan doesn’t get approved soon.

“I’ve just had a real hard life,” he said. “I need to take as much as I can get. I’m not financially in a position to just not get anything.”

The plan would set up a $2.4 billion trust for 82,500 former scouts across the country who filed claims in bankruptcy court. Peterson was among 73% of voting claimants who supported the plan, according to preliminary results – likely not enough for a bankruptcy judge to approve it.

Daniel Jendrowski of Buffalo hopes that’s the case. He voted against the Boy Scouts of America plan, even though under a matrix established in the plan, the settlement for his alleged abuse is valued at between $800,000 and $1.2 million.

Jendrowski, 63, said the plan was incomplete and “had a lot of loopholes.”

Jendrowski said he wants the local councils, including the Greater Niagara Frontier Council, to pay a steeper price for allowing scout leaders to molest children for decades.

“They’re kicking in a few bucks, but even the money they’re kicking in just doesn’t cut it,” he said.

Jendrowski filed a Child Victims Act lawsuit in 2019 against the Boy Scouts of America and the Greater Niagara Frontier Council, accusing scout leader Nicholas Eberhardt of fondling him at least four times during scouting trips to Camp Schoellkopf in Cowlesville in 1969 and 1970.

The voting deadline was Dec. 28. The Boy Scouts of America released preliminary voting results on Jan. 4 and is expected to reveal a final tally Monday.

In a prepared statement, the Boy Scouts of America said that the preliminary voting shows “significant support from survivors.”

“We are encouraged by these preliminary results and are actively engaging key parties in our case with the hope of reaching additional agreements, which could potentially garner further support for the plan before confirmation,” the statement said.

Members of the Torts Claimants Committee, which consists of nine abuse survivors appointed as fiduciaries for all claimants as part of the bankruptcy process, said they didn’t expect the final tally to change much.

The committee was strongly opposed to the BSA’s current reorganization plan and had urged victims to vote against it so that all parties could return to the negotiating table.

The committee said the plan did little to hold accountable the Boy Scouts, its insurers, the local councils and sponsoring organizations.

The committee estimates that local councils can afford to pay at least three times more than what they currently are agreeing to, in exchange for a provision releasing local councils from liability for past child sex abuse cases.

The Greater Niagara Frontier Council, which serves scouts in Erie and western Niagara counties, plans to sell its Camp Stonehaven and Camp Schoellkopf Scout Reservation properties to help pay $1,537,485 toward the settlement.

The Iroquois Trail Council, covering eastern Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Livingston and Wyoming counties, and the Allegheny Highlands Council, which includes troops in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties and two Pennsylvania counties, are on the hook for $342,546 and $899,358, respectively, according to court papers.

The committee also maintains that insurers were not close to matching their exposure on scout sex abuse claims.

The plan needs support from at least three-quarters of voting claimants before a judge will consider whether to confirm it.

The Boys Scouts of America already have returned to mediated settlement talks with the Torts Claimants Committee and other parties.

Richard Pachulski, an attorney for the Torts Claimants Committee, said the goal was to get higher compensation for abuse victims, a youth protection program, a trust overseen by an independent party and an overall reorganization plan that the court will confirm.

“We think we have the pathway to get this plan improved for all survivors,” said John Humphrey, committee chair.

A confirmation hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22.

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My byline has run in the Ithaca Journal, USA Today, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and the New York Times. I have been a staff reporter at The Buffalo News since 2002 and currently am part of the watchdog team.

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