See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

By Eric Lewis
The Esquire
November 17, 2016

He was the head football coach at an elite prep school. He was also a serial pedophile who openly terrorized students for twenty-five years. So why did nobody stop him?

During the summer of 1968, Robert and Pamela DiBenedetto spent four weeks at sleepaway camp in upstate New York. The siblings, twins from Brooklyn, were twelve years old, and their camps were on opposite sides of a lake. One morning, Pamela woke up in her cabin with a swollen arm, an injury that puzzled the camp nurse: Pamela had not fallen or tripped, been bitten or stung. At the end of the season, however, she learned that her brother had broken his arm across the lake the day her swelling began.

As a high school student at Fontbonne Hall, a Catholic girls' school in Bay Ridge, Pamela came to every football game at Poly Prep, the nearby boys' school where Robert and I were both students. Now sixty-one, she long ago took the last name, Romano, of her late husband. But when I saw her recently, she had the same bright green eyes and balletic grace that she had in her youth. She told me the story about her arm to illustrate the bond that she and her brother had shared until his death in 1984.

Robert had been two grades ahead of me at Poly Prep. A smart kid with wiry hair and glasses, he was always laughing at the center of a gang of football players. He wasn't big enough to play on the great teams of our era, but from ninth grade on, he served as a manager for the varsity squad. Known to everyone as DiBo, Robert had close friends among the players, and he took it upon himself to introduce new guys like me to the team, whether at school or at Short's, the dive bar where we hung out on the weekends. (A sign over the bar said STRICT PROOF OF AGE REQUIRED, which, we joked, meant you had to prove you had an age.)

After the twins' father died suddenly when they were in ninth grade, Robert was taken under the wing of Poly's head football coach, a squat colossus of a man named Philip Foglietta. Fat and muscular, Foglietta was around five foot five and weighed well over 250 pounds. From the moment he'd arrived at Poly Prep, in 1966, he had dominated the campus; players, students, and colleagues all saw him as the ultimate macho man. Those of us on the football team were desperate to please him, but we also feared his wrath, which often found expression in his unique dialect of Neapolitan Brooklynese. ("Gamine Gotz, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" was a favorite curse.) By 1972, when Foglietta took Poly to the Ivy Prep School league championship, he was widely regarded as one of the best high school football coaches in New York City.

Romano reminded me how much her brother had loved Poly Prep, and how close he was to the witty and profane Foglietta. She told me that Robert had maintained his friendship with Coach long after graduating, and that he'd encouraged Pamela to send her children to the school. Foglietta, meanwhile, told Pamela's oldest son that Robert was the best friend he'd ever had. Even Mrs. DiBenedetto, the twins' mother, had adored Coach: She invited him over for meatballs nearly every Sunday, and she wore a gold-plated necklace given to her by the school to commemorate the 1972 championship until the day she died.

One day in March 1984, not long after graduating from Brooklyn Law School, Robert received word that he'd passed the New York State bar exam. Around 4:30 the next morning, at a station on Thirty-fourth Street in Manhattan, he walked in front of an uptown IRT train.

In the aftermath of Robert's suicide, Romano tried to figure out what had happened and how she might have failed her brother. Robert had walked her down the aisle when she married at eighteen, and the two of them had talked all the time—about everything, she thought. After her brother's death, however, Romano found some of his notes, along with a tape of a therapy session, in her mother's attic. In the notes, Robert wrote that he couldn't live with himself after what had happened with Foglietta. He told the therapist that he didn't know how to understand his childhood; he didn't know where he belonged. Romano wasn't able to make sense of what she'd found. Her best guess was that Robert had had some sort of falling out with Coach.

Four years ago, I published an article in The New York Times about a 2009 lawsuit that accused Foglietta of sexually abusing students throughout his quarter-century tenure at Poly Prep. The case, which accused the school of covering up its knowledge of the abuse, was settled in 2012 and sealed by a three-year gag order. Soon after reading my article, Romano told me, she called the lawyer who was suing Poly Prep and learned he had evidence that Robert was one of Foglietta's victims. Now she understood: Foglietta may have been her brother's best friend, but he was also Robert's tormentor. She came to the awful realization that it had been too much for her brother to admit the pain and confusion and shame he had suffered at Foglietta's hands. "Poly killed my brother," Romano told me quietly.

