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Boy Scouts seek bankruptcy, urge victims to step forward

The Boy Scouts of America urged victims to come forward Tuesday as the historic, 110-year-old organization filed for bankruptcy protection in the first step toward creating a huge compensation fund for potentially thousands of men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders.

The Scouts resorted to Chapter 11 in hopes of surviving a barrage of lawsuits, many of them made possible by recent changes in state laws to allow people to sue over long-ago sexual abuse.

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 victims’ fund that could top $1 billion.

The Boy Scouts estimated 1,000 to 5,000 victims will seek compensation.

“The BSA encourages victims to come forward to file a claim as the bankruptcy process moves forward,” the organization said in a statement.

James Kretschmer of Houston, one of those suing, said he was molested by a Scout leader in the mid-1970s in the Spokane, Washington, area. The bankruptcy, he said, “is a shame because at its core and what it was supposed to be, the Boy Scouts is a beautiful organization.”

“But you know, anything can be corrupted,” he added. “And if they’re not going to protect the people that they’ve entrusted with the children, then shut it down and move on.”

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

Evan Smola said two new victims had already called his law office in Chicago on Tuesday morning, bringing the firm’s total to 319.

“The opportunity to tell your story is a cathartic and healing experience,” Smola said. “It’s very painful when they actually do it, but getting it off your chest is a big step.”

It will be up to the court to set a deadline for filing claims. The amount of money each victim will receive is likely to depend on what assets are turned over and how many people come forward.

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 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.

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