Music Teacher Is Charged With Taking Teenagers on Trips to Abuse Them

New York Times [New York NY]

April 4, 2024

By Michael Wilson

The music teacher’s classes at the strict, no-nonsense reform school in the woods of upstate New York would seem to be a teenager’s respite amid all the rules, a place for expression and discovery.

But a criminal indictment unsealed Thursday portrayed that teacher as a domineering and abusive tyrant who, during one-on-one trips away from school and outside the state, raped his teenage students or forced them into sexual activity.

The indictment follows years of lawsuits that have portrayed the Family Foundation School, a small boarding academy in rural Delaware County, as something closer to an unsupervised, violent prison.

The teacher, Paul Geer, 56, was arrested Wednesday evening in Hancock, N.Y., where he lives a short distance from the site of the school, which closed in 2014. He was charged with six counts related to bringing three different children across state lines to engage in unlawful sexual activity.

Mr. Geer pleaded not guilty at an arraignment before a federal magistrate judge in Syracuse, N.Y., on Thursday, and was denied release pending a detention hearing set for Monday.

For former students at the school, his arrest vindicated many years of online campaigns and legal battles involving that place and, specifically, that man.

Liz Boysick, 41, identified as “Victim 2” in the indictment, was 16 when Mr. Geer drove her to Pennsylvania ahead of a class trip there and forced her to perform oral sex in his van, she said. Decades later, she was in court to see Mr. Geer in shackles during the hearing.

“It was really powerful hearing what mattered to me counts,” she said afterward. “He will not get one more tear out of me. Now is the time for me to live my life.”

Mr. Geer was in his 20s and living with his parents when an older couple approached him at a choral recital he was leading and offered him a job at the Family School, as it is known, on the spot. They were Tony and Betty Argiros, who founded the school in the 1980s.

For Mr. Geer, that began a career of more than 20 years at the school, which billed itself as a last resort for parents frustrated and distraught by their children’s drug or alcohol abuse or behavioral issues. Former students have said he asked personal questions about their sex lives and singled out children to stay behind with him after class, which was held in a red barn beside a pond.

The indictment described Mr. Geer as a bully who, in addition to subjecting students to “repeated sexual abuse,” forced them to eat moldy food, haul heavy loads of rocks around the campus and endure communication blackouts for long periods.

On three separate occasions outlined in the indictment, Mr. Geer drove students out of state on one-on-one trips and coerced them into sexual activity. The victims were two boys and a girl, ages 14 to 17.

Mike Milia, 45, of Brooklyn, is identified as “Victim 1” in the indictment. He was 14 in 1994 when Mr. Geer took him on a fishing trip to Maine and sexually abused him, according to the indictment.

On the way back to Hancock, Mr. Geer “told him not to tell anyone of what had just happened,” according to a lawsuit filed by Mr. Milia in 2019. That case is pending.

Mr. Geer was questioned about taking a minor to Maine in a deposition that same year.

“In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that,” he said, but he denied any sexual abuse.

“I think I behaved badly in a lot of ways,” Mr. Geer said in the deposition, referring to his time working at the school. “I definitely was very aggressive.”

The couple that founded the school later retired, and their son, Emmanuel Argiros, who goes by Michael, took over day-to-day operations before it closed. In depositions in 2018 and 2021, the younger Mr. Argiros denied hearing reports of abuse while at the school.

In 2018, The New York Times published an article describing a series of suicides and fatal overdoses by former students. More former students later came forward to describe horrific conditions at the school.

Liz Ianelli is a former student who recounted her time at the school and described the abuses inflicted on her there in her 2023 book, “I See You, Survivor.” She recalled being wrapped from neck to ankle in a blanket that was duct-taped closed, and left on the floor of an empty room, shimmying toward a bowl of tuna for food.

She was among the former students who hastily arranged travel to Syracuse on Thursday for the court hearing.

Sitting nearby was Mr. Milia, watching the man who had taken him to Maine 30 years ago.

“This guy threatened my life when I was 14 years old,” Mr. Milia said after the hearing. “When he walked through that door, it was the first time I felt like he couldn’t hurt me anymore. I am not scared anymore.”

Michael Wilson, who covers New York City, has been a Times reporter for more than two decades. More about Michael Wilson