When the sexual-abuse accusations against Foglietta first became public, more than a decade ago, they were not news to me or my teammates. As teenagers in Saturday Night Fever–era Brooklyn, we'd been a curious mixture of wised-up and naive, a bunch of young tough guys from a testosterone- fueled boys' school who wanted to show that we were shrewd and experienced. We knew, more or less, that Foglietta abused our schoolmates at his apartment, where he lived with his mother until she died. We knew that he abused them at his house upstate, in Highland Falls, where he took kids from school on the weekends. And we knew that he abused them at Poly Prep: in the showers, in the dirt-floor gym, in the squash courts, and in the big green Chevy Impala he parked on a side street near school. Most of us didn't know exactly what he did with "his boys," but we joked uncomfortably about whatever it was all the time.

Poly Prep is not, of course, the only elite school to face sexual-abuse allegations. Recently The Boston Globereported that more than two hundred students at sixty-seven private schools across New England have made similar accusations or filed abuse charges. The article noted that about 10 percent of students in American public K–12 schools have reported experiencing some form of sexual misconduct. In many ways the scandal at Poly Prep was like the one at Penn State, where the abuse by Jerry Sandusky, an assistant to head coach Joe Paterno, was an open secret ignored in the face of sporting success. (In fact the connection between the two schools may have been deeper, and darker, than a mere analogy: Gregory Bucceroni, who describes himself as a former child prostitute, told me that he met Foglietta in 1979 at a charity fundraiser organized by Sandusky in State College, Pennsylvania. Bucceroni, who was fourteen, says he and another boy were paid $200 to have sex with Foglietta in his hotel room.)

The recent expiration of the judge's 2012 gag order has revealed new details about Foglietta's decades-long campaign of depravity. The story told by the court records shows how a revered authority figure can repeatedly abuse children over decades; how that abuse gets ignored and normalized; how those responsible can construct arbitrary barriers of proof to avoid addressing problems; how stereotypes of masculinity can lead to willful blindness; and how victims can be shamed into silence for decades, only to end up being victimized again by hard-nosed litigation tactics and the rigidity of the legal system. Indeed, Poly Prep's treatment of Foglietta and his victims suggests an agonizing template for how abuse can proliferate unchecked over a long period of time.

These days, the Poly Prep Country Day School draws the children, boys and girls, of wealthy and famous parents who are willing to pay $40,000 per year in tuition. Meryl Streep and Jon Bon Jovi sent their children there, as have many hedge-fund and Wall Street titans. Classes for the middle and upper schools are held in a graceful brick building situated on a twenty-five-acre campus in Dyker Heights. (The lower school is in affluent Park Slope.) The duck ponds that I remember from my student years remain, but most of the old empty spaces have since been turned into state-of-the-art science centers, theaters, and athletic complexes.

Poly was founded in 1854, and its credo was formulated by Joseph Dana Allen, the long-serving headmaster who moved the school to its current campus in 1917: "The school aims to develop mentality, physique, and character, but because the first two of these are menaces without the last, the greatest of these is character." By the time I arrived at Poly, the school had lost the aristocratic demeanor of its early years, but it was still a decade or so from going coed. (Girls were admitted in 1977.) It had not yet found its footing as an oasis for the Manhattan elite. Outside of some legacy Wasps from Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope and a few African-American athletic recruits from Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, almost all of us were the children or grandchildren of immigrants: Italian kids from Bay Ridge, Jewish kids from Midwood, and Irish and Italian kids from Staten Island. We all called one another by our last names and generally tried to be as offensive as possible.

Unlike any other teacher during my time, Foglietta had never been to college. The yearbook listed him as a graduate of the "U. S. Army Physical Education Schools." He strutted around the corridors in the blue rubberized "fat suit" he wore, without success, to try to sweat off weight. He liked discipline, toughness, and aggression, and had no patience for quitters, whiners, or sissies. He didn't like eggheads—he used to taunt me in practice, "All A students cheat; isn't that right, Lewis?"—and he also didn't like the single young men on the faculty, whom he called "homos" and "fags."

