‘Basketball Diaries’ coach ‘Lefty’ named in Boys & Girls Club sexual abuse lawsuit

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Two predators were allowed unfettered access to vulnerable children and their repeated sexual abuse was ignored by staff at the then-Madison Square Boys Club, according to 20 plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit filed in New York on Monday.

The Madison Square Boys Club was the original Boys Club in New York City and one of the founding members of what eventually became the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“Predators were running the institution,” said James Marsh, an attorney whose firm is representing the victims in the case. “People running, funding and directing [the club] were actually the problem. I don't think this was about protecting the institution — I think they were the institution.”

The lawsuit filing follows the publication of Hearst Connecticut Media’s six-month investigation into child sex abuse at Boys & Girls Clubs of America affiliates in 30 states. The investigation found 250 people who say they were abused by staff, volunteers and other members and found allegations that adults at multiple clubs did not report abuse.

The club — a powerful entity revered and supported by New York City’s elite in its heyday — didn’t just ignore abuse, but purposefully structured the organization to provide vulnerable at-risk youth to predators in positions of power, according to the civil attorneys representing alleged victims.

“We have a number of people who allege they were sexually abused by different people and you get to the point where you start to wonder what the motivation was for the club, given the number of different people who’ve brought allegations over time,” said Seattle-based attorney Jason Amala, who has teamed up with Marsh’s firm on the case. “At this point, we don’t know the full extent of it and that’s one of the things our clients want to figure out.”

This alleged abuse went unchecked, Marsh said, because of the power of the Madison Square Boys Club.

Founded in 1884, the club formed at a time when most public welfare was only available through philanthropic organizations. At the turn of the century, some of the wealthiest men in America began an endowment to start a clubhouse for troubled boys from the lower East Side of Manhattan. Their goal was to help poor boys grow into middle-class Americans, historical documents show.

“It was seen as an organization that did a lot of good,” Freeman said. “But it had an ugly underside.”

The impressive, expansive building gave disadvantaged children an opportunity to experience activities they never had before for free, Marsh said. There were bowling alleys, two gyms, running tracks, a pool and a roof garden. Kids could take candy-making classes, historical documents show, or learn to debate. There were theatrical shows, costume parties and summer camps.

“Many of these boys were immigrants and had no jobs,” Marsh said. “They grew up in a time and place when kids were getting killed on the street. The club was heaven to them.”

Because of their fond memories of their time at the club, Freeman said many victims feel conflicted about coming forward.

“I think the reason we haven't seen more victims come forward is because whatever horrors they endured at the Boys Club were not as bad as the mean streets they grew up on,” Marsh said.

Many of the victims feel they owe their success and survival to the Madison Square Boys Club, Marsh said. The dire situations of the boys’ lives provided sexual predators an opportunity to manipulate them and groom them for abuse, the attorney added.

“Youth service organizations fill a void in a kid’s life, especially if that child comes from a broken home,” Amala said. “There were very fond memories for a lot people there. But, the flip side is they find out later the organization didn’t protect them.”

Amala said it’s common for a youth organization accused of ignoring abuse decades ago to now claim it was unaware of any risk to children.

“I don’t think that’s true,” the attorney said. “Even if it’s true [sex abuse prevention has evolved], these organizations generally knew more about these problems than they say. The fact that they concealed the abuse makes it much worse — they knew and weren’t saying anything.”

Find more information online here.

Filed Under  Archibald Scandal  Child Victims Act (CVA)  Childhood Sexual Abuse  Madison Square Boys Club MSBC 

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