In June 1979, Rex Black, an Idaho supervisor for the Boy Scouts of America, sent a letter to his supervisor. A child had accused Scout leader James Schmidt of multiple instances of sexual abuse, and Black reported he had confronted Schmidt about the allegations. Schmidt claimed innocence and was allowed to continue working with children.
In 1983, Schmidt was convicted of lewd conduct with a minor.
Schmidt was one of a group of Boy Scouts leaders in Idaho troops sponsored by the Mormon church who were accused of sexually abusing children in the 1970s and ’80s. Recently unsealed files from the Boy Scouts of America reveal that the organization was aware of allegations against these leaders for years, but allowed them to continue working with children. In one documented instance, an abuser was promoted but the Scout leader who reported him was dismissed.
The files form the basis for a new federal lawsuit brought by five former Boy Scouts who accuse the organization and the Church of Latter-day Saints of fraud for promoting scouting as a wholesome, safe activity while covering up pedophiles in their ranks.
Riley Gilroy is one of two named plaintiffs.
“They knew about him prior to me, so why didn’t they say anything?” Gilroy told The Daily Beast. “Why wasn’t he stopped? Why was he allowed to go back into scouting? They had complaints and documentation, and a moral obligation to take these complaints to the authorities and they chose not to.”
The BSA has faced publicized sex abuse scandals since the late 1980s, paying out $18.5 million to a single victim in a 2010 case. Since the ’80s, the organization has implemented new checks intended to prevent child abuse. In a statement to The Daily Beast, BSA leadership condemned the sexual abuse allegedly committed by Schmidt and other former scout leaders.
“In the many years since these actions occurred, we have continued to strengthen our efforts to protect youth,” BSA said. These efforts include “screening process for adult leaders and staff, criminal background checks, requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during Scouting activities, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.”
The LDS church said it was still reviewing the filing.
“We have only recently learned about this legal action, and will take time to understand it fully and to respond as appropriate,” LDS spokesperson Eric Hawkins told The Daily Beast.
The Mormon church has partnered with the Scouts since 1928 and by the 1970s heavily encouraged children and adults to join the group as part of their development, the lawsuit said.
“This is not an optional program,” LDS president Spencer Kimball said in 1978, according to the lawsuit. “Scouting is no longer on trial. It is an economically, socially, and spiritually sound program.’”
But it would be the promise of trustworthy male leadership that led Gilroy to join the Boy Scouts.
“It was my mother, my sister, and myself in a single-parent family. My mother wanted me to have a good, strong male role model in my life,” Gilroy said. He joined the Scouts with his best friend as a young child. “Our mothers were best friends and thought scouts could be a positive influence on us.”
Instead of being assigned to a trusted role model, Gilroy was placed in Schmidt’s troop. Over the course of two years, Gilroy claims Schmidt sexually and emotionally abused him and other boys.
Only by speaking with the other boys did Gilroy summon the courage to report the abuse, he said. Gilroy said he was 8 or 9 when he told his mother, who called the police. As a result of Gilroy’s efforts, he told The Daily Beast, Schmidt was arrested in 1983 and convicted of molesting him.
Three decades later, Gilroy learned that his ordeal could have been avoided entirely. In 2012, a court order made public thousands of Boy Scout files on leaders accused of sexual abuse. One of the files was about Schmidt.
“That’s why I’m coming forward now,” Gilroy said. “They had documentation about him, prior to him assaulting me, and they covered it up. The fact that they knew about that prior, and covered up.”
The Boy Scouts leadership kept “ineligible volunteer” files to “track a variety of transgressions” that adults committed against scouts. The files were subdivided into several categories including “perversion”—the category that encompases child sexual abuse. Gilroy’s lawsuit claims that by 1972, BSA had thousands of perversion files, many of which were subsequently destroyed. According to Schmidt’s file, his reputation as a sexual abuser was known even by other scouts, who urged leadership to remove him from his position.
