Five more former students say they were sexually abused at West Essex Middle School

The Record [Woodland Park NJ]

September 15, 2021

By Kaitlyn Kanzler

Five more former students have filed lawsuits against the West Essex Regional School District and the estate of a middle school teacher who they say sexually abused them. 

Marc Cortese, Robert Swiatek, Kenneth Williamson, Bruce DeLorenzo and K.M. Doe joined two others who recently sued the district and Michael Petrucelli, who was a history and photography teacher at West Essex Middle School.

John Baldante, attorney for the seven men, called Petrucelli a “prolific pedophile.” Petrucelli died in 2014 at age 92.

Scott Reynolds and Peter Bonastia filed their suits at the end of August, accusing Petrucelli of sexually assaulting them multiple times in 1978. The new set of lawsuits allege that Petrucelli sexually assaulted the five men between 1977 and 1985. They were all age 13 at the start of the alleged abuse.

In the latest accusations against Petrucelli, the abuse ranges from pinches on the buttocks to horrific sexual assault. At least two of the men accuse Petrucelli of fondling them over their pants and forced masturbation.

K.M. Doe’s lawsuit describes a year of sexual abuse, with claims that Petrucelli would put him in a cabinet in his classroom in order to hide the abuse. K.M. Doe said the attacks escalated until he was “heinously” violated in a storage room.

K.M. Doe said there were at least 100 incidents of sexual abuse and all of the accusers say they believe they were abused further but have suppressed the memories.

“I think what you’re seeing with these additional filings, the behavior of this predator was extensive and that there are countless other victims and survivors out there who have not stepped forward and spoken out,” Baldante said.

It’s unclear if the men in the lawsuits knew each other well, but Baldante said it is possible they knew of each other.

The suits say the men have suffered serious trauma as a result of the abuse, causing problems in their lives such as difficulty in relationships and maintaining jobs and causing rifts between them and their families.

As in the previous lawsuits filed by Reynolds and Bonastia, the West Essex Regional School District, the West Essex Middle School and representatives of Petrucelli’s estate were all named in the suit in addition to unknown defendants and institutions.

The suits state that the district, which serves students from Essex Fells, Fairfield, North Caldwell and Roseland, failed to protect the men from predatory acts by Petrucelli and their inactions “created and permitted a severe, pervasive and persistently sexually hostile environment.”

Each victim is seeking trials by jury and damages of $50 million.

Baldante previously said most sexually abused children don’t come forward until they are well into their 40s and 50s, and that many victims come from broken homes or have low self-esteem that makes them targets.

He has spent years representing victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, religious organizations, private schools and other organizations such as public schools.

But Baldante said time is running out to file lawsuits against Petrucelli and other abusers. New Jersey passed a law suspending the civil statute of limitations of sex abuse complaints for two years, starting on Dec. 1, 2019.

“For these young children who were sexually abused and are now adults, especially if they’re over the age of 55, need to be cognizant that the statute of limitations is going to expire,” Baldante said. “This is their one opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Kaitlyn Kanzler covers Essex County for For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


Twitter: @KaitlynKanzler8