Boy Scouts lawsuit: Parents trust teachers and counselors, but should they?

Cara Kelly and Nick Penzenstadler

In their off hours, the men organized camping trips and merit badge training. During the day, working as teachers, counselors and police officers, they were similarly surrounded by children. Résumés betrayed no signs of the danger the men posed.  

In a lawsuit filed late Monday against the Boy Scouts of America, lawyers said they’ve identified 350 abusers who preyed on young Scouts. All but two dozen of their names are not in the Boy Scouts’ disciplinary files, made public in a previous court case. 

The list of alleged abusers, obtained by USA TODAY, details molestation ranging from fondling to sodomy. Some of the men accused by former Scouts ended up in court or were punished administratively for similar crimes, sometimes many years after these newly alleged assaults. Some were kicked out of Scouting for abuse. USA TODAY is naming only those who fit one or more of those categories. 

Exclusive: Nearly 800 accuse Boy Scouts of failing to protect them from sex abuse as new lawsuit is filed

More: ‘There's no rehabbing the Boy Scouts.’ Former Scout speaks out about latest lawsuit

In a statement, Boy Scouts of America said it cares about all victims of abuse and apologizes to anyone harmed during their time in Scouting.  

"We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward,” the statement said. 

A review of the list and victims’ allegations reveals a disturbingly common detail: Beyond Scouts, many of the accused were in positions to protect, mentor and nurture children. That raises questions about whether top Scouting officials could have warned authorities but didn't, allowing the men to strike again.

Police officer 

Michael Nussbaum, 57, is making his allegations public for the first time, as one of nearly 800 clients of the attorneys who filed Monday’s lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court.

He said his abuser’s position as a beloved police sergeant made it difficult for him as a child to come forward and be believed.

Nussbaum said he was abused when he was 14 by Sgt. Jon Wyatt, who was a troop leader. Nussbaum said he was invited to the detective’s bureau for a volunteer opportunity and found himself alone in Wyatt’s office.  

“He pulled out a gun and put it on the table and said, ‘Nobody will ever believe you,’ or something to the effect of that,” Nussbaum said. “And he was right.”  

Three years later, when he was 17, Nussbaum saw an article in the Miami Herald: Wyatt had been arrested for abusing a 7-year-old. He’s serving a life sentence. 

Teacher  

Scout leader James E. Pacitto was accused of sexual abuse by a former Scout in multiple locations across southern New Jersey from 1975 to 1980. Pacitto allegedly let the boy drive, so he could be close, placed his hands on the boy’s abdomen, gave him a rubdown, then touched him inappropriately. 

That allegation comes from another client of the attorneys behind abusedinscouting.com and Monday's lawsuit.

Several years later, a 16-year-old boy told police Pacitto touched his genitals at a cabin in Laurel Lake in January 1988, according to news reports at the time. Pacitto was arrested the next day by Millville police. 

By then, Pacitto was a sixth grade teacher at Rieck Elementary. News of Pacitto’s arrest reached the school board. It voted to take no action “because the charges had not been substantiated.” 

A grand jury indicted Pacitto on charges of criminal sexual conduct a month after his arrest. A month later, Millville’s school board voted again to allow Pacitto to continue teaching despite the indictment, noting the charges did not occur while he was teaching.  

Soon after, he was honored by the New Jersey governor with a teaching excellence award and given $1,000 to use in his classroom. 

In February 2017, Pacitto was in the news again.  

In an undercover sting operation in 2017 by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, according to court records, he was caught at a public park known as a place for sex acts. Pacitto, then 78, was convicted of battery and of entering a place of lewdness. 

Pacitto could not be reached for comment. 

School employee 

Troop 95 leader Bert Andress worked in the maintenance department of a vocational school in New Jersey. He sexually abused three boys at the school and at his house from 1988 to 1991. At least two of the three were members of his troop, according to the Asbury Park Press. 

According to new accounts brought to the law firm, Andress abused two brothers more than a decade earlier.  

In 1992, Andress was indicted by a grand jury on 14 counts of sexual misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child in the later case. He pleaded guilty to engaging in oral sex with the boys.  

At the time, Joe DeCanio, the Scouting executive in the area, told the Courier-Post in New Jersey that volunteers were questioned about their criminal pasts, but the organization assumed that a troop’s sponsor, such as a church group, had done the vetting. He said no leaders received criminal background checks.