During a 1977 camping trip, according to the files, a scout claimed Schmidt tried to molest him and other boys. The boy claimed Schmidt had “stuck his hands” down two boys’ pants, the file said. “I knocked his hand away and rolled over,” the boy wrote.
That night, the boys slept in Schmidt’s tent, where he told them the Camp Tapawingo site was surrounded by wild animals. “I was scared because of this and because he said there was something out there,” the boy wrote. “He said it was a wolverine but I knew there were no wolverines around that area.”
Schmidt’s file also includes correspondence between BSA officials, letters from attorneys representing Schmidt’s accusers, and news clippings about the abuse allegations. The file reveals how Boy Scouts leadership initially responded to the allegations.
Black, the Idaho supervisor who first forwarded the complaint to the Boy Scouts’ national offices, wrote a letter in which he described confronting Schmidt.
“If he was guilty, he would probably back out” of the Scouts, Black wrote of his reasoning before discussing the allegations with Schmidt.
Instead, Black reported that Schmidt blamed his accuser.
“Jim said he was aware of the camp accusations but that they are two years old and that he had taken them to his lawyer and that he thought it had been cleared up,” Black wrote. “He claimed that the boys harassed him at the zoo and at other places.”
Black wrote he also reached out to the troop’s sponsor, who “felt that the accusations [against Schmidt] were unjust but agreed to be alert to the situation.”
Schmidt reportedly agreed to stay out of Camp Tapawingo, but said he wanted to continue working with his own troop. His request was granted. “As far as I know, everything is under control,” Black wrote.
Three years later, Schmidt allegedly began molesting Gilroy and other boys in his troop.
Gilroy’s story mirrors those of the four other plaintiffs, whose troop leaders were also accused of abuse and subsequently convicted of child molestation. The three other accused scoutmasters—Lawrence Libey, Doug Bowen, and Larren Arnold—were allowed to work with children for years before finally being removed from the Scouts program, according to the lawsuit.
Libey was even promoted after another scoutmaster reported him to the Elks Lodge board sponsoring their troop, the lawsuit alleged.
“The board chose Libey to lead the troop instead of the Scoutmaster who had reported his concerns,” the suit reads. “Shortly thereafter, Libey became the sole Scoutmaster of Troop 156.”
Gilion Dumas, one of the attorneys representing Gilroy and the other plaintiffs, said abusers had multiple ways of remaining in the program, even after they were accused of molestation. Leadership would regularly put scout leaders on probation instead of adding them to its growing pile of “ineligible volunteers,” Dumas told The Daily Beast.
“There was no set criteria for when they’d put somebody on probation,” she said. “They could put somebody on probation because he promised not to molest a kid again, or if he went into counseling, or if he was only caught showing kids pornography.”
After two years of good behavior, Dumas said, volunteers accused of abuse were reinstated and their probation files were destroyed.
“The only reason we even know that probation policy existed would be if someone was on probation and they got caught actually molesting kids, then there’d be a note in the permanent file that said they had been on probation,” Dumas said. An unknown number of permanent files were “systematically” destroyed in the ’70s in what Dumas described as a “purge.”
Dumas said Boy Scouts leadership has been keeping files on scoutmaster misconduct since the 1910s, but the oldest files only date back to 1946. BSA did not respond to a request for comment on this allegation.
“They used to have a policy of systematically destroying the files if they learned a perpetrator had died or if they determined, from the date, that the man had turned 70,” Dumas claims. “They just destroyed the file with the thought that, ‘Oh, he’s too old to abuse someone.’”
Gilroy said he hoped coming forward under his own name would encourage other victims to speak out.
“That’s why I’m using my name, that’s why I’m using my picture, is to embolden other victims to have the courage to step forward and say they were hurt, and not hide behind the shame,” he said. “Because there’s been a lot of shame about what happened, and now’s my chance to fix that. I know I have nothing to be ashamed of, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel ashamed because of it.
“Now’s my chance to step up, step forward, and try to be a voice for a lot of people who are too afraid.”