For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts of America has relied on a confidential blacklist known as the "perversion files" as a crucial line of defense against sexual predators.
Scouting officials say they've used the files to prevent hundreds of men who had been expelled for alleged sexual abuse from returning to the ranks. They've fought hard in court to keep the records from public view, saying confidentiality was needed to protect victims, witnesses and anyone falsely accused.
"It is a fact that Scouts are safer because the barrier created by these files is real," Scouts Chief Executive Robert Mazzuca said in video posted on the organization's website in June.
That barrier, however, has been breached repeatedly.
A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to 1991 found more than 125 cases across the country in which men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior.
Predators slipped back into the program by falsifying personal information or skirting the registration process. Others were able to jump from troop to troop around the country thanks to clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts' failure to check the blacklist.
In some cases, officials failed to document reports of abuse in the first place, letting offenders stay in the organization until new allegations surfaced. In others, officials documented abuse but merely suspended the accused leader or allowed him to continue working with boys while on "probation."
In at least 50 cases, the Boy Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover later that they had reentered the program and were accused of molesting again.
One scoutmaster was expelled in 1970 for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in Indiana. Even after being convicted of the crime, he went on to join two troops in Illinois between 1971 and 1988. He later admitted to molesting more than 100 boys, was convicted of the sexual assault of a Scout in 1989 and was sentenced to 100 years in prison, according to his file and court records.
In 1991, a Scout leader convicted of abusing a boy in Minnesota returned to his old troop — right after getting out of jail.
"Basically, there were no controls," said Bill Dworin, a retired Los Angeles police expert on child sexual abuse who reviewed hundreds of the files as a witness for an Oregon man abused by his troop leader in the 1980s. In 2010, the plaintiff, Kerry Lewis, won a nearly $20-million jury verdict against the Scouts.
In response to the Times' findings, the Scouts issued a statement that said in part:
"The Boy Scouts of America believes even a single instance of abuse is unacceptable, and we regret there have been times when the BSA's best efforts to protect children were insufficient. For that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims.... We are committed to the ongoing enhancement of our program, in line with evolving best practices for protecting youth."
The Scouts have maintained "ineligible volunteer" files in one form or another since at least 1919 to keep track of men who failed to meet Scouting's moral standards. Files that involved allegations of child sexual abuse were dubbed "perversion files." A master list of those banned from Scouting has been computerized since 1975 and is used to vet applicants for volunteer and paid positions.
Only a select few in Scouting have access to the files, which are kept in 15 locked cabinets at Scout headquarters in Irving, Texas. But over the years, hundreds of the files have been admitted as evidence, usually under seal, in lawsuits by former Scouts alleging a pattern of abuse in the organization.
Many of the files will soon be made public as a result of an Oregon Supreme Court decision. The court, in response to a petition by the Oregonian, the Associated Press, the New York Times and other media organizations, ordered the release of 1,247 files from 1965 to 1984 that had been admitted as evidence, under seal, in the 2010 lawsuit.
In anticipation of the release, attorneys for the Boy Scouts conducted an informal review of 829 of the files, saying they sought to put the contents in perspective. The Scouts said the review found 175 instances in which the files prevented men who'd been banned for alleged abuse from reentering the program.
The Times analyzed an overlapping, though broader and more recent, set of files, which were submitted in a California court case in 1992. Their contents vary but often include biographical information on the accused, witness statements, police reports, parent complaints, news clippings, and correspondence between local Boy Scout officials and national headquarters.
The accounts that emerge are often incomplete. But the Scouts ultimately deemed the allegations sufficiently credible to expel the suspected abusers.
Many files contain searing descriptions of molestation from young victims.
"I was crying, and I reached around and hit Max in the face, and said I was going to quit the troop and tell my daddy," a 10-year-old Scout wrote in 1972, describing his alleged rape by a Georgia troop leader, Samuel Max Dubois Jr. "Then we heard the others coming back, and Max said put your pants back on."
Dubois was not tried in that case but was expelled from the Scouts. He was later convicted of child sexual abuse in North Carolina and spent 14 years in prison, state records show.
Today, the Boy Scouts of America says it continues to use the confidential files as part of its efforts to prevent child abuse. In recent decades, it has added other protective measures. In 1988, for instance, Scouting did away with probation; its policy now is to expel anyone suspected in "good faith" of abuse. In 2008, criminal background checks were required on all volunteers, and in 2010 the organization required all suspected abuse to be reported to law enforcement.
The extent to which these measures have succeeded is impossible to gauge: The Scouts continue to fight in court against the release of more recent files.
The case of a Southern California troop leader named Stephen Field illustrates how porous the Scouts' protections were in the 1970s and '80s.
Scouting officials first investigated Field in 1971, when a Santa Monica Scout said the leader had sexually abused him.
A troop committee including parents and a psychiatrist concluded unanimously that the boy's story was true and discovered that Field had a history of inappropriate behavior — including making Scouts run around naked after games of strip poker, according to the file.
But no one called police. Instead, a regional Scout leader followed what was then standard procedure: He filled out a biographical form on Field and assembled the evidence for national headquarters, which opened a confidential file and deleted Field's name from the membership rolls.
From that point forward, any time Field tried to register as a Scouting volunteer, his name was supposed to be checked against a national list of those in the confidential files. Scouting officials assured the regional Scout leader that Field would never participate in Scouting again.
But he did. He was involved with several Southern California troops over the next 17 years, according to his file.
Contacted recently by The Times, Field explained that after he failed a lie detector test required by the Santa Monica troop committee, he was encouraged to transfer to another troop in the city, where he served as scoutmaster for four years.
"They said it had all been cleared up with the Scouts," Field said.
