The local Boy Scout organization would pay $1.05 million into a trust to help compensate tens of thousands of Scouts nationwide who were sexually abused, including 86 in Lancaster and Lebanon counties in past decades, a recent court filing shows.
This proposed cash payment by the Pennsylvania Dutch Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which covers both Lancaster and Lebanon counties, would be a minuscule part of the trust’s total funding -- approximately $2 billion -- that would go to 82,000 former scouts across the country who say they were molested.
The number of local victims and the council’s proposed monetary contribution were disclosed last month in a filing by the Boy Scouts of America as part of its ongoing bankruptcy reorganization, into which the national Scouting group entered in February 2020 to settle the deluge of suits.
Whether the proposed financial terms get approved remains to be seen.
Bob Pontz, a Lancaster bankruptcy attorney and member of the Pennsylvania Dutch Council’s executive board, said the trust’s level of funding is intended to fairly compensate the victimized Scouts while leaving councils enough of their assets to stay healthy and functional.
The goal, Pontz said, is to achieve “a positive ending, which is somehow resolving … a terrible wrong that has happened over the years, in a way that allows a very important organization for our young people to continue.”
Pontz hoped that even if the proposed contributions and compensation are “not to everyone’s complete satisfaction,” they are something that “everybody can live with.”
Of the 86 local victims, 78 say all their abuse occurred while a Scout in the Pennsylvania Dutch Council. The remainder say they were abused both during their time as a Scout in the local council and during their time when they were a Scout in at least one other council.
The oldest incidents addressed by the bankruptcy plan occurred in the 1950s, said Matt Adams, the Pennsylvania Dutch Council’s CEO and executive director.
The most recent claim by a Scout of abuse in the local council involved an incident in 1999, Adams said. Most claims stem from incidents in the 1960s and 1970s. Criminal background checks and thorough training of adult volunteers, plus strict adherence to safety protocols during Scout gatherings of any kind have kept abuse at bay for decades, according to Pontz and Adams.
The steps include always having two adult leaders present – never just one – when there are interactions with a Scout or Scouts. That rule applies not only to adult/Scout interactions within the local council, which had nearly 4,000 Scouts before the pandemic, but to such interactions within any council.
The safety measures “have been extremely successful throughout our organization” nationwide, Adams said. “Many other youth-serving organizations have modeled their youth-protection guidelines off of what the Boy Scouts have established because they’ve been so successful.”
Scouts who claim they were molested would be able to pursue compensation in one of two ways, Pontz explained.
They could take a flat $3,500 and not have their claim examined. Or they could have their claim evaluated and, if the claim is validated, get compensated by the type of abuse they suffered.
According to the disclosure statement, the trust would determine the payment amounts by using a scale of six categories of abuse. The lowest would be verbal sexual abuse, which would pay a base amount of $3,500 and a maximum of $8,500, if aggravating factors were present. The highest would be anal or vaginal penetration by an adult, which would pay a base amount of $600,000 and a maximum of $2.7 million, the court filing says.
Aggravating factors would include the duration and/or the frequency of the abuse, use of force or violence, stalking, the number of perpetrators involved in the abuse and the impact on the victim’s mental and physical health, the filing says.
Some 25 people who were Scouts in the local council, either exclusively or during part of their years in Scouting, would be in line for the maximum compensation, as they allege they were sexually penetrated, according to the filing.
Sixteen say they were the victims of oral sex. Nineteen say they were the victims of masturbation by an adult perpetrator. Another 19 say they were groped. Six say they were touched sexually while unclothed. One says sexual touching occurred while clothed.
The filing does not name the victims or specify where the victims lived at the time they were abused. Currently about 60% of Scouts in packs and troops in the two-county council live in Lancaster County, Adams estimated.
Councils ante up
The local council, based on Janet Avenue, is one of 251 councils nationwide that would contribute at least $600 million in the aggregate, including $300 million in cash, to a trust that would pay the abused Scouts, according to the 406-page filing.
That’s the price tag for resolving all existing claims of sexual abuse, barring any fresh claims of sexual abuse, stemming from incidents that occurred before the Boy Scouts of America entered bankruptcy on Feb. 18, 2020.
The amounts paid by the councils would range from a low of $11,500 from the Rocky Mountain council in southeastern Colorado to a high of $13 million from the council in Orange County, California, anchored by the city of Anaheim outside Los Angeles.
