Abused Became Abusers In Former Probation Officer's Case

Abusive BehaviorSexual AssaultSexual MisconductCrime, Law and JusticeTheftCrimeAssault

Index: Straub's Power | Watching Myself On TV | A Fluke | Victim Becomes Abuser | No Longer A Victim

They're the Lost Boys of Eastern Connecticut.

Each started on a bumpy path toward adulthood, finding trouble in small doses through petty crimes.

Douglas Dougherty was 16 when he stole the purse of a woman who had just bought some lottery tickets in a shopping center in Putnam. The tickets were all losers.

Marc Page was 18 when he got caught stealing a couple gallons of gas from the pump at the Hebron Public Works Department garage.

Scott Evans was 15 when he was caught drinking in the Big Y parking lot in Danielson.

As first-time offenders, they got no jail time when they appeared before a judge in Superior Court in Danielson. Each got something that would turn out to be far worse -- a probation officer named Richard Straub.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Straub was chief of the probation department in Danielson, located in a small brick office building across the street from town hall.

But Straub's power far exceeded his title. He ran his office like a fiefdom, fueled by a close connection with prosecutors and judges. As a practical matter, Straub's near complete control of the probation system in eastern Connecticut is chilling for one main reason: He picked the boys who reported to him.

Boys such as Dougherty, Page and Evans.

While the three have never met, each tells a strikingly similar story about life on probation. Tales of locked doors in a windowless office, questions about whether they had ever dreamed of being with a man and, finally, molestation.

And always when Straub was done -- a warning.

"He said, 'What happens in my office stays in my office,' and if something were to leak out about what had happened he would make sure that I go to jail and do every single day of time that I owed,'' Dougherty said.

Dougherty, Page and Evans were three of 15 teenage boys that state police have verified were sexually molested by Straub when he was their probation officer from the mid-1980s through 1997.

Now, years after the teenagers were abused, they have something else in common: They have become abusers themselves. In fact, of the 15 boys known to have been abused by Straub, eight of them have since been convicted of sexually assaulting someone, in many cases children the same age as they were when they were first abused.

Another three have served time for assault. All but one have been to jail at least once, records show.

Just over one-quarter of Straub's 157 clients have since been convicted of sexual assault, although authorities say they are not sure exactly how many of them were abused by Straub.

Scott Deojay, convicted of the 2005 murder of a Thompson mother who was abducted while she was jogging, was among Straub's victims, his public defender told the judge at sentencing.

The Straub case, which received significant publicity at the time of his arrest, has quietly evolved into a textbook example of how childhood abuse can have lasting effects on society, often creating a whole new generation of victims. Research generally shows that about one-third of those who are victims of sexual assaults later commit sexual assaults themselves.

Still, the numbers of repeat offenders among Straub's victims is higher than normal, several experts said.

Dr. Leslie Lothstein, director of psychology at the Institute of Living, said the "horrific" nature of the crime likely explains the high recidivism rate, along with the fact that many of the youths already were in trouble, albeit minor trouble.

"These are the kinds of kids that needed even more protection. They were vulnerable to begin with. To learn that these kids have become more likely to offend than normal isn't surprising, given what he did to them,'' Lothstein said.

Straub's Power

In his 25 years as a probation officer in Danielson, Richard Straub became well known in the community, making friends with judges, police officers and town officials. State police investigators say he used those contacts to rise to power.

Over time, he ascended to run the regional probation department, taking the biggest office way in the back with no windows. He kept a peanut dispensing machine on his desk and routinely asked clients to grab a handful.

A Massachusetts native, Straub lived by himself on Soap Street, just a few miles from the courthouse in downtown Danielson, a section of Killingly. It's the heart of Connecticut's quiet corner, where the recent news that a Starbucks might be coming to town made the front page of the local paper.

These are communities where people tend to live for years, along with their extended families, and where the poverty level is above the state average and teenagers have plenty of chances to get in trouble. In many ways, it was the perfect place for Straub to flex his power and find potential victims.

"It was his little kingdom," said former state police Det. David LeBlanc, who led the police investigation of Straub. "Straub basically ran the show up there for many years."

Everyone who was put on probation by a judge had to be interviewed by Straub or someone from his office, so Straub got to pick his clients. It didn't take long for investigators to develop a profile of probation clients who would become his victims . Most looked younger than they seemed, even though most, at best, were 17-year-olds. Most came from dysfunctional families or broken homes; most were easily manipulated or just plain scared because it was their first time in the judicial system.

"He really had the catbird seat when it came to picking his victims because he knew everybody coming through that office,'' former Windham County State's Attorney Mark S. Solak said.

When he was a prosecutor, Solak filed a complaint against Straub for spending so much time in the previous state's attorney's office that defense attorneys complained it was too cozy a relationship.

