Ex-D&C employee accused in Child Victims Act lawsuit once arrested for touching paperboys

By Steve Orr
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
October 19, 2019

The Gannett Building at 55 Exchange Blvd.

Br ighton street where Richard Bates lived
Photo by Steve Orr

Gannett Co. headquarters, Tysons Corner VA

D&C corridor
Photo by Steve Orr

Newspaper delivery boy

[with video]

As horror stories about sexually abusive priests began to dot the Democrat and Chronicle front page, two readers contacted the newspaper out of the blue.

They challenged reporters to turn the same scrutiny on their own house. Look into a former newspaper employee named Jack J. Lazeroff, the readers said.

Democrat and Chronicle reporters did begin an investigation and have found evidence that Lazeroff, who worked in the newspaper’s circulation department in the 1980s, might have been a sexual predator — and Democrat and Chronicle paperboys might have been among his prey.

Lazeroff, who died in 2003, was accused in a lawsuit filed earlier this week of sexually abusing a Brighton paperboy who reported to him. The suit names the newspaper and its corporate parent, Gannett Co. Inc.

The accuser, Richard L. Bates, alleged that Lazeroff molested him weekly for the entirety of 1983, when he was 11 and 12 years old, stealing his innocence and condemning him to live with guilt and anger. 

Other boys found themselves the subject of Lazeroff’s unwanted attention as well, the  D&C's investigation has found.

Lazeroff was arrested twice in the late 1980s on accusations of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct with young males in Penfield and Greece. Some of them were Democrat and Chronicle carriers, police reports and court documents reveal.

It could not be determined whether any of Lazeroff’s supervisors at the Democrat and Chronicle knew of or acted on the allegations of misconduct against him.

D&C reporters waited until a lawsuit was filed to publish their findings in a case involving their own company. A spokesperson for Gannett, Stephanie Tackach, said Wednesday that Gannett would have no comment. The company could not find records detailing Lazeroff's precise period of service with the company. 

The suit was filed under the auspices of the Child Victims Act, a state law enacted in January that suspends the statute of limitations for a one-year period. People who believe they were victimized sexually as children can file suit, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

Bates, who is now 48, said the law has changed his life.

"I can’t tell you as a victim of this how important and impactful ... the passage of that act is to me," Bates said in an interview last week. "Other than my family, it’s the best thing to happen to me in 30 years. It gives me an opportunity to fight back.

"I spent decades feeling guilty for not doing anything when he put his hands on me. That sort of anger builds up inside and can destroy you. The (Child Victims) act, most importantly, allows me to tell my story and have an audience. It’s the telling of the story that eases the pain inside of me," Bates said.

Since the one-year window opened on Aug. 14, more than 800 civil suits have been filed statewide against alleged sexual abusers and the employers or institutions with which they were associated.

The suit against Gannett is the first in New York to allege sexual abuse of a young newspaper carrier.

'He robbed me'

The allegations against Jack Lazeroff first came to the attention of Democrat and Chronicle journalists in September 2018, when Bates emailed a reporter about Lazeroff and what he called the haunting impact of his actions.

"He robbed me of the chance to be me. He made me something different. I hate that he had that power over me. And I hate that he still has that power over me. I truly hate myself for that," Bates wrote in that email.

Bates was the first of two people to challenge the D&C to look into its own. In that initial email, he thanked reporters for ongoing coverage of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

"Now, I want to tell you a story which carries some of those same echoes but that may hit a little closer to home for you," he wrote.

Bates gave reporters only a limited description of what had happened to him, holding back for privacy reasons and because his lawyer advised silence.

He laid out more details in the civil suit filed Tuesday evening in state Supreme Court.

Bates said he was 11 years old when he began delivering the D&C in Brighton to bring in extra money to help his single-parent family. He said he would meet weekly with Lazeroff to go over his accounts and sign paperwork that allowed Bates to be paid, according to the legal filing.