Each council’s amount was determined by three factors, Pontz explained: the council’s share of the 82,000 total claims, the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims in the state where the council operates and the council’s finances.
Most councils, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch Council here, would pay their amounts entirely in cash, the filing shows. But about a third (86 of the 251 councils) would pay some or all of the amount by giving real estate to the trust.
Among that third are 17 councils which would pay their entire amount in real estate, including the councils for Orange County, Denver (which would contribute real estate worth $6.0 million), San Diego ($2.7 million), Greater Yosemite ($2.2 million) and Greater Niagara (in Buffalo, $1.5 million).
Pontz, though, said the Pennsylvania Dutch Council would make its $1.05 million payment in cash by tapping the proceeds of its investments over the years.
“A million dollars for any organization, even larger ones than us, is certainly a significant expense that we would have much rather not had to make,” Pontz said.
“But in the interest of the Scouting movement and compensating victims to the extent any of them suffered under our council in years gone by, it can be made without adversely affecting our ability to deliver scouting to our youth and families going forward,” he said.
Donations from supporters of local Scouting would not be used to fund any of the payment, Pontz emphasized.
“No part of the contribution is from any donor-restricted funds; it’s not from donated funds at all. We felt it is very important to do this in such a way so that no one who ever donated money to support the Scouting program would feel like instead their money is being diverted to deal with this old problem,” he said.
The council has ample financial resources to cover its contribution to the trust.
The contribution represents just 13.9% of the council’s total net assets of $7.6 million, according to a financial snapshot of the council taken Feb. 28 that was included in the court filing. (See graphic for more details.)
And that figure for net assets appears to be quite conservative.
The snapshot, which values the council’s Camp Mack at $3.6 million, was taken months before the council consummated a 2018 plan to sell the least valuable third of the Brickerville-area camp earlier this month. The price: $2.88 million, as LNP | LancasterOnline recently reported.
The two-thirds of the camp property that the council retained – which includes Camp Mack’s aquatic center, camp sites, dining hall and other features – is certainly worth more than the undeveloped third that got sold.
Pontz stressed that the council’s sale of the camp acreage was put in motion two years before the national Scout organization filed for bankruptcy. The land sale is unrelated to the council’s need to make a payment into the trust, he said. The council already had enough money on hand, without the land sale, to do so comfortably, Pontz indicated.
“The recent (sale) provides our council with some liquidity at an opportune time. But unlike some councils, who have been forced to liquidate assets in order to pay into the bankruptcy settlement, our council is fortunate not to be in that position,” Pontz said.
Local councils aren’t the sole source of funding for the trust, however.
The national organization itself, its liability insurers and a church that formerly was its largest troop-sponsoring organization would be making sizable contributions too. The Boy Scouts of America would contribute $220 million, Hartford Insurance, $787 million and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, $250 million. Other insurers and chartering organizations are likely to make contributions as well.
While the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy and sex-abuse claims are major stories nationally, the far greater deterrent to Scout membership locally is the pandemic.
“It’s definitely been a challenge more so because of the pandemic than the bankruptcy,” Adams said. “We don’t find that too many of our families know too much about the bankruptcy.”
With the pandemic closing schools for much of calendar 2020, the packs lost the prime recruiting season of fall 2020. Fall usually is a time when the council’s packs add about 750 new Scouts. And with the pandemic eliminating, then curtailing in-person activities, many Scouts – especially the youngest, the Cub Scouts, lost their reason to participate, Adams explained.
As a result, the number of Scouts enrolled across the council’s packs plunged from 3,920 to 2,500.
“You can only do so much virtually with first-through-fifth grade kids,” Adams said. “It’s just hard to deliver programming virtually.”
In contrast, enrollment of Scouts in sixth grade through age 18 “fared relatively well,” Adams said, as they were able to meet outside and do outside activities.
With the reopening of schools this fall and the return of in-person activities for all ages, recruiting is “solid” once again, according to Adams. Some 200 have joined so far this school year, making council leaders optimistic they’ll have a total of close to 3,000 scouts by year-end.
They expect that momentum to carry into next year, making council leaders hopeful of once again having close to 4,000 scouts by year-end 2022.
“Even with the pandemic and all its obstacles,” Pontz said, “we still have young people who want to participate (in scouting) and who are getting tons of benefit and life experiences out of it.”