"He was incredibly clever at picking the right victims not only that he could take advantage of, but also because he knew he could control them and keep them quiet about it," said Solak, who later oversaw the criminal investigation that led to Straub's conviction on more than 200 sexual assault charges and a 15-year prison sentence.

State Department of Correction officials have transferred Straub to a Florida prison out of concern that a former state probation officer could be a target of violence. Straub did not respond to attempts by The Courant to speak with him. He has never admitted to molesting any of his former clients. Under oath during a federal court proceeding, he refused to answer questions about the molestations.

Watching Myself On TV

Marc Page, now 45, is in prison, too, serving a 12-year sentence after he was convicted in 1996 of molesting at least two boys in his parents' Woodstock home. His father died while he was in prison; his mother is ill.

Straub became Page's probation officer after Page was arrested in 1982 for stealing gasoline from the Hebron Public Works Department. Page said Straub one day led him into his office, closed the door and started asking questions. After some routine inquiries, he started asking Page whether he was gay and whether he had ever had sex with a man.

In one episode, Page told state police, Straub pulled out a gun while they were locked in his office and forced Page to give him oral sex at gunpoint. Page never returned to Straub's office after that incident, but the damage had been done.

Page said he lost his fiancee when he kept seeing Straub's face every time they tried to have intimate relations. His drinking and marijuana use eventually cost him his job at the Eastern Connecticut Cable Co. He had panic attacks any time he was in a room alone with other men.

Over the next 10 years his life spiraled out of control. Page took to watching some of his friends' children at his parents' Woodstock home as a way to make money. He also assisted a group called the Young Marines based in Putnam by doing video work for them.

It was through that association with that mix of kids in which Page, 15 years after he had been abused by Straub, went from being a victim to being an abuser. Page said he used to give the boys back rubs and baths, until one night, when he was drunk, a bath turned into the molestation of a friend's child.

"I don't really remember too much of what happened. I felt like my life was like me watching myself on television -- being on the outside looking in,'' Page said. "I remember taking the boy home. He was utterly destroyed -- not in any outward way, but inwardly I could tell. It was if I had crushed his soul.''

When Page was arrested on a sexual assault charge, he told his parents about his abuse by Straub.

"What I did was reprehensible and I still can't believe I did to someone else what Straub did to me," Page said. "I know that I'm ultimately responsible for heading down this path, but there's no way I become a sexual deviant if it wasn't for Richard Straub."

Page has become somewhat of a jailhouse lawyer, filing federal lawsuits trying to get his sentence reduced and filing one against the Inmate Legal Assistance program for failing to properly represent him. He is scheduled to be released in September, although he isn't sure what awaits him.

"What kind of a future am I going to have? No one wants to hire a sex offender so I won't be able to find a job. All of my friends have long abandoned me,'' Page said.

His hopelessness is likely reflected in a number of Straub's victims, experts in child sex abuse say.

"They learned that society is a total mockery and they were so angry at the betrayal that they acted out. They stopped believing that justice is ever possible," said Joynna Silberg, the executive vice president of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence, based in Pennsylvania.

"This was a person in the position to be a role model to these boys and to see the value of following the law who instead abused them,'' she said.

Silberg said Straub's victims are different from those in other sexual abuse cases -- such as those involving Catholic priests -- because of the circumstances.

"They weren't Catholic do-gooders who believed in a particular priest and were betrayed," Silberg said. "This particular population is already a high-risk group because they have been violators of the law and being abused by a person in position of authority just pushed them over the edge."

A Fluke

Straub might never have been caught if it weren't for a guy nicknamed O.J., a motorcycle chase in Rhode Island and a stolen 9mm gun.

In December 1995, Oscar "O.J." McDuffie and Steven Chicoine were caught by Providence police operating a stolen motorcycle. When police questioned the two men separately, Chicoine told the cops, "Why don't you ask Oscar about the gun he took from the faggot,'' according to police reports.

Providence police called state troopers from Danielson to come and interview McDuffie. He eventually admitted stealing the gun and a clip of bullets from Straub's nightstand about five days earlier and trading it for some crack cocaine. Straub had never reported the gun stolen.

The trooper then asked McDuffie about his relationship with Straub and whether it was sexual in nature. McDuffie hung his head and didn't answer.

The trooper asked again and McDuffie started to sob openly before muttering, "You don't know how it is. He has all the power.''

When McDuffie was transported back to Troop D in Danielson, he gave a two-page statement describing in detail how Straub, as his probation officer, started inviting McDuffie back to his Soap Street home to play pool and drink.

After a few times, Straub started hugging McDuffie and tried to have oral sex with him. When McDuffie initially refused, Straub took out a gun and put it on the table -- at which point McDuffie agreed, according to McDuffie.