Bates alleges that Lazeroff sexually abused him at these weekly sessions, first fondling him and then escalating to other misconduct. At times, Lazeroff would force Bates to wash his clothes to eliminate evidence of sexual contact, the suit said.

The acts allegedly occurred in the boy’s basement, in Lazeroff’s company car, in a shed in Brighton where the D&C dropped off papers and in other locations.

Bates said he hated what was happening but, as the legal complaint put it, "he was petrified and felt helpless to stop Lazeroff’s sexual abuse."

Lazeroff pressured him not to tell anyone, but also offered him $5 a week in extra pay to recruit other boys who would submit to the same acts, the complaint alleges.

This continued weekly for a year or so until Bates quit his newspaper route, the lawsuit states. Bates says he never saw Lazeroff again.

But he did hear his voice. Years later, when he was in his 20s, Bates said he called Lazeroff's home in Penfield hoping to ease the trauma and anger he was feeling.

"It would build up in me and I felt I needed to do something. It got to the point where I wanted to reach out to the guy. I imagined I wanted to find out if he was alive and kicking and I was going to confront him," Bates recalled.

A woman he believes was Lazeroff's wife, Marilyn, answered the phone.

"I asked for him. I still remember her calling out for him. He picked up the phone — I remember that accent, that thick Rochester accent, like there's no tomorrow. I just blurted out 'Do you still like little boys?'

"His wife answered and she said, 'Why are you asking him about that?' And she emphasized it in a way that indicated to me that she knew about it. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I hung up the phone."

Marilyn Lazeroff died in 2017.

A manager supervising carriers

Lazeroff lived with his wife and three children in Penfield. He worked at local banks for many years and was an assistant vice president at First Federal Savings & Loan until about 1980.

After he left banking, he joined the Democrat and Chronicle circulation department, according to public records and interviews with former employees.

Lazeroff was what was known as a district manager, meaning he supervised carriers and adult circulation employees in a specific territory.

He was assigned to a district that included Irondequoit and the Charlotte neighborhood in the city, former employees said, and also was district manager for Brighton. He may have had other assignments as well.

At the time, home delivery of the Democrat and Chronicle and its afternoon companion, the Times-Union, was handled largely by young people, most of them boys no older than 14.

The job of a district manager entailed interacting frequently with carriers, sometimes alone and sometimes in the pre-dawn hours when the morning newspaper was being delivered. Lazeroff also would have met with carriers after school or on weekends when the young people collected payment from customers or went door-to-door selling subscriptions.

‘Something strange’

Six months after Bates wrote the Democrat and Chronicle, a second person independently contacted the newspaper to raise allegations about Lazeroff. 

Mark Adamski, a former circulation department employee, had seen a story in the paper about sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. He sent reporters a short email that posed a question: "Why doesn't the paper do a story about Jack Lazeroff? He preyed on the paperboys," Adamski alleged.

Adamski, in subsequent emails and an interview, said he worked part-time in the 1980s delivering bundles of newspapers to carriers in the early-morning hours in Irondequoit when Lazeroff was the district manager there.

Early one morning, Lazeroff pulled up to Adamski’s home in Irondequoit with a young paperboy in the front passenger seat of his car. The seat was reclined and the boy was lying back in tears, Adamski recalled. 

He said he sensed that "something strange was going on." .

"When I asked (the boy) what was wrong, he just cried," Adamski said.

Lazeroff told Adamski he was helping the boy finish his route.

Adamski remembers the time period as the mid- to late 1980s. He later was told by a co-worker, Robert Bootes, that Lazeroff had been fired “for messing with a paperboy."

Bootes declined to comment for this story.

Adamski said he wishes now he had intervened that morning. 

"I suppose I was naive and didn't think that kind of behavior existed," Adamski said. "I wish I had spoken up earlier, and I have to live with that." 

