Decades-old files that the Boy Scouts of America kept on 13 area men who were banned from Scouting reveal an organization that reacted decisively internally after arrests of Scout leaders for alleged sexual or inappropriate conduct. But the files also show no evidence that Scout executives alerted others outside the organization.
In nine of the cases, police or newspaper articles alerted local Boy Scout executives that a leader was suspected or charged with a crime. And the local executives then notified national Scouting executives so that the men could not become leaders elsewhere in the country.
But in four incidents, when parents or others told local Scout executives about a suspicion or problem, the files do not show that the executives alerted police or anyone who could help the children.
The local Scout executives, however, did inform the national leaders, who then placed the names in their confidential file.
The files show the Scout executives sometimes missed with their self-policing efforts. When police arrested a Lockport Scout leader in 1975 on an attempted rape charge after he burst into a home and ordered two girls to remove their clothes, executives learned his police record included a previous armed robbery.
What’s more, being put in the confidential file did not always mean a lifetime ban. In two cases, local leaders were welcomed back to the organization on probation, although one was kicked out six months later after pleading guilty to sexual abuse.
The 13 files of those who were kicked out and, for the most part, kept out of local Scouting troops between 1965 and 1985 are among more than 1,200 files compiled on men across the nation during that time period. All of the files were recently released under a court order.
The News examined the files on the local men.
The files contain letters between district and national Scout executives, newspaper clippings about arrests, photos of those banned or letters from parents about incidents involving their children.
One local crime expert said the once-confidential files show that Boy Scout executives at the time seemed more concerned with protecting the organization’s reputation and image.
“I don’t think I saw a single file where there was any real concern about the victims,” said Charles Patrick Ewing, a University at Buffalo law professor who also reviewed the files.
While some files contain details about the criminal charges against Scouting leaders and what reportedly happened to boys at a campground or on a bus, many are incomplete and may not show everything Boy Scout executives did to address the problems. In some files, it is not even certain if an incident involved a Boy Scout.
The News is not publishing the names of most of the men because the files are so old, and in most cases, it is not known what became of the allegations or charges. Some have died, and the whereabouts of others are unknown.
In a statement last month, the Boy Scouts’ national president, Wayne Perry, acknowledged that the organization failed to adequately protect children.
“There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong,” Perry said. “Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.”
Russell D. Etzenhouser, the Greater Niagara Frontier Council’s executive, called the files “a record that certainly shows problems that have occurred.”
But Scouting executives say numerous steps have been taken to prevent future abuse – a system that some call a model program.
The Scouts now require adults involved with troops to immediately report any suspected abuse, either to child protection services or to police.
“Today, I’d lose my job if we did not report it,” Etzenhouser said.
A glimpse into policy
Eight of the 13 Western New York files are from the 1960s, four from the 1970s and one from the 1980s.
Nine of the 13 men banished from the Scouts had been arrested or investigated by police.
The other four involved allegations by a Scouting leader from outside the area or from parents of Boy Scouts suspected of being abused.
Nearly half of the local men banned by the organization were in their 20s. None was older than 47. Their ranks included a teacher, railroad engineer, crane operator and grocery store manager. Two were employed by the Scouts as executives.
The files offer a glimpse into how the institution tried to keep out known or suspected pedophiles. In several cases, letters between local Scout leaders and the national council show they succeeded in keeping suspected pedophiles out of the organization.
There is no evidence in the files, however, that national leaders urged local councils to report suspected abuse to authorities. In one case, Ohio Scout leaders wrote to the national office in December 1971 about a former leader who “was caught molesting some young boys and later admitted he had an abnormal sex problem.”
After moving to Angola, the man applied to become a troop leader. But national leaders saw that his name had been placed in a confidential file and they instructed the Greater Niagara Frontier Council to reject his application.
The local Scout executive was told to tell him “the national council does not wish to accept his registration.” Should he object, “you might indicate to him that registration in the Boy Scouts of America is a privilege and not a right and that the National Council reserves the prerogative to accept those individuals it feels will best serve the interests of the organization.”
The files show that three local men with criminal records were able to join the group. Two men whose names had been placed in the confidential files were allowed back in under Boy Scout “probation.”
One of them, who received a suspended jail sentence more than a decade earlier for impairing the morals of a minor, worked with a local troop for several months before national officials were told he was back and wanted to be cleared by them.
He was a 22-year-old TV repairman in 1963 when the organization banned him.
“After 12 years, I am still interested in scouting and I think anyone interested should try to help the boys,” the man said in a letter to the national council in 1973. “If you would put me on probation, I would try to live up to the Boy Scout Law.”
His letter showed how someone with a confidential file could still participate.
“I have been active in scouting for the past three months without any problems and the scoutmaster and everyone else supports me,” he wrote in the letter.
The Amherst troop’s Scoutmaster wrote the national council, too, saying the man “has worked hard to get our new troop off the ground.”