Boy Scouts of America said that today, all Scout leaders are given criminal background checks.

Pension records show Andress was an employee of Camden County Technical Schools until 2014, retiring with 12 years of service. He still draws his monthly pension. 

He could not be reached for comment.

More: I was thrilled to be a Boy Scout, then for months, I was sexually abused by my Scoutmaster

More: Hundreds of former Boy Scouts reveal sexual abuse claims, exposing 150 alleged pedophiles

Auxiliary state trooper 

Donald Dennis was sued in 2015 by 17 men and two women who alleged he abused them for years in the 1960s and 1970s, according to news reports. The News-Times in Connecticut reported that a state police spokesperson confirmed Dennis was an auxiliary state trooper, part of a volunteer force that enforces state laws on highways. 

Boy Scouts of America was named in the lawsuit, which said the organization should have known Dennis was dangerous.  

In a new allegation, a former Scout said he was abused by Dennis in 1967. On a camping trip, Dennis came around for "bed check" and fondled him, the former Scout said, telling the child that his "parents did not deserve such a fine boy for a son."

Dennis, who is deceased, is not listed in the Boy Scouts' ineligible volunteer files, but his assistant is.  

The 2015 suit was dismissed last year because the statute of limitations had passed.  

Police officer  

Arnold Edward Codispoti abused one Scout for years, starting in 1977, according to a new allegation. The former Scout said Codispoti molested him on Scouting trips and campouts. 

In 1986, Codispoti pleaded guilty to sexual abuse. He served six years in prison and nine years on parole, according to a public information officer for the New Jersey Department of Corrections. 

He was added to the Boy Scouts' ineligible volunteer files after sentencing.  

A 19-year veteran of the Essex County Police Department in New Jersey, Codispoti was accused of plying children with alcohol before he abused them.  

He could not be reached for comment.

Volunteer firefighter 

James Buxton pleaded guilty to 18 counts of felony child molestation in 1990 and was sentenced to 42 years in prison, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was added to the Boy Scouts' ineligible volunteer files after the charge.  

A former Scout who is a client with Abused in Scouting said he was abused by Buxton. It's unclear whether the allegation is part of the same case. 

Buxton started Wonder Valley’s Boy Scout Troop 341 and was its Scoutmaster. It has been disbanded.

According to the Times, Assistant Scoutmaster David Reed pleaded guilty to 16 counts of felony molestation and was sentenced to 38 years in prison. 

In a civil case from 1991, a jury awarded $3.75 million in damages to the families of three boys whom Buxton molested in 1988, the Times reported.

Church youth leader  

Jack LaHolt, a onetime Boy Scout leader and Mormon church youth leader in Kent, Washington, had numerous allegations made against him during the early to mid-1970s, and one of the law firm's clients names him.

Court records show that the allegations were brought before two church bishops but were never reported to law enforcement authorities. 

The documents indicate one of the bishops removed LaHolt from the Boy Scout program and referred him to sexual deviancy therapy through the church, where he was treated for about a year. He returned to the Scouts and was reelevated to Scoutmaster of his former troop.  

LaHolt, also known as LoHolt, moved to Canada and could not be reached for comment. In a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004, LaHolt denied the accusations made in a civil lawsuit, but he admitted abusing other children.

“I don’t let that happen anymore," he said. "I don’t even get near anybody like that – people who set me up. I don’t have anything to do with kids.”

Sunday school teacher

A former Scout accused Charles Donald Corley, a revered businessman and pillar of the Alabama town where he volunteered with Boy Scout Troop 97 and taught Sunday school at Trinity United Methodist Church.

Corley was involved with the youth choir and youth counseling, according to the Birmingham News.  

In 1995, he pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse and two counts of sodomy. According to an AL.com report in 2017, authorities said he’d left a trail of abuse over more than 30 years, with as many as 120 victims.  

Corley was sentenced to 30 years in prison. With the accrual of time for good behavior, his sentence is set to end next April. 

Contributing: Rachel Axon, David Heath, Mark Nichols, Lindsay Schnell, Marisa Kwiatkowski

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boy Scouts lawsuit: Police, teachers, more among the accused