As horror stories about sexually abusive priests began to dot the Democrat and Chronicle front page, two readers contacted the newspaper out of the blue.
They challenged reporters to turn the same scrutiny on their own house. Look into a former newspaper employee named Jack J. Lazeroff, the readers said.
Democrat and Chronicle reporters did begin an investigation and have found evidence that Lazeroff, who worked in the newspaper’s circulation department in the 1980s, might have been a sexual predator — and Democrat and Chronicle paperboys might have been among his prey.
Lazeroff, who died in 2003, was accused in a lawsuit filed earlier this week of sexually abusing a Brighton paperboy who reported to him. The suit names the newspaper and its corporate parent, Gannett Co. Inc.
The accuser, Richard L. Bates, alleged that Lazeroff molested him weekly for the entirety of 1983, when he was 11 and 12 years old. Bates says this stole his innocence and condemned him to live with guilt and anger.
Lazeroff was arrested twice in the late 1980s on accusations of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct with young males in Penfield and Greece. Some of them were Democrat and Chronicle carriers, police reports and court documents reveal.
The suit against Gannett is the first in New York to allege sexual abuse of a young newspaper carrier.
Six months after Bates wrote the Democrat and Chronicle, a second person independently contacted the newspaper to raise allegations about Lazeroff.
Mark Adamski, a former circulation department employee, had seen a story in the paper about sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. He sent reporters a short email that posed a question: “Why doesn’t the paper do a story about Jack Lazeroff? He preyed on the paperboys,” Adamski alleged.
Adamski remembers the time period as the mid- to late 1980s. He later was told by a co-worker, Robert Bootes, that Lazeroff had been fired “for messing with a paperboy.”
Pat Buttaro, whose job was to deliver papers to carriers’ homes in Charlotte, remembered an incident in the 1980s that occurred as she approached the porch of a Lake Avenue duplex with a stack of papers.
“Someone, I’m assuming the paperboy’s father, opened the door and started screaming profanities at me,” Buttaro said. “‘I said ‘Calm down, could you talk to me?’ He said, ‘I never want that man ever, ever near my son.’
“I said, ‘Tell me who you mean.’ He said, ‘District manager Jack Lazeroff. Don’t ever leave these papers here again,'” Buttaro recalled in an interview several months ago.
She said she summoned a supervisor to the scene. When the supervisor arrived, she recalled, she told him, “This gentleman said Mr. Lazeroff touched his son inappropriately.” The supervisor told Buttaro he would “handle it.”
Buttaro’s sister, Donna Manard, who also worked in circulation at the time, said she remembered hearing the radio call for a supervisor that morning and heard about the incident afterward from her sister.
Buttaro recalled that Lazeroff ceased working as that area’s district manager shortly after the incident and said she later asked a superior how the company had followed up.
“I said if it happened to one, it could have happened to somebody else, and the chain of command said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Don’t talk about it,'” Buttaro said.
In Bates’ view, however, Gannett officials did not look into his complaint carefully or take it seriously. He considered it “the height of hypocrisy” when he learned from a Democrat and Chronicle reporter earlier this year that journalists had been able to find evidence of apparent wrongdoing by Lazeroff.
“I can’t even describe the anger I have toward Lazeroff and … the people at Gannett,” Bates said.
“This has been with me since the first day he put his hands on me. That’s 37 years ago. I’ve had this inside me the whole time,” Bates said.