Boy Scouts

Generations of Boy Scouts have participated in programs at camp Yawgoog in Hopkinton. 

 

The Westerly Sun

The national Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy protection to deal with lawsuits seeking compensation for sexual abuse victims, but local Scout councils, which are legally distinct, are not filing for bankruptcy.  

In Rhode Island, Narragansett Council CEO Tim McCandless said all local Scouting activities, including those at Camp Yawgoog in Hopkinton, would continue to take place.

“Narragansett Council has not filed for bankruptcy,” he said. “Meetings and activities, local Scouting events, summer camps, other Scouting adventures and countless service projects are taking place as usual. In short, there should be no change to the local Scouting experience.”

In its announcement on Tuesday, the 110-year-year national organization urged victims to come forward and said the Chapter 11 filing was the first step toward creating a compensation fund for potentially thousands of men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by Scoutmasters or other leaders. Recent changes in state laws now allow people to sue over long-ago sexual abuse.

The national BSA said it would “equitably compensate victims who were harmed during their time in Scouting and continue carrying out its mission for years to come. The BSA intends to use the Chapter 11 process to create a Victims Compensation Trust that would provide equitable compensation to victims.”

“Local councils, which provide programming, financial, facility and administrative support to Scouting units in their communities, have not filed for bankruptcy. They are legally separate, distinct and financially independent from the national organization,” the announcement states.

“The BSA firmly believes that a proposed Victims Compensation Trust structure is the best means of compensating victims in a way that is equitable and protects their identities,” the organization said. “The BSA encourages victims to come forward to file a claim as the bankruptcy process moves forward and will provide clear and comprehensive notices about how to do so.”

Victims and creditors are asked to contact restructuring@scouting.org or call 1-866-907-BSA1 for information.

Bankruptcy will enable the organization to put those cases on hold for now and continue operating. But ultimately the Boy Scouts could be forced to sell some of their vast property holdings, including campgrounds and hiking trails, to raise money for a fund that could top $1 billion. The Boy Scouts estimated 1,000 to 5,000 victims will seek compensation.

According to Boy Scout files revealed in court papers, more than 12,000 boys have been molested by 7,800 abusers since the 1920s.

In Rhode Island, an Exeter man, James Glawson, 75, was arraigned Dec. 9 on 16 counts of first-degree sexual assault for alleged offenses occurring from 1981 to 2018 in Exeter, Richmond, and South Kingstown. He was also charged with possession of child pornography in February 2019. Glawson was an assistant Catholic chaplain at the Yawgoog camp. He has not entered a plea and is being held without bond at the Adult Correctional Institutions.

Washington County Superior Court Associate Justice Melanie Wilk Thunberg issued six no-contact orders to Glawson at the time of his arraignment, and has scheduled his next pretrial conference for March 4.

It will be up to the federal bankruptcy court to set a deadline for filing claims. The filing in Wilmington, Delaware, sets in motion what could be one of the biggest, most complex bankruptcies ever seen, given the Scouts’ 50-state presence. The organization listed assets of $1 billion to $10 billion and liabilities of $500 million to $1 billion.

“We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children,” said Roger Mosby, the Boy Scouts’ president and CEO. “While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process, with the proposed trust structure, will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”

The Boy Scouts, a pillar of American civic life for generations, are the latest major American institution to face a heavy price over sexual abuse. Roman Catholic dioceses across the country and schools such as Penn State and Michigan State have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

The Boy Scouts’ finances have been strained in recent years by declining membership and sex-abuse settlements.

The number of youths taking part in Scouting has dropped below 2 million, down from a peak of more than 4 million during the 1970s. Its membership rolls took a big hit Jan. 1 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cut ties and withdrew more than 400,000 Scouts in favor of programs of its own.

The financial outlook worsened last year after New York, Arizona, New Jersey and California relaxed their statutes of limitations to make it easier for victims to file claims. Teams of lawyers across the U.S. have been signing up clients by the hundreds to sue the Boy Scouts.

Most of the new cases date to the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, before the Boy Scouts adopted mandatory criminal background checks, abuse-prevention training for all staff and volunteers, and a rule that two or more adult leaders must be present during all activities. Many of the lawsuits accuse the group of negligence and cover-ups.

Wayne Perry, a member of the organization’s national board and past president, said Scout families won’t notice any differences as a result of the bankruptcy. He touted the protections now in place.

“Today, we are really, really good. Were we always good? No, nobody was good 50 years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago,” Perry said.

Amid the crush of lawsuits, the Scouts recently mortgaged some of their major properties, including their national headquarters in Irving, Texas, and the 140,000-acre Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. One unanswered question is whether the Boy Scouts’ 261 local councils — and their campgrounds and other assets — will become part of the case.

Mike Pfau, a Seattle-based attorney whose firm is representing scores of men nationwide, said the plaintiffs may go after the local councils’ property holdings, too. “We believe the real property held by the local councils may be worth significantly more than the Boy Scouts’ assets,” he said. He said one question will be whether the Boy Scouts transferred property to their local councils to try to put it out of the reach of those suing.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys trace the Boy Scouts’ fall to 2010, when a jury awarded a former Scout nearly $20 million in a lawsuit in Portland, Oregon. The trial led the Oregon Supreme Court to release 20,000 pages of confidential Boy Scout files on 1,200 people after The AP and other news organizations fought for their disclosure.

 

cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com

@cynthiadrummon4

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