In Valencia, he joined his brother-in-law's troop but left after a parent intercepted a love letter he had written to a Scout, the file shows. At one point, the file says, Field was caught watching pornography with naked Scouts in his Jacuzzi.
No one appears to have reported either incident to national headquarters at the time.
Headquarters didn't learn that Field had reentered the Scouts until 1988, when a Scouting official in Fillmore reported that "Steve Field," chairman of the local troop committee, had been arrested for masturbating with a boy. It took a few days for officials to confirm he was the same Stephen D. Field who had been expelled in 1971.
Sheriff's investigators found pictures of nude boys dating back 10 to 15 years in Field's possession and asked the Boy Scouts for their file on Field.
The national office complied, with one request: "We hope you will use this information with discretion since we have tried to maintain our files so that they cannot be subpoenaed in any legal action," wrote Paul Ernst, administrator of the confidential files from the 1970s into the 1990s.
Ultimately, Field was convicted of abusing two 13-year-old-boys in Fillmore and sentenced to 12 years in prison, his file indicates.
In the interview, Field, 67, who now works in a law office in the Central Valley, denied most of the allegations, except those of which he was convicted.
Told he had been on the Scouts' blacklist since 1971, he expressed surprise at how long he had been able to remain in Scouting.
"It's like a no-fly list," he said. "If your name is on the no-fly list, you shouldn't be able to get on a plane."
Field said he had no further contact with Scouts after his conviction.
Other convicted molesters were able to return to the ranks.
In 1973, Scoutmaster Alan C. Dunlap was arrested in Fresno on suspicion of using his position to abuse several children.
"He was arrested for the worst kind of sex deviation," the grandmother of some victims wrote in a letter to prosecutors contained in Dunlap's file. "It was through his Scout work that his contacts and friendships had been made."
The Scouts had opened a file on Dunlap after he pleaded guilty to four counts of molestation and was committed to a California psychiatric hospital.
Thirteen years later, in 1986, Dunlap had successfully registered as a Scout volunteer in Bryan, Texas, according to his file. There was no indication that anyone checked the blacklist before registering him.
According to court records, he soon began abusing boys, including a 9-year-old Cub Scout whom he later pleaded guilty to molesting. Dunlap was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The national office received a request to include Dunlap in the confidential file — then realized he was already there.
"Convicted again — child molestation," an official noted.
In some instances, the Boy Scouts of America chose to give alleged molesters a second chance.
In a 1992 deposition, Ernst, then keeper of the national file, testified that alleged abusers were given probation — which required periodic updates on the person's behavior — only if evidence of molestation was "extremely weak."
An individual's confidential file was generally destroyed after probation was completed. But the files sometimes survived when the men went on to abuse again. Several of those cases suggest the initial evidence of abuse was strong.
In September 1978, Scouting officials in North Carolina investigated the alleged abuse of a Scout by Mark F. Bumgarner, a 21-year-old assistant scoutmaster.
One night after most Scouts had retired to their tents at Camp Schiele, the boy stayed up talking with Bumgarner, who reached into the boy's pants and fondled him, according to a statement from the boy's father that is in Bumgarner's file. The boy objected repeatedly, but Bumgarner persisted, telling him "the cartilage in [his] penis was similar to his nose and that he could break it," the father wrote.
After "considerable discussion," the national office decided that Bumgarner, an Eagle Scout and the son of the pastor whose church sponsored the troop, deserved another chance.
Months later, he was arrested for sexually abusing two Scouts during a camp-out. He pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse, prompting the national office to expel him and open a file.
Six years later, Bumgarner was back, serving as an assistant district commissioner with the Scouts in Fairfax, Va. National headquarters learned about his return to Scouting only in April 1988, when Bumgarner was sentenced to six years in prison for the sexual battery of two boys.
Probation also was given to Floyd David Slusher, a 19-year-old staffer at a Boy Scout camp in Germany, who was caught abusing a Scout in 1972 and sent home to the United States.
"Even after he was caught, they had to physically withstrain him of attempting to visit the Scout he was molesting," a Scouts official wrote to headquarters.
A file was opened, but Slusher was allowed to continue working with Scouts. He went on to molest at least eight boys in a Boulder, Colo., troop, threatening to kill them if they told, according to a Boulder County Sheriff's Department report in his file.
"Almost every Boy Scout in Troop 75 and Troop 73 has been approached sexually by Slusher on one time or another," a detective wrote, adding that the victims were "too numerous" to interview.
After pleading guilty in 1977 to one count of sexually assaulting a child, Slusher was sentenced to prison, according to Colorado corrections records, and later released. In 1990, he was convicted of another child-abuse crime and is now serving a 25-year sentence, state records show.
The Boy Scouts abolished probation and suspensions in 1988, around the same time a notorious case in San Mateo was coming to light.
Richard Stenger, the head of a unit of the Sea Scouts — part of the Boy Scouts — was charged in 1971 with tying up and fondling three boys. Police found bondage equipment and books on pedophilia in his house.
He was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and a judge sentenced him to four years' probation, his file shows. The Scouts decided to suspend him during that period. But when the court-ordered probation ended, a local Scout executive and several parents successfully requested that the national office lift the suspension.
"I feel quite confident that no further problems will arise," wrote the local Scout executive, whose name is blacked out in the heavily redacted file.
Fourteen years later, in 1989, a parent notified the Boy Scouts that the 320-pound Stenger had padlocked her 11-year-old Scout in a harness and watched him dangle for 15 minutes during a boating trip, according to Stenger's file. Scouts notified police, who recovered from Stenger's home dozens of restraints and hundreds of images of children in bondage, including one of a blindfolded 6-year-old tied to a bed.
Two dozen former and current Scouts came forward to say they had been abused by Stenger as long ago as 1958.
"This isn't in the handbook," one told police.
Times researchers Maloy Moore and M'Ballu Tejan-Sie contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times