Foglietta coached baseball in the spring and taught physical education to the younger kids, but football was the center of things. He'd made a tiny office for himself well away from the other coaches, a makeshift space that everyone called the Cage. It was constructed of galvanized-steel mesh, looked like a giant chicken coop, and stood right near the showers. Everyone had to take a shower every day.

Football season began in August, in the midst of humid 90- degree Brooklyn summers, with two-a-day, full-contact practices. The main football field was reserved for games, so we practiced on a side field, more dirt than grass, which sat almost directly beneath the Verrazano Bridge. We got one water break in the morning and one in the afternoon, and salt pills to prevent dehydration. On rainy days, we practiced in the lower gym, whose dirt floor produced thick clouds of dust that we coughed up after practice. Our hitting exercises—"bull in the ring," "the nutcracker drill"—often resulted in players collapsing to the turf, and the cross-field sprints that ended practice regularly left boys puking on the sidelines.

Many of us were scared shitless, but all that running and hitting paid off. We beat big New York City high schools and elite prep schools. Foglietta talked a lot about football building character, about being a winner, about never giving up, and despite what we knew about him, we ate it up. He loved Notre Dame and was always pleased when the DiNardo brothers, two local kids who became All-Americans for the Fighting Irish, visited our practices. Coach told us that when the Irish players "put on the gold pants," their lives changed. We thought the same thing about putting on our silver game pants. When we won and Coach told us he was proud of us, we floated on air. Even today, after all that has happened, I can still recall the elation I felt when I intercepted a pass in my senior year against Horace Mann—the one highlight in an otherwise undistinguished football career—and saw Coach laughing on the sidelines as I headed up the field, a backup lineman improbably running with the football.

John Marino was a bullnecked, blond-haired kid from the neighborhood who grew up to be a psychiatrist outside Rochester, New York. In 1974, when he was a junior and I was a senior, we played side by side on the varsity offensive line. Marino was strong and funny, and at five foot ten and two hundred pounds, he was tough enough that he could hit all day. Even so, Foglietta clearly didn't like him. One day in practice, Marino missed a block and started arguing with Coach about it. Big mistake. After telling Marino to unstrap his helmet, Foglietta took it in hand and bashed the sixteen-year-old in the head. We thought he wanted to teach Marino and the rest of us a lesson about mouthing off.

We didn't suspect that the lesson probably went back to an incident that had taken place more than a year earlier, when Marino was a freshman. In the training room at school, which reeked of sweat and ointment, Foglietta had cornered Marino late one Friday afternoon and tried to masturbate him. Marino pushed Coach away, hard, and took a swing at him. Foglietta left quickly, and John went home and told his parents.

Marino and his parents met with William Williams, the headmaster of the school, and Harlow Parker, the dean of students and head of athletics. Ahead of the meeting, Foglietta had told Parker, a close friend of his, about Marino's attempted punch; he blamed it on a heated conversation about Marino's playing time. When Marino told Williams and Parker that Foglietta had "tried to jack him off," the headmaster and dean called him a liar in front of his parents. Marino told me recently that the administrators threatened to expel him if he persisted in spreading rumors.

About a year later, Marino and his parents met with Williams and Parker a second time. This meeting came about after John reported seeing several boys masturbating and fellating Foglietta in his green Impala. Williams and Parker again denied the allegations. They told the Marinos that John was on "thin ice."

Williams, who wore horn-rimmed glasses, smoked a pipe, and brought Missy, his springer spaniel, to school every day, often seemed like he'd just stepped out of the pages of A Separate Peace. He could not be reached for comment, but in a deposition taken during the 2009 lawsuit against Poly Prep, he did not deny that John Marino and his parents spoke to him about Foglietta. He insisted, however, that they came only once. Williams, who described the Marinos as "a very angry family" and John as a "troublemaker," said that most of the meeting concerned John's playing time. The abuse only came up at the end, he said, after John's father urged his son to recount what he'd seen. "John was very uncomfortable about this," he said, "but he did say he saw Coach in his car with some small kid on Battery Avenue fooling around."