Hired and fired

Reporters surveyed 15 people who worked in circulation at the Democrat and Chronicle in the 1980s and the majority remembered Lazeroff. Most said they had never heard any talk of Lazeroff, or any other Rochester circulation employee, being accused of sexual misconduct with paperboys. 

"I spent 27 years at Gannett and never heard anything about sexual abuse," said Ronald Anderson, who was circulation director for the Democrat and Chronicle and its sister paper, the Times-Union, from 1969 to 1986.

Mike Chaba, a former circulation department manager, started at Gannett about the same time as Lazeroff and said they got along well.

But at some point in the 1980s, Chaba recalled, Lazeroff began to fall short of his goals, was placed in a performance-improvement program and was subsequently terminated.

"My impression was he was fired for … not meeting those goals. I would say that unequivocally," Chaba said. "I’m not saying abuse might not have been part of the process. But I was in and out of positions of authority, and I have no recollection of that whatsoever."

Bates' lawsuit states Lazeroff was fired from his job at Gannett but does not say when or why.

‘Don’t talk about it’

Pat Buttaro, whose job was to deliver papers to carriers’ homes in Charlotte, remembered an incident in the 1980s that occurred as she approached the porch of a Lake Avenue duplex with a stack of papers.

"Someone, I’m assuming the paperboy's father, opened the door and started screaming profanities at me," Buttaro said. "'I said 'Calm down, could you talk to me?' He said, 'I never want that man ever, ever near my son.'

"I said, 'Tell me who you mean.' He said, 'District manager Jack Lazeroff. Don’t ever leave these papers here again,'" Buttaro recalled in an interview several months ago.

She said she summoned a supervisor to the scene. When the supervisor arrived, she recalled, she told him, "This gentleman said Mr. Lazeroff touched his son inappropriately." The supervisor told Buttaro he would "handle it."

Buttaro’s sister, Donna Manard, who also worked in circulation at the time, said she remembered hearing the radio call for a supervisor that morning and heard about the incident afterward from her sister.

Buttaro recalled that Lazeroff ceased working as that area’s district manager shortly after the incident and said she later asked a superior how the company had followed up. 

"I said if it happened to one, it could have happened to somebody else, and the chain of command said, 'Don’t worry about it. Don’t talk about it,'" Buttaro said.

Tony Mammano, the supervisor who the sisters said had responded to Charlotte that morning, indicated in a recent interview that he had some memory of an angry father but did not recall going to the home on Lake Avenue.

If the father had accused Lazeroff of sexually abusing his son, Mammano said, "they didn’t tell me."

Mammano said he had overseen Lazeroff when he was district manager in Irondequoit and had arranged his transfer from that territory to Brighton. Mammano said he was happy to be rid of Lazeroff, who he described as "a weird little guy" and a "dweeb."

But he said he never heard any allegations of sexual abuse against Lazeroff and had "no recollection" of Lazeroff being fired for any reason.

"This was all 30 years ago," he said. "That’s a long time ago."

‘Closer to home’

Two weeks before Bates' lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court, he made a pro forma report of Lazeroff's abuse to Brighton police. An investigator then came across a record of Lazeroff's arrest at Panorama Plaza in Penfield, Brighton Police Chief David Catholdi said.

That August 1988 arrest stemmed from an encounter between Lazeroff and a teenage boy in the men's room of a business in the plaza, which was located just a mile from his home.

Lazeroff was charged with second-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor with a possible sentence of up to one year in jail.

He was allowed to plead guilty in April 1989 to disorderly conduct, a violation, according to records in Penfield Town Court. Lazeroff was given a one-year conditional discharge, meaning he would not be fined or sent to jail if he stayed out of trouble for that period of time.

Bates' lawyer, James Marsh, told a reporter there also may have been additional criminal incidents in Greece, and the police chief there, Patrick Phelan, was able to locate a contemporaneous report of Lazeroff being charged with disorderly conduct in June 1987.

