CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Boy Scouts of America councils are expected to contribute to a national settlement trust to resolve claims of child sex abuse with contributions from bodies with West Virginia members ranging from less than $190,000 to nearly $6 million.
The Boy Scouts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2020 as the Irving, Texas-based organization faced multiple lawsuits involving people who say they were sexually abused while in the program. Part of the proposed restructuring plan involves payments addressing more than 82,000 claims.
More than 1,000 unique abuse claims have been filed against eight councils with West Virginia units.
“One case of abuse is too many,” Jeffrey Purdy, scout executive of the Buckskin Council, said during an interview with MetroNews. “It’s unfortunate that over the years, people have used the Scouting program to hurt kids. It’s unfortunate and unforgivable.”
Under the proposal, the Boy Scouts and councils would contribute up to $820 million to a victims’ compensation fund; the 251 local councils would put forward $500 million in contributions. In return, the national organization and local chapters would receive legal protection from people who filed claims.
The Hartford, one of the Boy Scouts’ insurers, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have agreed to pay $787 million and $250 million respectively. They would also receive liability protection.
Local councils are legally independent and separate from the national organization and rely on fundraising to operate. Councils own camps, offices and other properties, and hire staff to maintain services, manage funds and recruit organizations to sponsor units. The BSA provides corporate resources and administrative help to councils in addition to guidelines related to program structure.
Councils previously had to purchase insurance policies covering issues including sexual abuse. The Boy Scouts in 1971 began adding councils to its liability insurance policies and agreed in 1978 to procure general liability insurance coverage for all chapters.
The local councils’ contributions will consist of cash and property. According to the Boy Scouts, the amounts were determined after reviewing claims with consideration to what councils could offer while continuing to provide Scouting.
“This is a critical component of the overall plan to emerge from the BSA’s financial restructuring,” the organization said in an email.
“Each Local Council was given discretion to allocate their contribution between cash and property,” the BSA added. “No Local Council is required to sell property and, indeed, many are not. Because Scouting is delivered on a local basis, we believe that it is critical to empower each Local Council to make their contribution in the form they chose.”
According to court documents, $408.4 million of council contributions will be cash.
A federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware has received information related to the expectations for each council:
SHENANDOAH AREA COUNCIL
The Shenandoah Area Council is headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, and has units in six Virginia counties and Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia.
Twenty-eight claims were filed against the council. The body’s contribution to the compensation fund would be $188,673 in cash.
Shenandoah Area Council Scout Executive Robert Garrett told MetroNews the council is planning to accept donations that the body would dedicate toward the settlement.
“We have some very generous folks that are helping us through the process and are making contributions so it does not affect our current scouts, our future scouts or our program,” he said. “We are looking at several options to fund that will allow us to continue our mission utilizing these volunteers.”
VIRGINIA HEADWATERS COUNCIL
The Virginia Headwaters Council, which operates from Waynesboro, Virginia, has units in western Virginia and West Virginia’s Pendleton County. It was known as the Stonewall Jackson Area Council until November 2019 when the council board approved a name change.
Court documents note 39 unique claims against the council. The council is expected to contribute $287,066 in cash.
MOUNTAINEER AREA COUNCIL
The Mountaineer Area Council has units in 12 counties in northcentral West Virginia and is headquartered in Fairmont. The council faces 41 individual abuse claims.
The expectation for the council is to contribute $527,717, of which $416,717 will be in cash.
According to court documents, the Mountaineer Area Council owns a service center valued at $111,000. The council can sell the property with proceeds going toward the settlement trust.
Council staff directed questions about the settlement to the national organization.
MUSKINGUM VALLEY COUNCIL
Much of the membership of the Muskingum Valley Council, which has central offices in Zanesville, Ohio, consists of counties in eastern and southeastern Ohio. Pleasants County is the only West Virginia county with units in the chapter.
The council faces 47 unique claims, and its listed contribution is $513,391 in cash.
OHIO RIVER VALLEY COUNCIL
The Ohio River Valley Council includes Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, and Tyler counties and some Ohio counties. The council’s main office is in Wheeling.
The council faces 55 unique abuse claims. Its expected contribution is $835,582 in cash and a $60,000 property contribution.
According to Ohio River Valley Council Scout Executive Dan Bettison, the cash contribution will come from money collected from selling unused property. The property contribution will be similar regarding land currently owned by the council.