In his deposition, Williams said that he talked to a few teachers at the school but otherwise conducted no investigation. "It was inconceivable to us that Foglietta would do something like that," he said. "He didn't seem like the kind of guy who would do that, not at all." Williams said that he, too, had seen Foglietta with kids in his car, but he believed there was nothing nefarious about it. "He took kids to games. He took kids to go get hamburgers," he said. "If you can find a teacher that does that in a day school, you're lucky."

Williams concluded, "The boy just did not seem credible to us." He said he figured that John's parents must not have believed their son's accusations, since they had recently enrolled their younger son at Poly Prep. Marino, however, told me that his parents would have enrolled any of their boys who'd been admitted, despite what they knew about Foglietta. For a lower-middle-class family like theirs, the opportunity was too great to turn down.

Williams discounted Marino's firsthand testimony of sexual abuse as the fantasy of an angry kid who wanted more playing time. But the headmaster, who went to all the football games, would have known that time on the field was not an issue for Marino. I can vouch for his playing time: I often watched him while sitting glumly on the bench.

John Marino was not the first student to report Foglietta's abuse to the administration. In 1966, Coach's first year at Poly Prep, he was asked to look into a rumble in the squash courts; older boys had allegedly beaten up and sexually abused some of the younger students. As part of his investigation, Foglietta asked an eighth grader on full scholarship named William Jackson whether he had gotten a "hard-on" during the melee. He also grabbed the boy's crotch. Jackson reported the incident to his parents, who in turn told J. Folwell Scull, Williams's predecessor as headmaster. Scull told Jackson's parents that no evidence could be found to support their son's claims. Jackson continued to report other incidents of abuse, even though his parents believed the school and had warned him not to squander the opportunity that Poly represented. Ultimately, the school board decided that Jackson was a troublemaker who was not meeting his obligations as a scholarship student. He was asked not to return for his sophomore year.

In his deposition, Williams said that when he took over at Poly Prep, in 1970, Scull reported nothing about William Jackson's abuse. This may be true, but it's also the case that boys were abused all through the twenty-one years that Foglietta worked under Williams's tenure.

John Joseph Paggioli, a smaller boy, was a year behind me at Poly and told me recently that he was twelve years old when Foglietta began molesting him. Foglietta, he said, abused him two or three times a week during the school year, occasionally during the summer months, and once at Paggioli's family vacation home, in New Jersey. The abuse went on until he was sixteen.

Philip Smith was another of Foglietta's victims. He says that he was abused hundreds of times, starting when he was ten. A small blond boy who, like Robert DiBenedetto, met Foglietta not long after his father died, Smith had hung around Poly even before he was enrolled. On the weekends, Coach often opened the gym, the pool, and other athletic facilities to "his boys" before taking them back to his house. Smith told me recently that Foglietta used to abuse him in the bedroom of the Highland Falls house while other boys watched sports on the living-room TV. When Smith and Foglietta emerged from the bedroom, the other boys carefully ignored them.

The boys who visited Foglietta in Highland Falls were hardly alone in not wanting to know too much. Most of us on the football team recognized that something was up, even if we couldn't say precisely what. When I was about to enter fifth grade, my older brother, who also attended Poly, told me that he'd once seen Foglietta and a student, both naked, grappling on the floor of the lower-school shower room. Harlow Parker, the dean of students, saw a similar incident. In the early 1970s, he opened the shower-room door while Foglietta was molesting a boy who was in Marino's class. The boy, who later joined the 2009 lawsuit as a John Doe plaintiff, swore in a deposition that Parker saw the abuse and quickly shut the door. (Parker died in 2009, but the Poly Prep baseball field is still named for him.)

