A Decades Long Sex Abuse Scandal At America's Largest Private Catholic High School.
January 24, 2015
|Brother Benjamin O'Reilly |
|Accused former music teacher Ferdinand "Fred" Motley in a late 1980s-early 1990s yearbook photo.|
|1987-1988 St. Francis Prep yearbook photo of Rodney Alejandro.|
St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens NY is the largest private Catholic high school in the United States, and consistently ranked one of the best.
President Ronald Reagan visited the school and presented it with an award his last year in office, only a few years after the school's football team was ranked one of the top 25 in the nation.
Graduates include legendary coach Vince Lombardi, world champion NY Yankee manager Joe Torre, TV host Julie Chen, police officer and movie subject Frank Serpico, actor Peter Facinelli. and a plethora of other professional athletes, business titans, politicians, law enforcement administrators, military officers, and celebrities.
Those graduating from the school enjoy a global network of power broker alumni, and the contacts made over four years in one's teens benefits them throughout their life.
I should know as I myself am a 1987 graduate of St. Francis Prep..
St. Francis Preparatory School also bears another distinction, but this one is far less impressive.
It appears that for decades, St. Francis Prep has been aggressively covering up allegations of child sexual abuse, and allowing the alleged abusers to be reassigned to other teaching jobs free of prosecution or civil liability.
Elizabeth Cucinotta Sorvillo, a friend, classmate and fellow 1987 graduate, now a corporate lawyer in the San Diego area, has conducted an exhaustive investigation, become the de facto victims advocate, and is co-credited with this article.
The New York Daily News ran a strong piece on a few of the incidents and the ensuing lawsuits back in June of 2013.
I have first hand experience with one subject of that Daily News piece, Brother Benjamin O'Reilly, as he was one of my teachers and my cross country track coach.
O'Reilly got away with his abuses for decades, until a brave 2009 graduate, Felicia Mooradian, came forward and told her story.
O'Reilly was removed from teaching in 2006 after a psychiatrist found him unfit.
But I can personally tell you that the man should never have been allowed in a classroom.
Sexual harassment of female students was his stock and trade. I once confronted him jokingly about it in my junior or senior year, and his rage in responding threw me off balance.
O'Reilly's face turned bright red, and while shaking with clenched fists, proceeded to tell me how severely he would have beaten me were we not in a classroom. I told him to bring it on. It ended right there.
Br. Benjamin O'Reilly was a bully, and once I stood up for myself, he never again gave me a hard time.
Only when I joined the NYPD and had some time on the street did I come to understand the true nature of guys like Ben O'Reilly.
I'm writing this to raise awareness, and to pressure St. Francis Prep to end the alleged cover-up, victim shaming, and victim and witness intimidation of which I received numerous credible reports during the course of this investigation.
Here I will shine a light on all allegations in one place and bullet point a list of the known incidents, especially those under or not reported by the media.
1980 - St. Francis Prep Principal Br. Michael Moran is removed from the school in handcuffs and arrested for child molestation. A police report is still on file at the 107th precinct. Moran is removed from the ministry and never returns to SFP. He resurfaces at Hofstra University a year later as their Chaplain.
1970s-1990s - Former assistant football coach and social studies teacher Robert Stenger allegedly sexually and physically abused male students. Stenger died in 2006 and cannot answer the allegations.
1980-1990s- Over two decades, former SFP music teacher Fred Motley allegedly verbally, physically, and sexually harassed female students, with many reporting his attempts to kiss them on the lips with an open mouth.
1986 - Elizabeth Cucinotta Sorvillo reports that she was stalked and sexually harassed continually by Thomas Nuzzi, head of the Phys. Ed. Department.
- Nuzzi is fired along with Paul DeCurtis and Steve Hollis when a parent discovers that the three are stealing money from students by overcharging for ski trips and pocketing the difference. All three go on to have long teaching careers at other schools.
- Thomas Nuzzi allegedly continued his behavior at other schools throughout the United States.
2007 - Elizabeth Cucinotta Sorvillo returns to SFP as a teacher. On her first day of work, she is informed by another teacher, Sue Vivona, that in 2006 an art teacher was fired for having sex with "a Vietnamese freshman girl." Felicia Mooradian had also in 2006 reported this same teacher for sending sexual messages to her friend. Ms. Mooradian was apparently the driving force behind getting that teacher fired prior to her lawsuit. Allegedly, St. Francis Prep has quietly financially settled with this art teachers victims.
- Full disclosure, I have the name of the art teacher but have been asked to embargo due to pending investigations and potential litigation.
March, 2011 - Cucinotta Sorvillo launches a website, and students start posting about being sexually harassed and emotionally abused by their teachers. St. Francis Prep demands she shut down the Bad Teachers section of her website, she refuses, and Elizabeth Cucinotta Sorvillo is terminated.