Lazeroff  would bring young boys into a doughnut shop on Latta Road "almost daily," according to the police report. His behavior was crude enough that it prompted shop employees to call police.

"He stands next to him as the boy is sitting at a stool. Suspect starts rubbing the inside thigh area of the boy's leg," the police report said, quoting an employee. The witness reported that Lazeroff would develop a noticeable erection.

The witness told police "the victim looks extremely uncomfortable at the time and seems that he doesn't know how to stop suspect's action."

The 1987 report indicates Greece police were able to identify three boys who had been subjected to this behavior. One was 13, another 14. The age of the third is not shown in the report. The names and addresses of the boys were redacted by Chief Phelan for privacy reasons.

All three were paperboys, according to the report, which also identifies Lazeroff as a Gannett district manager.

Phelan said the Town Court had been unable to locate records indicating the disposition of the case after Lazeroff was charged.

Bates said he had been certain he was not the only boy who had an encounter with Lazeroff.

"I will guarantee, I will bet every penny I have, that Lazeroff did this before me and after me," he said. "He was too, almost, professional in the way he did things with me physically to have been the first person he did this with." 

Bates said he and his family did not report Lazeroff's alleged misconduct to Democrat and Chronicle officials at the time he says it happened. He first interacted with the company after a reporter forwarded his email in September 2018 to corporate headquarters.

Michael G. Kane, Gannett's chief operating officer for local markets, wrote a letter to Bates dated Oct. 5, 2018.

While commending Bates for his "courage" in coming forward, Kane stated it was impossible for the company to independently verify Bates' claims about Lazeroff. Gannett did not see any basis for liability on its part nor would it agree to a financial settlement "merely to avoid adverse publicity," Kane wrote in his letter, a copy of which was provided to reporters by the company.

The company contacted circulation department managers from the 1980s, but none recalled sexual-abuse allegations against Lazeroff or anyone else, Kane wrote. His letter cited the passage of time and the fact Lazeroff was dead as obstacles to determining what might have occurred. 

In Bates' view, however, Gannett officials did not look into his complaint carefully or take it seriously. He considered it "the height of hypocrisy" when he learned from a Democrat and Chronicle reporter earlier this year that journalists had been able to find evidence of apparent wrongdoing by Lazeroff.

"I can’t even describe the anger I have toward Lazeroff and ... the people at Gannett," Bates said.

"This has been with me since the first day he put his hands on me. That’s 37 years ago. I’ve had this inside me the whole time," Bates said. 

Risky business

During the time Lazeroff worked for Gannett, the company employed several thousand people — most of them adolescent boys — to deliver its two Rochester newspapers.

The idea that newspaper circulation department employees might sexually abuse paper carriers is not unique to Rochester. There have been at least a few documented cases in other states.

A circulation employee of the Des Moines Register was charged with sexually abusing at least seven paperboys in 1984, and a former employee there was uncovered as a pedophile two years later. That newspaper is owned by Gannett today but had different owners in 1984.

Another man who said he'd been a paperboy in Cleveland posted a long account on the Cleveland Scene website in 2016 about his abuse by a customer he encountered in the 1970s while collecting on his newspaper route.

Even worse, at least six young people were murdered while delivering newspapers in the U.S. between 1979 and 1989. 

Among the deaths were those of 14-year-old Christopher Gruhn, who was slain while riding his bike on his route in 1983 in Rockville Centre, Nassau County, and 12-year-old Cheri Lindsey, who was killed while collecting money from a customer in Binghamton in 1984.

In addition to the six who were killed, three others disappeared and are presumed dead; two of them, Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin, were abducted in Des Moines less than two years apart. Another carrier was kidnapped and raped.

The possibility that young people delivering newspapers could be the victims of sexual abuse, abduction, or even murder, contributed to young people quitting the business in droves and the newspaper industry moving to adult delivery drivers in the 1980s and '90s.

The number of paperboys and papergirls declined 60 percent in the 1980s, according to a 2011 article for Time magazine.



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