Foglietta never asked me to go for a burger or take a ride in his Impala, possibly because my dad was in local politics and came to our games. But even forty years later, I wonder why I never felt that I should quit football or tell someone—my parents, the school administration—what was going on. How could my teammates and I feel such intense loyalty for a man we believed was abusing children? It's easy to say that it was a different time and that we were kids, with our own teenage anxieties and confusions about sex and identity. Preoccupied with our masculinity, in thrall to the turbocharged culture of football, and bound by a nearly religious devotion to our coach, we were all, I suspect, deeply afraid that we might be accused of being less than a man. In retrospect, the combination of idealization and fear that Foglietta inspired in us appears toxic. Even so, I remember some of the odious questions I asked to convince myself it was not my issue: Why make trouble? What exactly do we know? It's kind of creepy, but how bad is it, really? Aren't these kids making a choice? Won't they get over it?

Difficult as it is to make sense of my own adolescent inaction, it's harder still to understand why the accusations brought to administrators were ignored. In his deposition, Williams admitted receiving a letter during the mid-1970s that accused Foglietta of "doing terrible things." Williams said he hadn't associated the phrase with sexual abuse—he thought Foglietta was being accused of yelling at students—even though the accusation came soon after John Marino's complaint. He said he warned Foglietta that he'd be fired if he was caught "doing something that's abusing kids in any way."

Tellingly, Williams said he'd tossed the letter in the trash. In a strange perversion of prep-school ethics, he believed it "irresponsible" to make anonymous accusations. "If someone feels strongly enough," he said, "they should come forward." That this imperative to identify oneself as a victim runs counter to how most people, let alone teenage boys, deal with sexual abuse seems not to have occurred to him.

In his deposition, Williams admitted that he'd heard a second warning around the same time. This time it was an anonymous phone call from a woman who said, again, that Foglietta was "doing terrible things to our kids." Williams insisted the woman identify herself; she declined. Later, Williams said, he reported the call to Parker, who suggested that someone was out to get Foglietta.

No one was out to get Coach, but he took vengeance on anyone who threatened to expose him. Marino's father had warned John about Foglietta; there had been rumors for years in Bay Ridge pee-wee football. When Joe Marino, John's youngest brother, started at Poly Prep, in seventh grade, John told him to be careful. Joe told me recently that during the first few weeks of school, Foglietta asked his name. After Joe said he was a Marino, Foglietta replied, "We will never be friends."

When Joe went out for freshman baseball—another team Foglietta coached—he was made fourth-string catcher. Joe told me about an away game in New Jersey that Poly Prep was losing by double digits. Foglietta had to leave the game early, so he put Steve Andersen, his assistant coach—and later assistant headmaster—in charge. Foglietta told Andersen that Marino was not to play under any circumstances.

On the way home from the game, the team van broke down. While Andersen fixed the tire, Marino stood on the side of the road, cursing out the absent Foglietta with homophobic gusto. Andersen grabbed Marino by the neck from behind and hit him with two quick punches that bloodied his mouth and blackened his eye. When Marino's parents were called in to discuss the incident, the coaches were once again prepared. Andersen said that Marino had been engaging in horseplay on the side of the road and that he'd restrained him for safety reasons.

Two weeks later, Joe Marino got up to bat during an intramural game. Foglietta instructed the pitcher to walk him, and then he urged Marino to steal second and third. When a wild throw came, Foglietta told Marino to run home. The catcher was one of Coach's boys—he later committed suicide—and even though there was no throw to home, he took off his helmet and mask and hit Marino smack in the face with them, sending him to the hospital.

In February 1991, Williams received a letter that could not be confused, dismissed, or thrown in the wastebasket. The letter was signed by a Poly alumnus named David Hiltbrand, who told Williams that he and several other boys, whom he named, had been sexually abused by Foglietta. Hiltbrand said his own abuse started in 1966, Foglietta's first year on campus.

