MONROE (AP) — A former North Carolina scoutmaster who was not reported to police after molesting as many as 10 boys in the early 1970s went on to work for years at a church-run day care in Charlotte.
The Rev. Rush Otey confirmed Friday that Thomas Menghi Jr. worked as the office manager at Selwyn Presbyterian Child Development Center from 2002 to 2011 and was routinely alone with young children. Parents at the daycare were shocked to learn of Menghi’s past after reading an Associated Press story in which Menghi admitted he abused scouts when he led Troop 786 in Fayetteville.
Otey said there were no such complaints at the day care.
“At no time during Mr. Menghi’s employment were there hints, suspicions, observations, or allegations of any inappropriate conduct related to sexual abuse, molestation, or neglect duties,” he said. “Had there been such accusations from any child, parent, supervisor, volunteer or co-worker, this would have been reported immediately to the proper authorities.”
He said the church was fielding telephone calls from worried parents.
“We understand the anxiety and stress and disappointment and anger and fear that this report has created. We are ready to provide care and support,” Otey said.
Otey said Menghi was let go last year during a restructuring of the day care program. He said he couldn’t discuss other personnel issues, including Menghi’s hiring. But he said the church routinely conducts criminal background checks on employees and nothing showed up in Menghi’s past.
But he had harsh words for Boy Scout officials who didn’t report Menghi’s abuse to police so many years ago.
“I feel terrible. I feel angry at him. I’m disappointed at him. Why did people in Fayetteville not report him? Why did they put so many children at risk?” Otey asked.
A secret file on Menghi was among thousands from the Boy Scouts of America about sexual predators released last week by court order.
Menghi told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was usually drunk when he molested numerous Boy Scouts during the early 1970s.
He was in his late 20s, living in a Fayetteville motel and working as Tupperware deliveryman. He invited boys from Troop 786 as young as 11 years old to ride with him along his route, requesting that they spend the night in his room so they could get an early start.
“Yes, I abused kids,” Menghi, now 69, said in an interview. “But just how many and other details I can’t remember. It was a long time ago and I was in a fog.”
His file details the way local Scout officials investigated the allegations and removed him from the organization, but failed to report crimes to law enforcement. In Menghi’s case, even some parents were not told that their children could have been victims.
The AP tracked down the former scoutmaster in Monroe, a bedroom community near Charlotte where he lives on a quiet street around the corner from an elementary school. Had he ever been convicted and placed on the state’s sex offender registry, a 2006 law would bar him from living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare.
“What I did was wrong,” Menghi said, sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch. “I’m not making any excuses. But I was a heavy drinker and did pot every once in a while.”
His file shows local scout officials were contacted in early 1974 by the father of two brothers, ages 11 and 12. They had been overhead by an older sister talking about what happened in Menghi’s motel room. Other parents also reported that their sons had been molested.
After interviewing the parents and some of the scouts, Kia Kim District Scout Executive George F. Hardwick Sr. drafted a memo stating that he believed there was evidence Menghi had abused as many as 10 boys. He and other officials met with Menghi the next day to confront him with the abuse claims and barred him from scouting.
“The biggest thing was to get the guy out of scouting and away from our boys,” said George Heib, 86, a retired U.S. Army officer who was at the meeting. “Putting the boys through all the trauma of having to go to court and trial and all the stuff like that, I didn’t think it was worth it. Of course, the publicity wouldn’t be good for scouting, either.”
The local scouting officials wrote to national headquarters seeking guidance on whether to encourage the parents of the abused boys to file a criminal complaint. Paul I. Ernst, the BSA executive then in charge of the organization’s secret files, directed them not to.
“Normally, we do not suggest that any legal action be instituted by parents,” Ernst wrote. “If they desire to do this on their own they certainly should bring about any action they feel necessary. Certainly in this case, there is every indication that legal action is justified.”
A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Ernst, who now lives in Texas, directed questions to BSA and hung up.
There’s no statute of limitations on prosecuting child sexual abuse in North Carolina. William West, the district attorney for the county that includes Fayetteville, said in a statement that his office and the sheriff’s department would review Menghi’s case.
The current leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, which has hired a public relations firm to handle media questions on abuse, declined to comment on Menghi’s case.