WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The first lawsuits under New York state’s Child Victims Act were filed Wednesday, including a suit brought by two north country men against the Boy Scouts, and another 15 cases filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg.
The Boy Scout lawsuit was filed in Onondaga County, the Syracuse area, on behalf of a Watertown man, Craig Bleau, who claims he was abused by a Boy Scout leader in 1979-80.
It was also filed on behalf of a former St. Lawrence County man now living out of state, and who is identified only as R.E.M.
In both cases, the abuse took place at a scout camp in St. Lawrence County, the lawsuit alleges.
The Child Victims Act created a historic one year window in which victims of childhood sexual abuse in New York state could file lawsuits. That window opened Wednesday, and hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits are expected statewide.
Before the law, an alleged victim of sexual abuse was barred from filing a lawsuit after turning 22. The law opens the door for thousands of adults who were abused in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s to file claims against institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts.
Bleau accuses Richard A. Condlin, a Scout leader from Waddington, of sexually abusing him between the ages of 9 and 11 “multiple times” at Camp Vigor near Parishville, and at other Scout activities.
“Much of his abuse occured at Camp Vigor, and it was about as heinous and severe as it gets,” said Vincent Nappo, Bleau’s lawyer.
Condlin was arrested in 1984 on charges he sexually abused an 11 year old, and was put into the Boy Scouts’ long running “confidential” files, which concealed information about sex offenders in scouting from the public. The lawsuit alleges the Boy Scouts covered up what they knew about Condlin, who resigned from the Boy Scouts in 1984. He died in 2014.
The lawsuit also contains reference to a second alleged victim, identified only by the initials R.E.M.
R.E.M. told 7 News Wednesday that he was repeatedly abused by a Scout leader named John Brown., with devastating consequences.
“The things that happened to me at Camp Vigor were nightmarish," he said.
"I went from being a first class Scout with 15 merit badges and a Class A student to dropping out of Scouts, my grades dropped, I started drinking alcohol at age 13 to try to get rid of the memories, I eventually dropped out of school entirely. My life was a living hell.”
“Rather than expose these men,” said Nappo, “they did virtually nothing until the late 80s."
R.E.M. recalled Wednesday how the adults in the community seemed to look the other way, to ignore what the teenagers knew, that Brown could not be trusted. He was a school teacher, a church goer, and well-liked, R.E.M. recalled.
“This man is such a hypocrite. His picture was in Canton New York, the county seat, up in a building, in his suit. He was well-publicized. Everybody in the church thought he was a great guy; he wasn’t," R.E.M. said.
"He was a pedophile, he was a pervert, he was a monster. He needs to have the record straight.”
In a statement, the Boy Scouts said "We care deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. "
The Scouts said in the statement that it supports a number of get-tough measures to make it easier to seek criminal charges against child abusers, regardless of how long ago it happened.
They also said they support “retroactive reform of civil statute of limitations if an organization knowingly concealed or otherwise withheld evidence of wrong doing.”
However, the Scouts said they “have concerns with reforms that impose retroactive liability on organizations that did not have actual knowledge of the specific misconduct...”
The statement had no individual name attached to it, nor was there a contact person listed for further questions.
No Child Victims Act lawsuits were filed in Jefferson County Wednesday, but in St. Lawrence County, 15 lawsuits were filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, which oversees and has authority over Catholic churches across northern New York.
The law firm behind most of the law suits said in a statement Wednesday four of the perpetrators named are being identified publicly for the first time, and promised more information at a Thursday press conference in Watertown.
In the lawsuits, it’s charged that the Diocese “knew or should have known” the risks posed by the priests named as sexual abusers.