Hiltbrand did not hear back from Williams, and when he tried, on several occasions, to follow up by telephone, his messages went unreturned. One Friday a few weeks later, however, Williams answered his phone when Hiltbrand called. He said that he'd been meaning to write back but had hurt his hand skiing. Around the same time, an anonymous letter accusing Foglietta of abusing children was placed in the mailbox of every faculty member at Poly Prep. Williams told Hiltbrand that he'd received anonymous allegations and was starting to suspect they might be true. He asked Hiltbrand what kind of relationship he had with his father. Hiltbrand told me that he was shocked by the question, but Williams went on to explain that he had sensed a pattern among Foglietta's victims: Coach tended to target boys who had absent or uninvolved fathers. But he also said—apparently ignoring John Marino—that Hiltbrand was the first of Foglietta's accusers to step forward and identify himself. (In his deposition, Williams recalled telling Hiltbrand that he was the first to come forward by name, but he did not remember discussing any patterns in Foglietta's behavior.)

Hiltbrand says he was stunned to learn that Williams had received other allegations and that he had given them enough consideration to have discerned a psychological profile. He was even more surprised to learn that Foglietta was still on staff. When Hiltbrand told Williams that the coach should be fired immediately, Williams protested that Foglietta was "a pathetic, sick, bitter old man, just a shell of his former self." If Hiltbrand could see him, Williams said, "you wouldn't want to see him fired."

In response to Hiltbrand's letter, Williams called in a group of veteran coaches, three of whom were Poly alumni who had played for Foglietta. Williams told them about the allegations of abuse and said he found them credible. He told the coaches that he'd decided not to renew Foglietta's contract at the end of the year. Williams said that Foglietta was not to have unsupervised interactions with children for the rest of the term, but he did nothing to implement the directive.

In his meeting with the coaches, Williams also asked whether any of the men—all of whom had known, played for, or coached with Foglietta for decades—had heard allegations of sexual abuse. As he recalled in his deposition, he asked, "Does anybody in this room have direct knowledge that this accusation might be true?" One by one, each of the coaches said no. Then Williams asked if any of the coaches had indirect knowledge of abuse. Once again, each of the coaches said no—except one: Jimmy Esposito. "There are rumors out there among the alumni," Esposito told Williams.

"Well, Jim, do you think this happened?" Williams recalled asking.

"Probably," Esposito said.

Esposito had graduated from Poly Prep in 1977, two years after I did. We were linemen together; he was an offensive tackle who played hard and with great technique. After playing at SUNY Albany, Esposito was hired as an assistant coach at Poly. He had a good reason to believe the accusations against Foglietta: He, too, had been one of Coach's victims.

In a deposition, Esposito said that he had been invited upstate to Foglietta's house in Highland Falls when he was a student, along with Philip Smith and some others. He fell asleep in an empty bed one night, he said, and the next thing he remembered "is a hand on my hip." He went on: "I felt a hand going towards my crotch and I tightened myself up and tried to move away. Physically I was pinned." Esposito said that Foglietta asked him if he wanted him to stop. He said yes, "and that was it."

Many years later, Esposito said, once he'd joined the faculty at Poly Prep, he told Steve Andersen about the incident. "I had this shit in my head and I had to get it out. So I said, 'I had a remembrance of something that might have happened twenty years ago. I've got to tell you about it.' " According to Esposito, Andersen told him, "I knew it. I knew you were one of the kids that was molested by Coach."

Andersen was another of the coaches Williams had called in for the 1991 meeting. In his own deposition, nearly two decades later, he denied under oath telling Esposito that he'd known about Foglietta's abuse. "I didn't understand what the accusations were," he said, referring to Hiltbrand's letter. Yet an investigator later hired by the school testified that Andersen had admitted to him that he'd heard about three allegations of abuse. (Andersen left Poly this year in the wake of a lawsuit alleging that he'd taken teenage students on a Poly-funded trip to Cuba and that he'd paid for them to have an encounter with a prostitute. Andersen has denied the accusations; through his lawyer, he declined to comment for this article.)

Foglietta retired in a blaze of glory at the end of the 1991 academic year. He was feted by the school and the alumni association at an event held at the Downtown Athletic Club, which Williams, Andersen, and Esposito—who took over as head coach—all attended. Robert DiBenedetto's mother gave $10,000 to the school to honor her dead son's great friend and father figure. She died not knowing what Foglietta had done to her son.

