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  Man Wanted on Decades-Old Assault Charges Hiding in New Jersey

Associated Press
March 28, 1999

Newark, N.J. — He was teaching one day, and gone the next.

A member of a religious order who is wanted on criminal charges in Canada has been hiding out in New Jersey, the Congregation of Christian Brothers has confirmed.

Thomas Cuthbert Ford, math teacher since 1986 at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, disappeared in November 1996 after prosecutors in Canada indicted him on assault charges stemming from the 1950s.

Ford was charged with nine counts of beating abandoned children at the order's Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's, Newfoundland, between 1956 and 1959, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported for Sunday's editions.

The whereabouts of the 64-year-old are known only to U.S. Justice Department officials and to leaders in the order, who have acknowledged they are keeping Ford under their protection, the newspaper reported. The leaders declined to say exactly where Ford was in New Jersey.

A 10-year investigation into abuse at the orphanage resulted in Ford and other members of the order being indicted. If convicted, Ford would face 14 years to life in prison.

Canadian officials have not been able to secure Ford's extradition, and Justice Department officials would not comment on the process. Law enforcement officials in Newfoundland are frustrated, but say they will wait.

"I've got 15 more years before retirement," said Sgt. Mark Wall of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. "I've got nothing but time, and we'll wait and see this through as long as it takes."

The Congregation of Christian Brothers is based in Rome, but operates 500 schools and universities throughout the world. It reports directly to the Vatican.

In 1975, four residents at Mount Cashel complained of abuse, which set off an investigation that was halted. Later investigations found that officials allegedly had helped cover up the allegations of physical and sexual abuse.

In 1996, charges were filed for abuse incidents that allegedly took place between 1945 and 1965.

Nine former members of the order have been sent to prison in connection to crimes committed at Mount Cashel. Ford is the only American suspect in the case who is still a member.

Former orphanage resident James Byrne said Ford used to walk around with a 3-foot leather strap.

"At any moment, without any warning you'd get hit anywhere and everywhere with that thing," he said in a telephone interview with the newspaper. "Ford was just one brutal son of a bitch."

Students and teachers at Bergen Catholic, another school of the order, remembered him as someone not to cross.

"He was a trigger," said a former lay teacher who did not want to be identified. "Everyone knew he had a temper."

In a statement, leaders of the order said Ford had retired from teaching and was cooperating with authorities, but would not comment on the charges.

 
 

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