“I, having no real scouting experience, have depended on him heavily,” the Scoutmaster wrote. “He has participated for the last four months in fundraising, setting up records, providing transportation and providing leadership at the meetings and our outdoor activities.” He did all that while placed in the Boy Scouts’ confidential file.
The file does not indicate anything bad happened afterward involving that man. There are no indications of whether the man continued with the Scouts.
In another case, it did not take long for something bad to happen.
The Scouts created a confidential file on Kenneth A. Dingman, then of Albion, in February 1971 after police arrested him for impersonating an officer, according to his file.
“There are or have been other problems,” the Lewiston Trail Council executive told the national office, adding the banned leader “apparently has a psychological problem, but not to the extent where he should be committed.”
By December 1974, the national office approved his registration “since so much time has elapsed” but put him on probation, a national executive told local executives.
Within six months, the Scouts banned Dingman again after his arrest for sexual abuse.
“He has been arrested for his activities with a 12-year-old boy and pleaded guilty,” the Lockport council informed national executives.
Dingman was arrested two more times, once in 1990 for sexual abuse and then in 1996 on a count of third-degree sodomy for assaulting a 15-year-old boy in a barn.
Dingman, now 63 and living in Medina, spent six years in prison for the last conviction. He is listed on the state sex offender registry as a Level 3 offender, the highest on the scale.
Medina Police Chief Jose Avila said Dingman has stayed out of trouble for many years now. Police check up on Dingman every 90 days and say that he has not caused any problems.
“He follows through with everything he’s required to do under Megan’s Law,” Avila said.
Dingman said he does not know why his name appears among those with confidential files.
“I don’t remember having anything to do with the Boy Scouts,” Dingman said. “I’d like to know where they got my name.”
Also, “why bring it up 42 years later?” he asked. “I think somebody’s trying to cause some (trouble).”
So is he guilty of the crimes?
“According to the law, yeah,” he said. “According to me, no. I got railroaded.”
In another case, a Scoutmaster was kicked out and his name put in the files in 1967 after four letters about incidents during a camping trip in 1967 were sent to the national Scout executives.
One parent wrote that the suspected molester took their son to an empty campsite, where he removed the boy’s bathing suit and spanked the boy and tried to grab the boy’s genitals. The boy broke loose and the Scoutmaster allegedly told him not to tell anyone and that there were “no witnesses.” On the same trip, two parents detailed how the Scoutmaster sat next to their sons on a bus and tried to put his hand down their pants.
None of the correspondence in the file indicates that anyone, from either national or local officials, called law enforcement to report the man.
That kind of file shows that Boy Scout executives knew that pedophilia was a problem within the organization but did not do enough to stop it, said Paul Mones, one of the lawyers in the $20 million lawsuit against the Scouts that prompted a judge to order the files released.
“We know, unfortunately, there was no effort to report to law enforcement. There wasn’t any outreach,” Mones said.
District and national Scout executives wanted to avoid negative publicity, the files show.
On March 17, 1965, a Buffalo Area Council deputy Scout executive wrote a “personal and confidential” letter informing the national council about the arrest and conviction of a Buffalo Scoutmaster on a morals charge involving a minor.
The local council had already been alerted about the 35-year-old unemployed Scoutmaster in the summer of 1964 from Boy Scout officials in the Rochester area, where he had taken the local troop camping.
“He has been under close surveillance for these many months and evidently over the past years has exposed a number of boys to homosexuality,” according to the local executive’s letter to the national council.
The Buffalo Police Department’s vice squad arrested him on March 3, 1965, and he pleaded guilty before the district sent the letter dated March 17, 1965, to the national council, according to his file.
“As to newspaper clippings, we are delighted that there are none, for our working arrangement with the newspapers here is most delightful and news items of this sort are always cleared with our office before being released,” the local executive’s letter continued. “In this instance no publicity was given to the incident.”
On March 30, 1965, The Buffalo Evening News printed a 54-word item about the man’s sentence to probation and a judge’s order that he seek psychiatric help. The news item did not mention the man’s involvement with the Boy Scouts, although it did report the judge’s telling him to refrain from participating in any youth organizations.
Volunteer troop leaders and paid executives in the Boy Scouts are now better trained to handle suspicions and allegations than in the 1960s or so, said Etzenhouser, the local Scout executive.
“Society at that time had a very different way of dealing with things,” Etzenhouser said.
Since then, the Boy Scouts of America – and general attitudes about child sex abuse – have changed dramatically, he said.
Beyond stricter reporting requirements, the Scouts constantly revamp their policies and training programs to prevent abuse, he said. Rules now explicitly prohibit an adult from being alone with a child. When Scouts go on camping trips, for instance, the children are only allowed to share a tent with a parent.
Nationally, the Scouts recently hired Michael Johnson, an expert on child abuse, to be the director of youth protection.
When it comes to preventing child sex abuse, Etzenhouser said, “I believe the BSA is doing everything known possible today.”