Boy Scout officials in the U.S. and Canada not only failed to stop an admitted child molester in their ranks, but sometimes helped cover his tracks, according to confidential records, court files and interviews with victims and their families.
A Los Angeles Times and Canadian Broadcasting Corp. investigation published Saturday finds scout leader Rick Turley molested at least 15 children over nearly two decades, most of whom he met through American and Canadian Scouting beginning in the 1970s.
Boy Scouts of America officials didn't call police in 1979 after Turley acknowledged molesting three Orange County boys, records show.
"You do not want to broadcast to the entire population that these things happen," A. Buford Hill Jr., a former Orange County Scouting executive, said of officials' decision not to contact authorities. "You take care of it quietly and make sure it never happens again."
It happened again. Turley returned to his native Canada, where he signed on with Scouts Canada, and continued his abuses for at least a decade.
Now 58 and working at an Alberta truck-stop motel, Turley says he is surprised by how often he got away with it.
"It was easy," he said in an interview with the CBC, adding that he has learned to control his impulses.
Turley was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted in 1996 of five counts of molesting children. Paroled in 2000, he was later caught trying to draw two pre-teen boys into a relationship and sent back to prison. He was released two years later.
Turley is one of more than 5,000 suspected child molesters named in confidential documents kept by the Boy Scouts of America. The records — called the "perversion files" by the Scouts — include admissions of guilt as well as unproven allegations.
Those files have come to light in recent years in lawsuits by former Scouts, accusing the group of failing to detect abuses, exclude known pedophiles, or turn in offenders to authorities.
The Oregon Supreme Court is now weighing a request by newspapers, a wire service and broadcasters to open about 1,200 more files in the wake of a nearly $20-million judgment in a Portland sex abuse case last year.
The Scouts' handling of sex-abuse allegations is similar to that of the Catholic Church in the face of accusations against its priests, some attorneys told the Times and the CBC.
"It's the same institutional reaction: scandal prevention," said Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who has filed seven suits in the last year by former Scouts.
Current Boy Scouts of America officials declined to be interviewed and would not say how many files exist or what is in them. Their lawyers have said the records are confidential, to protect victims and because some of the files are based on unsubstantiated tips.
"The BSA has continued to enhance its youth protection efforts as society has increased its understanding of the dangers children face," the Scouts said in a statement.