The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
19 October 2012
By Bruce Vielmetti of the Journal Sentinel
Alleged incidents in Wisconsin: This map shows alleged cases of sexual abuse by Boy Scouts staff or volunteers in Wisconsin based on confidential Boy Scouts records ordered released by the Oregon Supreme Court.
A Milwaukee area physician was forced out of his association with the Boy Scouts in 1987 after he admitted molesting two teens at a summer camp infirmary, according to recently released Scout files.
But Thomas Kowalski, now 75, was not prosecuted and remains a licensed pediatrician in Wisconsin, never subjected to a medical ethics complaint or discipline.
His case is like hundreds detailed among 14,500 pages of confidential Boy Scouts of America files an Oregon court ordered opened on Thursday that reveal many abusers within Scouting were quietly dismissed from service.
For decades, the Boy Scouts of America has kept confidential files on volunteers, leaders and employees suspected and convicted of abuse, or who admitted to sexually abusing Scouts, including dozens from Wisconsin. An Oregon man won a $20 million damages verdict against the organization in 2010 over his abuse at the hands of an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s, based in part on the kind of records now made public.
While most of the subjects were removed from Scouting, and the records kept as a way to prevent them from resurfacing in BSA, the once secret “perversion files” show that many cases were handled with what appeared to be more concern for the Boy Scouts’ reputation than for the safety of participating boys.
The situation invites comparisons to the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and the scale of the Scouts’ sex abuse problem drew an immediate response from advocates for clergy sex abuse victims.
“Both organizations can be credibly said to have misled members about the dangers and risks” of abusers in their ranks, said Kelly Clark, the Oregon attorney who won the Scouting verdict and has been involved in Catholic Church abuse cases there.
“The Scouts did the same thing the church did in trying to keep these out of the hands of law enforcement and from becoming public. While it’s true that most of the time, when they got a complaint, they’d open a file, frequently enough to be troubling, they would put these guys on probation,” Clark said.
The records released Thursday cover investigations from 1965 to 1985. Others covering prior and later years were released as part of earlier litigation in other states and aggregated by the Los Angeles Times. The combined data includes evidence of reports from more than 50 Wisconsin communities from 1958 to 2004. Some include the names of abusers, but many list only a city, a year and a subject number without supporting documents. The Boy Scouts successfully argued that full documents be released only on substantiated cases of abuse. Some of the internal records were created on the simple accusation that a leader or volunteer was gay.
‘Perverts’ or ‘ill health’
Scouting has taken major steps since the late 1980s to address potential sex abuse within its ranks, stressing the identification and reporting of the problem. Current policies prohibit individual adults and Scouts from being alone together.
“Scouts are taught to recognize, resist and report abuse – in and out of Scouting – through a series of videos and other written materials,” said national BSA spokesman Deron Smith. “This training is a requirement for rank advancement.”
About 25,000 Scouts belong to the Three Harbors Council, which covers Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties, according to Katie Clark, the council’s development and marketing director. Local membership in Scouting has been growing by about 2% each year, she said.
Within the past three years, one suspected sexual assault has been reported within the council, Clark said. She said she did not know any details of the case – only that the individual involved was immediately removed from Scouting and it was reported to authorities.
In the files released Thursday, police were involved in nearly two-thirds of the cases, and a majority of the files (58%) included information known to the public, according to BSA.
National Scouting officials often requested more detailed information before banning members from future participation. In the 1960s, Wisconsin Scouting officials would sometimes start the request to ban a volunteer with a simple claim that they were “perverts,” or suffering “ill health” without supporting documentation.
Of the Wisconsin cases detailed, several involve troop leaders who came to the attention of area Scouting officials because they had been charged or convicted of sex crimes. Once entered into the confidential record, they would be denied future BSA registration if officials checked with those records, kept in Texas.
The late George Collentine Lueck was convicted in 1963 of indecent behavior with a Scout. After prison, Lueck spent years trying to get reinstated with the Boy Scouts. He was twice rejected, even after winning clemency from then Gov. Patrick Lucey. The Scouts relented in 1975, offering to reinstate him on a probationary basis with a troop at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School after a priest and the Catholic Committee on Scouting vouched for him. Within a month, the Scouts rescinded the offer after learning Lueck was already molesting an 11-year-old boy.
In at least one Wisconsin case, a Scout executive was the subject of complaints. In 1966, the full-time paid Scouting staff executive in Appleton was confronted and told he should leave town as soon as possible or a boy’s parents would contact the district attorney. But the Scouting executive also was told a job with a trade group in New York City could be arranged.
In 1961, a Scoutmaster from Sheboygan – a former police chief in Elkhart Lake – was separated from the BSA “for morals,” and the letter to national staff said the sheriff’s office had found him guilty with a lie detector.
Most files do not include any indications that parents of boys who had been exposed to the banned volunteers or staff were informed of the actions.
Some later cases were prominently reported in local news media, however, such as that of Jerry Borchardt, a Scoutmaster from Cedarburg who pleaded no contest in the early 1980s to nine counts of sexual assault involving five boys, three of them Scouts. He was sentenced to four months in jail and three years’ probation.
No record of complaint
The situation involving Kowalski, the Greendale pediatrician, was first reported last month by the Los Angeles Times, based on BSA files produced in a 1992 lawsuit in California, but not reported on until this year. The files show that two teens reported Kowalski, who was volunteering at a summer camp, masturbated as he fondled them in the infirmary. Scouting officials reported the matter to the sheriff, prosecutor and social services in Forest County.
“According to Sheriff, D.A. and D.S.S. director, Dr. Kowalski admitted his actions,” according to the Boy Scout Confidential Record Sheet. But the boys’ parents agreed to not pursue charges if Kowalski got psychological counseling, was reported to the Medical Examining Board and underwent peer review.
A spokesman with the board said Friday there is no record of any complaint or discipline against Kowalski, who was first licensed in 1964.
One document in the Scout file notes there had been no media attention to the case.
“The publisher of the Milwaukee papers, a board member, is aware of the situation, but apparently will not be passing on the information to his editors,” said the document.
Barclay Bollas, who signed the document, declined to comment.
“I’m not going to help you,” said Bollas, 82, of Euless, Texas.
Kowalski, 75, has not returned numerous calls over the past month, including Friday.
He told the Los Angeles Times last month he had received psychiatric counseling and never re-offended.
“Had that been publicized, I would have been out of business, reputation destroyed, and I don’t know how I would have faced people at church,” he said.
A local Scout official confirmed that the only media executive on the Milwaukee County Boy Scouts board in 1987 was Warren “Bud” Heyse, former president of Journal Communications and vice chairman of Journal/Sentinel Inc., which then published The Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel. He died in 2008.
Sig Gissler, the Journal editor in 1987 and now on the faculty at Columbia University, said Friday he could not recall ever hearing about a doctor accused of impropriety with Scouts, and that if he had, he expected he would have tried hard to get a story about it into the paper.
Karen Herzog, Annysa Johnson, Ellen Gabler, Jennifer Amur and Daniel Bice of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.