Ex-Coach Admits Abuse
Cheverus legend Charles Malia says he molested boys;
The incidents come to light when victims, now adults, testify in favor of sex-offender legislation

By Peter Pochna; Columnist Bill Nemitz contributed to this story
Portland Press Herald
March 4, 2000

[See other articles about Charles Malia.]

Charles Malia became a legend during 30 years of teaching and coaching at Cheverus High School. He was an inspirational leader whose track teams won so many state titles that Malia earned a place in the National Amateur Sports Hall of Fame.

But on Friday, Malia acknowledged a hidden and darker side: Years ago, he had sexual contact with some of the students he taught and coached.

[Photo captions: 1) Former Cheverus coach Charles Malia talks with a team member at track practice in April 1998. Malia, who retired from Cheverus a few months later, admits he abused boys but says "the behavior ceased a long time ago." File photo by Gordon Chibroski. 2) Rev. John Keegan President of Cheverus reported charges to state. 3) John Clark of Portland, left, stands on the Cheverus High School campus Friday with his brother Leo S. Clark, 45, right, and Glenn Works, 36. Leo Clark and Works say they were sexually abused many years ago by longtime Cheverus track coach Charles Malia, and John Clark is helping lead the effort to hold the school and Malia accountable. "This guy stole part of my life," said Leo Clark. Staff photo by Herb Swanson.]

In an interview with the Press Herald, Malia responded to allegations that surfaced in recent weeks when some former students told state legislators and police investigators that Malia had abused them in the 1960s and 1970s.

"I have some guilt," said Malia, 55, who retired from Cheverus in 1998. Later, he added: "But I do know this: The behavior ceased a long time ago."

Malia acknowledged that abuses occurred. He said he cannot recall how many students he had sexual contact with, and insisted that he stopped engaging in the activity many years ago. He declined to provide more details.

Malia's statements break open a controversy at Cheverus High School that has been building since 1997, when a former student told a Cheverus official that Malia had sexually abused him. Malia denied the allegation, but agreed to quietly resign after finishing the school year. More allegations followed.

In recent weeks, several former students have started to talk about incidents that they once feared to reveal, and only now are coming to grips with as adults.

The state Legislature received oral and written accounts of Malia's alleged abuses as part of the debate on a bill to make it easier to sue sex offenders.

In addition, Portland police began investigating the accusations, at the direction of the District Attorney's Office.

Four men -- all former students who are now in their 30s and 40s -- accuse Malia of sexually abusing them when he was their teacher and coach in the 1960s and 1970s. They have given detailed accounts of abuse to investigators and to the Press Herald. Two of the four gave signed affidavits to the paper supporting their claims.

They say sexual abuse occurred in the school's locker room, at Malia's Portland apartment and other places. The allegations included Malia grabbing a boy's genitals in a school shower, fondling a boy's genitals during a massage after a track workout, and masturbating another boy during visits to the boy's house.

The four say they feared Malia's power and authority, and did not try to report the incidents. But they add that they have been tormented for decades by the abuses.

At the same time, the close-knit Cheverus community has been forced to confront the allegations and the shocking admission by the school's best-known faculty member.

Malia, who lives alone in Old Orchard Beach, said his primary concern now is not to cause the victims or the school community any more pain.

Glenn Works, 36, says he is one of Malia's victims. "I believe years ago there was an injustice, an injustice that has to be corrected," said Works, an operating room technician at Maine Medical Center. He accused Malia of molesting him after a track workout at Cheverus when Works was 14 years old.

"If I don't step forward," Works said, "he could get away with it again."

Works said he was elated that Malia acknowledged that abuses had occurred. He said it validates the pain he and others have suffered for years.

Some alumni are angry that the school permitted Malia to coach for more than a year after hearing from the first man who said he had been victimized. The man, who was interviewed by the Press Herald, has declined to be named for publication.

The Rev. John Keegan, president of the Jesuit school, said Cheverus handled the matter appropriately, given the information officials had at the time. The school reported the accusation in October 1997 to the state Department of Human Services, which referred the matter to the state Department of Education.