The Buckskin Council is headquartered in Charleston and consists of 40 counties in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia. The council has grown following several mergers with councils throughout the region.
The chapter has received attention for being home to the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County. The site has hosted two National Scout Jamborees and a World Scout Jamboree since opening in 2013.
Court documents show 284 claims and two pending lawsuits against the council.
Purdy, who has served as the area’s scout executive since 2008, said local leaders have agreed to participate in the settlement; the council will contribute $1,890,783 in cash. He added the money will most likely come from a “land fund.”
“Because we merged with several number of councils over the last number of years plus with the building of the national property — the Summit right next to Beckley — we’ve had excess property that we’ve sold,” he explained. “It had been the hope of the board of the Buckskin Council to take the sales of those properties and invest them into an endowment-like fund that would create annual income for the council and perpetuity.”
Purdy expressed disappointment in not being able to use the funds for the original intent but noted the approach would not affect current operations.
“The good news is that what that means is we’re not going to be using any types of donations or funds that we’ve received in the last 50 years for this contribution for the victim’s fund,” he said.
The Buckeye Council is headquartered in Canton, Ohio, and has units located in central Ohio and West Virginia’s Hancock County.
The council faces 179 unique abuse claims with two lawsuits pending. It is expected to pay $2,614,529; the chapter’s contribution includes $1,945,529 in cash and $669,000 as a property contribution.
LAUREL HIGHLANDS COUNCIL
Most of the Laurel Highlands Council’s units are located in Pennsylvania, but there are groups in Maryland as well as Grant, Hardy, Hampshire, and Mineral counties in West Virginia. The council operates out of Pittsburgh.
Court documents show 383 claims against the council.
The council’s contribution expectation is $5,972,147. In a statement, the council said the money will come from an unrestricted endowment fund.
“It is important to note that restricted donations can only be used for their designated purposes and are legally protected so that they are used as the donor specified,” the body said.
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA ASSETS
The Boy Scouts will fund its portion of the settlement trust by offering a collection of artwork by Norman Rockwell and other artists, a warehouse facility in North Carolina, oil and gas interests in several states, a 10,000 square-foot building in Texas, and unrestricted cash.
The national organization is not the owner of the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. Bankruptcy filings show Arrow WV Inc., a nonprofit corporation, owns the property and leases the site to the Boy Scouts for “nominal consideration.” The national organization funded the facility’s construction and currently provides operational services.
ABUSE CLAIM PAYMENTS
Alleged victims had to submit a claim by Nov. 16, 2020 to receive a payment from the bankruptcy plan. According to court documents, 82,200 unique claims were filed.
Consultants for the Boy Scouts estimate the value of the abuse claims ranges between $2.4 billion and $7.1 billion.
Under the proposal, claimants can receive a minimum of $3,500 under expedited distribution. People who do not take this option can submit their abuse claim for an evaluation with the possibility of receiving a payment worth as much as $2.7 million.
Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein on Thursday approved a disclosure statement on the Boy Scouts’ reorganization plan. The BSA will use the first weeks of October to send claimants information packages explaining the reorganization strategy and urging support.
Claimants must submit their ballots by Dec. 14. A confirmation hearing on the results is scheduled for Jan. 24, 2022.
BSA: SCOUTING IS SAFE
When asked if Scouting is a safe program, the Boy Scouts pointed out its policies and programs targeting sexual abuse. All volunteers and employees are required to complete youth protection training and undergo what the BSA describes as “a thorough screening process.” Two adults must also be present at youth activities, and one-on-one situations between adults and scouts are banned.
The organization also noted information filed in the restructuring case showing most claims cite alleged incidents that happened before 1990.
“In other words, a very substantial majority of these claims predate the introduction of the BSA’s modern Youth Protection Protocols,” the Boy Scouts told MetroNews. “While any instance of abuse is one too many, Scouting today is safer than ever before.”
Purdy also touted the national organization’s policies, saying the rules have created a safer environment for children.
“We have refined the protocols over the years to make our Scouting program safe,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is the vast majority of these claims came before youth protection training programs and protocols were known and put into place.
“It’s unfortunate, and we want to do our part for those victims. We also know that we have a very safe program for scouts.”
Ahead of its bankruptcy filing, the Boy Scouts entered a five-year partnership with 1in6, a national nonprofit that provides male survivors of sexual assault with various resources. The BSA said the relationship would allow 1in6 to expand its online helpline and offer more weekly support groups to people abused while in the program.