Foglietta died in 1998, and Williams retired from Poly Prep two years later. His successor, David Harman, was quickly confronted with the unfinished business of decades. Two years after Harman became headmaster, David Hiltbrand's lawyer sent Harman a letter that reiterated the accusations his client had made in 1991. He wanted an investigation. The same year, John Joseph Paggioli wrote a letter to Harman describing the circumstances of his own abuse. Paggioli demanded a full accounting of Foglietta's crimes.

With these letters in hand, Poly's board of directors asked Williams to write down what he remembered about the accusations he'd heard during his time as headmaster. In his initial memorandum, Williams wrote: "The only reports I had received during my 20 years at Poly prior to David's letter were two unsigned letters from parents (possibly the same one) who reported that children had been molested by Coach Foglietta." The memo, later revised at the request of the board to avoid the term molested, did not mention John Marino, or the telephone call from the distraught woman, or the letter that had appeared in the faculty mailboxes, or the fact that Jimmy Esposito, whom Williams had hired, said he believed the numerous rumors of abuse were true.

Later in 2002, the Poly Prep board hired a lawyer named Peter Sheridan to conduct an investigation into the allegations against Foglietta. Sheridan was also asked to consider how much members of the Poly faculty and administration knew about Foglietta's misconduct.

In October, about a month after the investigation began, Harman wrote a letter to all alumni. He said he'd "recently received credible allegations" about Foglietta's abuse. The Sheridan investigation, he wrote, was ongoing, and he insisted on his and the board's "firm intention to address this subject on a foundation of trust." But this misleading disclosure was built on sand. The allegations that Harman called "recent" were disclosed to alumni four years after Foglietta died, eleven years after David Hiltbrand sent his letter, thirty years after John Marino and his parents first complained to Williams, and thirty-six years after William Jackson first sounded the alarm. Worse, the school did not permit Sheridan to complete his investigation, and no formal report was ever prepared.

Though the investigation went nowhere, Harman's letter to the alumni had a galvanizing effect on Foglietta's former victims. On a website set up by Paggioli and others to collect stories about Foglietta's abuse, a former teammate of mine, writing anonymously, wrote that Harman's letter had "dislodged a closed-up well of emotions and pain I had stored away for over thirty years." He described being abused as a freshman, in 1970. "Oh what a feeling it was for the football legend of Bay Ridge to bring me to POLY PREP," he wrote. "Those silver pants I watched one Saturday glistened in the bright fall sun, I was taken by the whole thing." He went on: "Little did I know or any of us know for that matter what being part of that car ride to a game or restaurant would mean down the road. I was abused in the visitors' locker room down by the squash courts and the old dirt gym. . . . You are 14, what would you have done? Told your parents, a teacher, a police officer, a friend or classmate? Are you kidding?"

In 2004, after trying to settle with the school, John Joseph Paggioli filed suit in Brooklyn Supreme Court against Poly Prep and a number of individuals—including Williams—who, he claimed, knew about the abuse and failed to prevent it. Many alumni hoped the case would finally bring justice and healing. But it was not to be: The school successfully argued that the statute of limitations on Paggioli's claims had run out. According to New York State law, a minor who suffers sexual abuse has only five years after his eighteenth birthday to file a suit. Paggioli, who'd been abused hundreds of times between the ages of twelve and sixteen, was two decades too late.

It's hardly surprising that most of Foglietta's victims did not come forward until they were adults, or that others who have been identified as victims by their friends and family refuse to admit what happened to them. Child victims of sexual abuse are often trapped by shame and denial for decades, if not for their whole lives. Overwhelming academic evidence has shown that disclosure of childhood sexual abuse is often delayed, if it happens at all: According to one study, only 30 to 40 percent of child victims report their abuse while they are still minors. Boys are much less likely to be abused than girls, but they are also less likely to report abuse. Many are wary of being labeled a victim or gay.