"It really was a fluke that [Straub] was caught at all,'' said Solak, the former Windham County state's attorney. "When we were able to corroborate [McDuffie's] story, I asked the state police to put as many men as possible on the case because it was obvious to us all he wasn't the only victim.''

Solak said the case was a difficult one from the beginning, both because of the nature of the allegations and the fact that it was difficult to figure out who may have been sexually molested.

"Normally, victims come to you to complain about a crime that has been done to them, but in this case it was the exact opposite. We had to go out and find the victims by going through all of the court documents, probation records and prison records,'' Solak said. "I'm sure we didn't get all of the victims because we never got all of the records."

The Courant obtained from the state judicial department a list of clients assigned to Straub during the last 10 years he ran the probation office in Danielson. There are 157 clients on the list, although investigators always believed there were many more that Straub kept off the books because he was molesting them.

Among those 157 clients, 40 have been convicted of sexual assault offenses since Straub became their probation officer. There is no evidence that Straub molested more than the 15 that police have identified or that any of the clients were arrested because of their association with him.

LeBlanc, the former state police detective, said he isn't surprised to hear many of Straub's victims turned to a life of crime. He also has no doubts that there were far more victims than state police were able to identify.

"If we had been given more manpower, gotten more cooperation from the probation department and had more time, who knows how many more victims we would have found,'' LeBlanc said.

Deojay, a 37-year-old Plainfield man serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of Judith Nilan in 2005, may have been one of Straub's victims. Deojay kidnapped Nilan as she jogged near her Thompson home, raped her and beat her to death, dumping her body in an outbuilding on a nearby property.

At Deojay's sentencing last March, Public Defender Ramon Canning said Straub had repeatedly raped Deojay over a three-year period, from when he was 16.

"The state had a great impact on him because of that probation officer's action," Canning told the judge. "It went on for three years and it lasted in his mind and caused that outpouring of rage."

Windham State's Attorney Patricia Froelich called the claim "abuse excuse" and questioned Deojay's motives for claiming to be a victim of Straub's. She said there was no evidence Deojay was ever molested by Straub.

Victim Becomes Abuser

There is no doubt in Douglas Dougherty's case.

Dougherty grew up in a single-family home with his mother in Thompson, not far from Danielson. He was a short, stocky kid when he accepted a dare and stole lottery tickets from a woman leaving a package store. Dougherty pleaded guilty to sixth-degree larceny charges and got one-year probation -- and a place in Straub's world.

Much like he did with Page, Straub started asking Dougherty standard questions, such as where he lived and if he had a job. But the questions soon became sexually explicit -- Had he ever had oral sex? Had he thought about sleeping with a guy? Did he like to look at porn magazines?

Straub once scheduled Dougherty's appointment for 7 p.m., which struck the teenager as an odd time for a meeting.

"I didn't want to go to jail so I went,'' he said.

Dougherty said Straub took him to his office and locked the door behind them. Straub pulled out $100 in $20 bills and handed them to Dougherty, along with his business card that had his home number on the back. "If you get in trouble let me know or if you ever need money,'' Dougherty remembers Straub saying.

As he talked, Straub walked around the desk and sat on it right next to Dougherty. He then unzipped his pants and took out his penis and started masturbating. He told Dougherty to touch him. When Dougherty wouldn't, Straub said, "You might want to do what I tell you to do.''

Straub then told Dougherty to take out his own penis and do the same thing. They both ejaculated into napkins Straub had on his desk. When it was over, Straub grabbed Dougherty by the wrist and looked him straight in the eye.

"He said, 'What happens in my office stays in my office,'.'' Dougherty said. "He always said, 'Do what you're told or else I'll send you to jail.' I didn't know what to do; there was no one to talk to. He ran that courthouse.'' The scenario stayed the same for about three months, until it escalated to oral sex.

About a year after the abuse began, Dougherty said he was sitting alone in his second-floor apartment in Putnam watching a pornographic movie when the 11-year-old boy who lived downstairs came to visit. Dougherty let the boy watch the movie with him, and then Dougherty took out his penis and started masturbating.

"I asked him if he wanted to touch it," Dougherty said. "I knew it was wrong but I thought it was OK because Straub was doing the same thing to me all of the time."

Dougherty was convicted of sexual assault in 1991 and served two years in prison. He has been in and out of prison ever since, mostly on burglary charges. But he also was arrested on charges of violating probation because, he said, he feared going back to the Danielson offices and possibly seeing Straub again.

To this day, Dougherty, now 35, can barely sit alone in a room with another man. He started sweating and fidgeting during a three-hour prison interview with The Courant, at one point asking if the door to the interview room could be kept open.

During his numerous prison stints, Dougherty's mother, his only relative, died. The two had a falling out over his criminal behavior. She kicked him out of the Thompson home he had grown up in. Dougherty is in jail now awaiting trial on robbery charges.

While there are similarities in many of the stories that Straub's victims tell, the case involving Scott Evans was more personal.

