Michigan attorney general, state police investigating sex abuse in Boy Scouts of America

Detroit Free Press [Detroit MI]

June 1, 2021

By Frank Witsil

Boy Scouts of America, which filed for bankruptcy protection a year ago to guard against a flood of sexual-abuse lawsuits, now faces a new public relations problem in Michigan: a criminal investigation.

The state police and attorney general announced Tuesday the two law enforcement groups have launched a joint investigation targeting accusations of sex abuse in the Boy Scouts and are asking for tips that may lead to prosecutions.

In response, BSA said it “wholeheartedly shares in the Michigan attorney general’s commitment to provide support for survivors,” and agreed to share information and cooperate with the investigation.

The youth organization also said it requires all employees and volunteers to “promptly report any allegation or suspicion of abuse to law enforcement so that allegations can be investigated by experts,” and asserted that incidents described in the claims filed in its bankruptcy case “have already been reported to local Michigan law enforcement.” 

Tuesday’s announcement came after a holiday weekend in which scouts across the nation planted American flags in cemeteries to honor veterans, and in the announcement, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the investigation was prompted by “allegations that came to light during recent civil litigation.”

But Nessel, who declined to be interviewed by the Free Press because her schedule was “jam-packed” and instead released a video, did not say whether they were looking at past incidents or new ones that might be ongoing.

She was not specific about how large the team was, other than to say it “will include prosecutors, special agents and victim advocates,” and she did not say why she was pursuing the investigation now. 

She also did not address what information the state may already have.

In the past few years, the public has heightened sensitivity to sex abuse, especially after the sex abuse scandal surrounding former USA Gymnastics team and MSU doctor Larry Nassar.

Last month, USA TODAY reported that frustration was at a boiling point for survivors who claimed BSA was doing “little to put forth meaningful reparations for their trauma.”

Nearly 95,000 abuse claims were filed by the November deadline, though that number is expected to drop by about 10% or more after duplicates are removed, the news report said.

Anger, the report added, “has extended to the bankruptcy court itself, which is redacting hundreds of letters sent to Judge Laurie Silverstein, preventing the public from understanding the full extent of the abuse they say they suffered as children.”

BSA has said that its claims expert estimates the cost of settling the claims at between $2.4 billion and $7.1 billion. The claimants’ committee says it will be more than $100 billion. 

The Boy Scouts kept internal files about abuse cases at its headquarters for decades, according to reports, and have been battling lawsuits nationwide for more than a decade.

The BSA sex abuse cases appear to be much larger than other recent cases, including those filed against the Catholic Church.

Nessel said Tuesday her office “has proven our commitment to accountability through similar sex abuse investigations and I believe — with the public’s help — we can secure justice for survivors who endured abuse through Boy Scouts of America.”

In early 2019, Nessel urged victims of abuse by Catholic clergy to speak with law enforcement even if they’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement with the church, and by the end of 2019, received hundreds of tips and brought charges.

Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, added in the announcement that the state police “are prepared to leverage resources statewide to address any allegations we receive.”

Investigators are asking anyone with information about the Boy Scouts of America that may help to call their hotline 844-324-3374 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.  

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com. USA TODAY contributed.