Keegan said the school never heard back from either agency.

"There was no evidence one way or the other except that (the accuser) said this happened back then, and Mr. Malia said it didn't," Keegan said. "The consistent attitude Cheverus has had, does have, and will have is the safety of our students."

Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said an investigation is under way, but that Malia faces no criminal charges because the statute of limitations has expired on all the alleged offenses. Charges only could be filed on alleged abuses that occurred within the past six years.

Cheverus officials plan to meet in the next couple of days with a group of about 10 men, including the four victims who have provided public testimony and others who claim they witnessed Malia abusing students.

The group wants Cheverus to remove Malia's name from the school track, which was dedicated to Malia in 1994.

"I feel this guy stole part of my life," said Leo S. Clark, 45, who claims Malia sexually abused him several times over a four-year period, starting when Clark was 12.

"It just makes me sick to look up and see his name there and know that this is a child molester," Clark said.

At first, Malia denied the allegations when interviewed by the Press Herald this week. He said he was stunned to hear so many former students were coming forward, and that he would not be able to shield the accusations from public scrutiny.

"Once this goes public, the pieces of my life, I don't see how they can be put back together," he said. "I'm dead, just completely dead."

On Friday, he changed his statements, and acknowledged that abuses occurred.

Allegations surfaced in 1997

It was the summer of 1997 when the accusations began.

Throughout the Portland area, boys were preparing for a year of intense study and athletics at the respected all-male Jesuit high school, which overlooks Back Cove.

One of those boys was the son of a 42-year-old Portland business executive struggling with painful memories of Malia. The executive wanted to be identified only as a member of the Cheverus class of 1976.

He said that during his freshman year, Malia invited him to his apartment to get a pair of sneakers. Malia led him to a bedroom, and asked him to try on a jock strap.

Malia soon returned, handed him a pornographic magazine, and left.

Malia returned again, this time with a ruler, and stroked and measured the boy's genitals.

In the summer of 1997, the business executive was troubled that his son was about to start his freshman year at Cheverus, and would come in contact with Malia. He told Cheverus he did not want his son to take Malia's world geography class, which is a requirement for all freshmen.

When asked why, the man told his story of abuse.

Keegan's reaction: "Surprise, shock, wonderment. I thought, 'Could this really have happened?' "

Keegan called Malia into his office the next day. "He categorically denied it," Keegan said.

Keegan, the school's lawyer, the business executive and his lawyer began talking together. "I wasn't sure what to do," said Keegan. "I had never been involved in this type of a situation."

The school agreed that Malia would not teach the man's son. But the business executive wanted more. "I felt a moral obligation to the other kids in the school," he said.

Keegan reported the allegation to the Department of Human Services in October 1997. DHS referred the case to the Department of Education because no child was in imminent danger, said David Winslow, a DHS spokesman.

A state law enacted in 1979 requires school personnel to report allegations of abuse or potential abuse. The allegation must be forwarded immediately to DHS.

The Department of Education denied a request from the Press Herald for documents about Malia, stating in writing that such documents are confidential.

Cheverus asked Malia to submit to psychological testing. The tests took place in February or March 1998, Keegan said. The testing showed that Malia did not pose a threat to students, Keegan said.

Malia said his life became "a lot of hell" after the accusation. He said the school didn't force him to resign, but he felt he had little choice but to retire.

"The pressure of (the) allegations made it so I couldn't teach there anymore," Malia said. "I felt if I resigned (the business executive) would back off. I just didn't want my family or the school to go through the torment something like this would bring."

The man said he was satisfied that Malia would be leaving the school. But in the fall of 1998, the man dropped his son at school one morning and spotted Malia entering a school building. "I was outraged they weren't following through on what they said to me," he said.

He complained to school officials. Keegan said that, unbeknownst to him, Malia had volunteered to help coach the boys' freshman basketball team. Keegan told the basketball coach to end Malia's work with the team, and Malia's association with the school concluded.