The recent revelations of long-term sexual abuse in religious communities and schools have spurred a reform effort to allow adults whose claims have lapsed to bring their cases before the courts. But powerful forces have worked to keep buried the full scope of childhood sexual abuse. A bill in the New York State legislature that would have allowed future childhood victims of sexual abuse to sue at any time—it would have also opened a one-year window for past victims to bring suits—stalled during this past legislative session thanks to heavy lobbying by the Catholic Church and members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

In 2009, Paggioli and several other plaintiffs—twelve eventually joined the case, some of them as John Does—filed the lawsuit that led Pamela Romano to discover the truth about her brother Robert. Instead of alleging abuse, Paggioli and the other plaintiffs charged Poly Prep under the federal racketeering laws. They alleged that the school had engaged in a forty-year criminal conspiracy to cover up Foglietta's sexual abuse. The coach, they said, had abused "dozens if not hundreds of boys" while the school's administrators, they claimed—including Williams and Harman—had "knowledge of Foglietta's sexual abuse of numerous boys at or near Poly Prep." (Through a lawyer, David Harman declined to comment for this article.) The suit escaped the legal technicality that had bedeviled Paggioli's earlier action because the statute of limitations for racketeering does not begin until the cover-up ends. According to the twelve plaintiffs in the case, the conspiracy of silence at Poly Prep was ongoing.

Philip Smith, one of Paggioli's coplaintiffs, joined the case, he told me, at the urging of his older brother Scott, a classmate of mine who had also been a manager of the football team. While Philip's early adulthood was marred by drugs and alcohol, Scott made a fortune as a hedge-fund manager. He eventually became chairman of the board at Poly Prep in 2011, a position he held when the lawsuit was pending. Though he'd initially encouraged his brother to seek justice, he later told Philip, "I have a duty and responsibility to Poly, not to you." (He declined to comment.) The brothers no longer speak.

The racketeering case was settled in December 2012, but only after a scorched-earth legal process that left many alumni bitter. During the proceedings, the plaintiffs requested access to the investigation that Peter Sheridan had conducted in 2002, along with his notes. Poly Prep's lawyers insisted at first that Sheridan's investigation was privileged, and then that it was preliminary, before saying finally that no report was ever prepared. All of his notes, they said, had been lost or destroyed, an admission that led Poly to be sanctioned by the court. Shortly after the Poly settlement was approved, the plaintiffs' lawyer and one of Poly's lawyers teamed up to sue Yeshiva University for covering up sexual abuse.

While the litigation may have ended, the feelings of anger and injustice among alumni of Poly Prep have hardly abated. Paggioli and Smith are not alone in believing that the school's overarching goal throughout the two legal cases was to deny and cover up what had been known for years. They believe there was far more insurance coverage available to settle the suit than they were made aware of. (Last year, on a pro bono basis, I tried to help them obtain information about that coverage, but I've never had any part of a lawsuit involving Foglietta's victims or Poly.) Paggioli and Smith also believe that Poly has quietly settled with other victims and has concealed the true scope of the abuse from alumni and the press. Most of all, they believe that a school whose highest value is character should think hard about how it could end up questioning the motives and bona fides of the men who overcame the stigma of their abuse to come forward.

In a statement, Audrius Barzdukas, who became head of school at Poly Prep in July, acknowledged that "Mr. Foglietta's abuse is part of our history" and said that he, the board, and the faculty were "committed to making every effort to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again," including implementing new harm-prevention curricula and trainings. "We have acknowledged and regret the abuse committed" by Foglietta, Barzdukas said, "and apologize again to survivors for his harmful and illegal actions."

When Pamela Romano learned that her brother was one of Foglietta's victims, she confronted her three sons who attended Poly while Foglietta was there. They are grown now—slim young men with blond hair and blue eyes. They, too, had lost their father. She demanded to know whether Foglietta or anyone else had ever touched them.

"No, Mom," her sons said in turn. "No."

Romano told me that she wants Robert to be remembered so that boys like her brother will not have to struggle with the anguish that caused him to take his own life. John Joseph Paggioli and Philip Smith want all the names of Foglietta's victims to come out so that children who are abused will know that they do not need to feel humiliated by what happened to them. All of them want Poly to honor and dignify their suffering. Only then, they believe, can the school begin to purge a half century of secrecy, sin, and shame.








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