It's time for the feds to consider RICO charges against the Boy Scouts of America

Back in September Kim Christensen and Jason Felch of the Los Angeles Times broke an absolute blockbuster of a story: the Boy Scouts of America have, for decades, been providing cover for pedophiles in its ranks.

Over two decades, the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.

A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.

Volunteers and employees suspected of abuse were allowed to leave citing bogus reasons such as business demands, “chronic brain dysfunction” and duties at a Shakespeare festival.

DATABASE: Tracking decades of allegations

The details are contained in the organization’s confidential “perversion files,” a blacklist of alleged molesters, that the Scouts have used internally since 1919. Scouts’ lawyers around the country have been fighting in court to keep the files from public view.

In about 400 of those cases — 80% — there is no record of Scouting officials reporting the allegations to police. In more than 100 of the cases, officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it, The Times found.

The raw numbers are terrifying, and now Congress is being asked to audit the BSA’s youth protections.

The effort to seek a congressional inquiry came Thursday as the attorneys released more than 20,000 Boy Scout documents identifying more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers banned from the group after being accused of sexual or inappropriate conduct with boys.

How many victims are out there? Well, research suggests that only one in 10 molested boys reports the crime, so you do the math. If the Times report is accurate, then we’re talking about Jerry Sandusky times…what? 100? 1000?

You might expect, with good reason, that the public response to this outrage would be nigh-on nuclear. After all, we’re talking about the most appalling violation of trust fathomable – the only scandal in recent memory on a par with the BSA conspiracy is the Roman Catholic Church’s pedophile ring.

Instead, the outcry has been minimal, at best. The organization’s decision to deny one member his Eagle rank because he’s gay seems to have garnered about as much national attention. (How ironic, by the way. If you’re a gay kid who has earned Eagle, screw you. If you’re a gay who wants to be a scoutmaster, thanks, but you need not apply. If you’re a pedophile, though, we got your back.) Granted, the Boy Scout scandal isn’t threatening any football programs, but still, you’d think it would be driving at least a little bit of interest, wouldn’t you?

In any event, the Times report paints a picture of BSA leadership involved in a systematic, sustained campaign to cover up felony behavior. Earlier today, I found myself wondering why we weren’t hearing more about federal investigations into these crimes. More specifically, I began thinking that perhaps RICO charges might be in order.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act…focuses specifically on racketeering, and it allows for the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes which they ordered others to do or assisted them, closing a perceived loophole that allowed someone who told a man to, for example, murder, to be exempt from the trial because he did not actually do it… While its original use in the 1970s was to prosecute the Mafia as well as others who were actively engaged in organized crime, its later application has been more widespread.

Since I’m not a lawyer, I reached out to Guy Saperstein, one of America’s most prominent attorneys. Here’s what he said:

I think RICO has been used in a few cases against Catholic church officials; I don’t recall if the cases were successful, but the cases went to juries, so at least a few federal judges found RICO to be applicable. The same standard could apply to the Boy Scouts, but to be successful under RICO, it would have to be shown that the abusive activity was at least sanctioned, if not designed, at the upper levels of the organization to be considered a criminal conspiracy. I also remember RICO being used here in Oakland against the head of the Hell’s Angels, Sonny Barger, a case defended by a friend of mine, but Sonny was acquitted or the jury hung when it could not be proven that running drugs and killing people was a policy of the Hell’s Angels.

So pursuing the Boy Scouts using RICO might be a potentially viable course of action (the case seems, from what I can tell, to be more or less parallel to the Catholic Church situation) although the outcome of such prosecution would be anything but certain. Was covering up for pedophiles “policy”? I’d think you could make the case, but I’m also sure that the BSA can afford good lawyers.

The BSA, for its part, seems to understand the gravity of its situation. (I expect those lawyers I just referred to have discussed the organization’s civil liability with leadership.)

The release of the files has been an embarrassment to the Boy Scouts, which in 2010 finally adopted a policy of requiring local scout leaders to report sex-abuse allegations to police.

“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,” said Wayne Perry, the national president of the Boy Scouts, in a statement last week. “Where those involved in scouting failed to protect, or, worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies.”

It’s good to see them working to fix the problem, but in no way does this excuse those guilty of criminal behavior in the past.

