Ernie Lorch, Riverside Church Basketball Founder Accused of Sexual Abuse, Dead at 80

By Michael O'Keeffe, Kevin Armstrong and Christian Red
New York Daily News
May 15, 2012

Ernest Lorch, the founder of the Riverside Church basketball program, dies Sunday at age 80.

Ernest Lorch, the founder of the prestigious Riverside Church Hawks basketball program whose legacy was tainted by sexual-abuse allegations, died Sunday at Sunrise Senior Living in Yonkers, N.Y., according to a female staff member at the assisted living facility.

David Sullivan, the Northwestern (Mass.) district attorney who prosecuted Lorch last year on a sexual abuse charge, told the Daily News his office received a call Monday from Lorch's attorney, Fred Cohn, and Cohn said Lorch had died.

And Dermon Player, a longtime Riverside coach and former St. John's assistant basketball coach, told The News Tuesday that he had spoken with Lorch's family members who confirmed the death.

"We haven't received any death certificate or official notification," Sullivan, the D.A., told The News. "Once we get a death certificate, we'll move to dismiss the case against (Lorch). We're not dismissing it until we get the death certificate."

Although the cause of death is not known, Lorch was in poor health in recent years. He was 80.

Lorch was once known as the most powerful man in New York City basketball, a youth coach with deep ties to St. John's and other schools who could get a player a college scholarship with a phone call or two. Dozens of his players including Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin and Ron Artest became NBA stars. Scores more played for top Division I basketball programs. Lorch helped launch the Riverside Church Hawks in 1961 as an outreach program for underprivileged kids. Lorch's program was known for decades as a high-class organization in an amateur basketball world filled with struggling community center teams and bandit street agents.

"Riverside was the yardstick we measured ourselves against," AAU coach Gary Charles said. "Mr. Lorch was a pioneer in this AAU thing. They don't make guys like him no more."

The wealthy corporate lawyer was the go-to guy for hoops players who needed cash, and supporters say Lorch was a benefactor for kids from New York's poorest neighborhoods, a father figure who paid for sneakers, coats and rent for scores of needy families.

"I grew up in the projects and (Lorch) had me coaching in Paris, France," said Kenny Pretlow, a Riverside assistant coach for 15 years. "I'll never forget the influence he had on me. He taught me about responsibility and how to talk with people."

Lorch was also known as a passionate supporter of the St. John's basketball program and frequently sat behind the university's bench during home games at Madison Square Garden. Former St. John's player Erick Barkley was suspended in 2000 after the NCAA ruled that Lorch's $3,150 payment for Barkley's prep school tuition violated its rules.

But Lorch had also been hounded by sex abuse allegations for at least a decade. In 2002, the Daily News first reported that Lorch, a former Riverside Church deacon and an executive with the leveraged buyout firm Dyson-Kissner-Moran, was at the center of a sex-abuse investigation launched by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. New York prosecutors could not charge Lorch, in part because of statute of limitations issues.

Church officials barred Lorch from their Riverside Hawks basketball program, saying he could return once the matter was resolved. Since charges were never filed, Lorch remained in limbo for several years. He eventually split with the church and formed a new program, the Metro Hawks.

Prosecutors in Massachusetts' Northwestern District, however, were able to file charges against the ex-coach in October 2010 because the clock on the statue of limitations in Massachusetts stops when a defendant leaves the state. Lorch was indicted by a western Massachusetts grand jury on attempted rape and indecent assault and battery of a person over 14 years old. The indictment said Lorch assaulted the alleged victim sometime between March of 1977 and April of 1978 during a trip to Amherst for a basketball tournament. The indecent assault and battery charge was later dropped because it was not on the books until after the attack allegedly occurred.

Cohn fought Lorch's extradition, saying that his wheelchair-bound client was not fit for trial because he suffers from dementia and diabetes. New York State Supreme Court Judge Albert Lorenzo ruled at a November hearing that Lorch was not competent to be shipped to Massachusetts to stand trial.

In addition to the Massachusetts victim, several New York men have also claimed that Lorch abused them when they were teens. The man whose allegations sparked the 2002 investigation, Robert Holmes, told the Daily News that Lorch had paid him millions of dollars to remain silent about the abuse he says took place in the 1980s, when Holmes was a teenager. The Daily News reported last year that Sean McCray, Holmes' cousin, says he also received $2 million to keep quiet about how Lorch abused McCray.

Another former Riverside player, Louis Garcia, described in detail in 2002 the abuse he said he endured as a player for the Hawks in the 1980s.

"It's always sad when a person dies," said attorney Lawrence Luttrell, who represented Holmes and others in suits against Lorch. "It's also sad when a lot of people won't be able to confront him for justice. Everybody will face justice some day, and hopefully the Lord will have mercy."


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