Evans said Straub was like his uncle. In fact, Straub had a child with Evans' aunt even though they weren't married. Straub also knew Evans' mother, Lorraine Wright, well and went to the family's house in Dayville frequently -- when Evans was around 10.

When Evans got in trouble for underage drinking, his mother encouraged him to go see "Richard" and let him help.

Straub did help Evans, fixing speeding tickets and keeping him out of jail as the drug arrests started to mount.

"A couple of times [Straub] approached me and said, 'You are going to jail unless I help you and if I do help you than you have to help me,''' Evans said.

Before long, Straub was bringing Evans to his house, where he and a friend would get the boy drunk and molest him.

Lorraine Wright realized something was going on when she overheard a phone conversation between Straub and her son. Straub was calling while on vacation in Germany to tell Evans how much he "missed" having sex with him. "I was just shocked. I kept calling Richard, asking him to help Scott get off drugs and to help find him a job and all that time he was molesting him," Wright said.

Evans estimated that, over a two-year period, he was molested by Straub more than 50 times. Straub often gave him money, sometimes as much as $100, after they had sex.

Evans has been arrested 13 more times since he first caught drinking beer in the Big Y parking lot. Most of the crimes were drug-related or burglaries or larcenies to get money to buy drugs. He is being held on bail awaiting a trial on his latest burglary charges.

Wright said she has given up trying to constantly bail Evans out. To this day, she said, she feels sick about turning her youngest son, who is now 37, over to a pedophile.

"I know that Scott wouldn't be where he is today without what Richard did to him," Wright said.

No Longer A Victim

State police spent more than two years tracking down victims and building a case against Straub. They charged him with 224 counts of sexual misconduct against 15 teenagers. He also was charged with racketeering for using his position as a probation officer to conduct a continuing pattern of abuse.

Just as jury selection was about to begin for his trial in March 1999 he pleaded no contest to 31 charges, including sexual assault and kidnapping. He received a 15-year sentence.

Some of the victims, like John Hajder, showed up at Straub's sentencing and testified about what he did to them. He did so under the condition that he remain anonymous.

Hajder was 14 when he was arrested on a charge of stealing from a general store in Danielson. During a prison interview, Hajder said he was molested twice by Straub in his office.

"I never thought about telling anyone because who would believe a kid like me against the guy who ran the probation department?'' Hajder said.

The first time, his mother was sitting outside in the waiting room.

"I had a funny feeling about Straub when I met him. He would never let me come into the office with John,'' said Eileen Bryan, Hadjer's mother.

When she thinks about what was going on behind those closed doors she said it makes her sick.

"I feel like it was almost my fault,'' Bryan said. "He was just a kid doing what a grown man who was an authority figure was telling him to do.''

Straub kept his promise to keep Hajder out of jail even as drug use led Hajder to commit more petty crimes.

One day, as Hajder waited with his then-girlfriend to appear in court in Danielson to take care of a parking ticket, Straub came over and pulled Hajder aside and warned him not to tell "anyone about what happened between me and him."

That's when Hajder realized he might not have been Straub's only victim . "I always thought that what happened was my fault somehow and that I was the only victim but when he said that to me it made me realize maybe there were others and that he was afraid I was going to talk,'' Hajder said.

Hajder contacted the attorney Straub had recommended, Paul Chinigo of Norwich, and told him Straub had molested him. Hajder said Chinigo's first reaction was that he "found that hard to believe."

That same night, Hajder told his mother what had happened. She convinced him to call Chinigo back and to go to Troop D in Danielson and file a complaint.

Hajder was disappointed that Straub never had to admit in open court what he did. Straub avoided looking at him in court.

"I was looking for some kind of reaction from him but there was nothing. He didn't look at me, didn't say anything. Nothing,'' Hajder said.

Hajder remembers ending his testimony in court by saying: "As of today I am no longer a victim, but a survivor."

When Straub was led out of court to start serving his sentence, the case for police and court officials was effectively over, even though state police sources readily admit there were probably many more victims who were too ashamed to talk about what happened or were never found.

Detectives moved on to other cases and judicial officials instituted changes -- such as installing two windows in Straub's office. While he was in prison, Straub was arrested again when police thwarted his attempt to put a contract out to kill Solak in a bizarre plot to gain freedom. Straub tried to hire members of the Latin Kings gang, believing that if the prosecutor were gone he could convince court officials from his old stomping grounds to reduce his sentence, authorities have said. He got four years added to his 15-year sentence.

Straub's victims were quickly forgotten.

"It really surprised me that the state didn't take any responsibility for what happened. I mean, he assaulted me in a state office," Hajder said. "It was like no one cared about us. They got what they were after, which was putting him in prison, and then we got put on the shelf."

Contact Dave Altimari at daltimar@courant.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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