I hope federal authorities are paying close attention to this case. We were repulsed by the Catholic Church’s game of musical pedophiles and I think the multi-tiered Sandusky cover-up at Penn State is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Here’s yet another large, powerful organization that spent decades violating its constituencies in the most reprehensible manner imaginable, and it’s about time that everyone – everyone – entrusted with the well-being of children came to understand that institutional enabling is as bad as the actual raping.

For all we know, there are other organizations out there still hiding serial pedophiles, and it would be good if the directors of said organizations had one more reason to come clean. Today.

5 comments on “It's time for the feds to consider RICO charges against the Boy Scouts of America

  1. I agree. It bewilders me. I get the denialism on the part of the scouting fanatics, but maybe it is also pervo-haustion. We’re just worn out hearing this stuff. Or maybe this is so big we can’t get our arms around it. At any rate, thank god for the feral trial lawyers, because they will be on this like jackals on a bleeding wildebeest.

  2. You fail to mention that most of these cases are from decades ago before the 1984 McMartin Pre-School case alerted the country as a whole to the issue of child abuse in many venues. Before then, sex abuse was spoken about in hushed tones, if it was spoken about at all. And if you look at the cases carefully, it involves 1200 persons who were actually kicked out of Scouting to protect kids, and reported to authorities in two thirds of the cases, out of the over 10 million adults who have been volunteer leaders of BSA and have not abused kids.

    Following McMartin, BSA did a self-examination and, in conjunction with the FBI, developed and rolled out in 1987 its lauded Youth Protection Plan that created barriers to abuse. The keeping of confidential suspicion files was part of the plan signed off on by the FBI! BSA has now probably educated more kids and adults how to recognize, resist, and report child abuse than any other organization, and its Youth Protection Plan is even cited by the US Centers For Disease Control as one that other youth organizations should follow! Of course, even one child being abused is abhorrent, but statistically, kids are now actually safer in Scouting than with relatives or in the public school system because of the “two deep” leader policy and openness of the program.

    Read the link below for further clarification on the story. BSA kept these confidential files to protect kids, which is much more than other organizations ever did. They were confidential because BSA kept them even when just suspicions or potential were involved. Once again, the mainstream media is being misled by attorneys more interested in using them to help “troll for victims” and the resulting contingency fees (none have said they will represent victims “pro bono”) to give the impression that this is all new “secret” stuff. It isn’t. It happened three decades ago and BSA has since been a leader in preventing child abuse. Your children are safe in Scouting:

    http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/BSAYouthProtection/Media_Center/ResponsetoFilesReleased.aspx

    • Well, perhaps your children may be safer in scouting now, unless they’re gay, in which case, they can be confronted by the same bigotry that has already cost so many kids their well-being.

    • Gary, thank you for the added information. That probably explains the massive jump in cases in 1988. However, what is problematic is that although it has thankfully declined since 1988, for an organization that is “a leader is preventing child abuse” in over 25 years, the number of cases is only roughly in half. I would hope that an organization that tries to be such a leader would have been able to make far more progress than the slow decline shown in that database.

      And you state that these people are being expelled from BSA, which is good, but the issue isn’t that, but whether police reports were also filed. It’s one thing to have a lauded policy in place, but it’s something else entirely if that policy is actually followed. The accusations aren’t that these people were allowed to stay in BSA, but that they were quietly removing these people from BSA without reporting the allegations to police.

      Now, a database of thousands of allegations doesn’t prove a cover up (it just proves that BSA has trouble screening and/or it is an attractor for pedophiles), but even the greatest policy doesn’t disprove a cover up either. However, the article quoted at the top (but not linked to unless I missed it, Samuel – http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-boy-scouts-files-20120916,0,6937684.story) goes deeper into the information to answer the real question of whether these cases were followed up with police, and it appears far too many of them were not.

      So a great policy is a starting place, but it also has to be followed and evidence appears to be showing that the policy wasn’t always followed, unfortunately. Not to mention, that pre-1987 Scouts are still around and dealing with the abuse from before the BSA policy, no matter how good it is. As a Scout from the early-80’s, I certainly wouldn’t want to be written off as no longer relevant if I was abused since it was “decades ago.”

      So, yes there are millions of BSA volunteers who are wonderful people, and I know many of them who are. That isn’t the question. The question is whether those who were accused of abusing kids were reported to the police or made to quit BSA and the matter considered closed.

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