April, 2011 - Cucinotta Sorvillo begins receiving anonymous messages on Facebook about the long pattern of sexual abuse and harassment at the school. She is given Felicia Mooradian's name, and investigates the tips.
December, 2012 - Cucinotta Sorvillo begins blogging about her findings
June, 2013 - Three lawsuits are filed against the school. Elizabeth Cucinotta Sorvillo files a defamation suit, Felicia Mooradian files a suit for being sexually harassed by Br. Benjamin O'Reilly, and Mark Evangelista files a suit for being physically abused by football coach Robert Stenger in 1985. The details appear in The Daily News article linked above.
Late June, 2013 - Six more abuse victims make contact, including one who asks Cucinotta Sorvillo to blog his story.
- The alleged victim claims he was repeatedly molested by Br. Joe Mussa, who was removed from SFP for child molestation, then sent to teach at Xaverian HS.
- Mussa now resides in the St. Francis College friary on Remsen St. in Brooklyn.
That same month and year, the school is hacked and all the faculty/staff email addresses and passwords are leaked.
April, 2014 - Felicia Mooradian files another lawsuit alleging that Assistant Principal Christopher Mendolia and former teacher Fernando Sicilia both sexually harassed her.
July, 2014 - SFP sues Felicia Mooradian for defamation, alleging she leaked her allegations to two people on the SFP Board of Trustees, and one donor, with an email heading "Sexual Harassment at SFP is a Huge Problem"
August, 2014 - Mark Evangelista's lawsuit is dismissed as is Elizabeth Sorvillo's, Felicia Mooradian's suit re Br. Benjamin O'Reilly is refiled in state court.
September, 2014 - Two men allegedly molested by Franciscan Brothers at the school come forward publicly - John Bennett, class of 1998, allegedly molested by Br. DeSales Pergola, and a young man repeatedly allegedly molested by Br. Dominic Quigley,
Again, the NY Daily News runs a story.
Br. DeSales Pergola died in 2011 and cannot answer the allegations. However, alleged victim statements indicate that he was a serial pedophile with a decades long history of abuse.
Br. Dominic Quigley was quietly removed from St. Francis Prep, and sent to American Martyrs parish in Bayside, Queens. After the allegations became public, he was removed from American Martyrs and also fired from a position he held at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.
- Quigley is rumored to be living in hiding at the Franciscan Camp Alvernia in Long Island, NY. A summer camp for children. If true, this is a disturbing development.
- Two more alleged victims of Quigley's came forward to District Attorney investigators shortly after the Daily News piece ran.
- I have also received information that indicates Quigley is under investigation by the NYPD.
October, 2014 - Cucinotta Sorvillo's lawsuit is appealed.
November, 2014 - Former student Constance Lord came forward as a victim who was allegedly repeatedly raped by SFP biology teacher Rodney Alejandro when she was 15 years old in 1988. Cucinotta Sorvillo recapped her interview with Ms. Lord on her blog in December, 2014.
One question plaguing all of us investigating this is why a prestigious learning institution has a convicted jewel thief with alleged organized crime ties as its financial controller.
Joseph "Joe Diamonds" DiSomma was part of a violent jewelry theft and fencing racket responsible for more than $1.2 million in robberies over eight years from New Jersey to Florida.
Former St. Francis Prep principal Br. Leonard Conway, under whose tenure DiSomma was hired, refused to comment on Di Somma, or why he was entrusted with such a critical position.
A US DOJ spokesperson confirmed that Joseph DiSomma was convicted on May 11, 1992 and sentenced by Judge J. Cedarbaum to 57 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit robbery.
He was incarcerated at the Danbury, CT minimum security facility on October 19, 1993, moved to a low security facility in Loretto, PA, and ultimately released from the federal facility at Ft. Dix, NJ to a halfway house under the supervision of the NYC Department of Corrections on September 19, 1997.
DiSomma had 223 days shaved off his sentence for good behavior, and 79 days credited for time served during the trial.
Despite all of this, Joseph DiSomma controls millions upon millions of dollars in tuition, donations, and endowment funds for St. Francis Prep.
More disturbingly, victims of alleged sexual abuse who spoke up or took action report repeated intimidation by DiSomma or private investigators hired by him.
St. Francis Prep however still refuses comment on these allegations of victim and witness tampering.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Unfortunately for most of the victims, the statute of limitations has expired and their alleged abusers will not face criminal charges.
They are left with civil suits as their only recourse.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE PROBLEM
Most troubling is St. Francis Prep's unwillingness to acknowledge what appears to be systemic sexual abuse and harassment of students, and not only by clergy faculty.
This pattern of abuse will continue until the school purges its ranks of offenders, and instead of circling the wagons around the accused, invites law enforcement in to the school to pull them out in handcuffs if the allegations prove true.
Until that happens, I fear we will only see and hear more victims coming forward down the road.
Quite frankly, I'm disgusted with my alma mater.