Siblings discuss abuse

But accusations about his past were only starting to emerge.

In December 1998, Leo Clark and his brother John Clark say they had a heart-to-heart talk about their childhoods. Leo told his brother that Malia molested him several times while Leo attended Cathedral Junior High School, and then at Cheverus.

Malia, who grew up on Munjoy Hill, coached at Cathedral Junior High, which no longer exists, before taking a job at Cheverus in 1969.

Leo Clark said this week that he repressed the abuse for years because "I was just so ashamed by it. I thought it was my fault."

When the Clark brothers had their talk, they say they did not know about the accusation that forced Malia to leave Cheverus. But they found out within a few weeks.

John Clark, a Portland photographer, asked an acquaintance for information about Malia. The acquaintance knew the business executive and his story of abuse. She told Clark to call the executive.

Since then, the number of people making accusations has grown.

Last fall, Glenn Works told his story of abuse to a friend of John Clark's. The friend put Works in touch with Clark.

At about the same time, a 46-year-old Portland business owner who knows the Clark brothers heard about Leo Clark's abuse. He told them his own story of abuse.

The business owner, who does not want to be identified for publication, said that on several occasions Malia approached him in the showers at Cathedral Junior High and grabbed his genitals. He said he saw Malia do the same thing to other students.

The business owner also said that on several occasions, Malia took him to the school basement, ordered him to remove his pants and underwear, and beat him with a ruler. The beatings were so severe he was bleeding, he said.

"He shouldn't be revered as a coach or a teacher," said the business owner. "He's a monster."

Paul Kendrick, a prominent investment adviser in Portland, a member of the Cheverus class of '68 and a longtime financial supporter of the school, heard about the accusations last fall.

He is now helping lead the effort to remove Malia's name from the track.

On Jan. 30, Kendrick wrote a letter to Keegan, criticizing the school for, among other things, permitting Malia to stay on campus after the first accusation emerged.

"My concern is for the healing and restitution these boys and men now need, that they are listened to with respect, and embraced by us all with loving and compassionate care," Kendrick wrote. "It is time for us, the Cheverus community, to raise our level of consciousness."

Family testifies at hearing

The Clarks went public with their accusations against Malia at a legislative hearing Feb. 9 in Augusta. They spoke in support of a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children.

In front of the Judiciary Committee and a crowded hearing room, Leo Clark said he was molested as a child, and the man who did it was Charles Malia.

Influenced in part by the Clarks and the written testimony of other alleged victims, the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to recommend the bill's approval to the full Legislature.

The bill would only apply to abuse that takes place after the bill becomes law. But the men say they don't want the law for themselves; they want to ensure that future children don't suffer the way they have.

Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood met with the support group Feb. 21. Afterward, he said, "They all seemed like credible men . . . I don't see them as having an ax to grind."

But Chitwood added that "these types of investigations are very, very difficult, because you are looking at allegations dating 20 to 25 years ago."

Police are currently interviewing all the men in the group. Meanwhile, the group is working with Cheverus to organize a meeting in the next few days with some Cheverus board members.

"We want Cheverus to apologize and take his name off the field," said Tom Markley, 45, a Cheverus graduate working with the alleged victims. Markley said he saw Malia grab people's genitals in the Cheverus locker room on numerous occasions.

Removing Malia's name has taken on symbolism for the men who say they were abused.

Keegan said the matter is under consideration. He said he received a letter from Malia about two weeks ago in which Malia volunteered to have his name taken off the track.

"I'm very sorry that these things happened and that they happened at Cheverus and that we didn't find out sooner so we could deal with them," Keegan said after hearing that Malia acknowledged that abuse took place.

Just stepping forward and talking about the abuse has helped the four men. They said they are releasing pain that was bottled up for decades.

"I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders," said Leo Clark, who has battled mental illness since college. "I feel pretty confident now. I just hope that other people molested by Malia can come forward and talk about it. They have nothing to be scared of anymore."

Staff Writer Peter Pochna can be contacted at 791-6329 or at:


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