Among the thousands of "perversion files" kept by the Boy Scouts of America is a Maryland-based illustration of the system's failure.
Five years after an Allegany County teacher pleaded guilty to 10 sex offenses involving 12- and 13-year-old boys in 1980, he "slipped through our system" and continued to work in the organization, a Boy Scout administrator wrote in paperwork assembled to flag Arthur D. Margulies as a danger to Scouts.
The Boy Scouts had kicked Margulies out of an Allegany Scouting organization after his first criminal case, which was covered by newspapers, but he then infiltrated another, undetected until more allegations were reported to headquarters. Among the paperwork on him was a handwritten note: "There were clippings from the paper, etc. Somewhere we made a mistake."
Decades of confidential sex-abuse allegations complied by the Boy Scouts were made public by court order this week, revealing how the organization tried — and sometimes failed — to track child molesters within its ranks. About 90 of the files on sex allegations involve Scouting groups in Maryland, and detailed records regarding several of the cases spanning 1973 to 1985 are publicly accessible through a database complied by the Los Angeles Times, which, like The Baltimore Sun, is owned by The Tribune Co.
The Boy Scout files, kept by the youth organization to track suspected molesters and record child abuse allegations, reveal a history of problems and a spotty record of handling them. More than 1,200 previously confidential files from across the country were released.
Boy Scout leaders have defended reforms implemented to prevent molesters from reaching victims, while victim advocates have expressed outrage that in some cases the organization failed to report abuse to police and even tried to hide the allegations from parents.
"I think it's an issue everywhere, it's not just in the Scouts," said Ken Hendrickson, an assistant Scout leader with Troop 725 in Glen Burnie, listing abuse scandals within the Roman Catholic Church, public schools and, most recently, the football program at Pennsylvania State University, where assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually molested boys.
Hendrickson is fearful that the legacy of long-ago crimes detailed in the Boy Scout files may give parents pause today. "It's just unfortunate you've got these few people that are destroying things," he said.
Lisae C. Jordan, general counsel of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said that while the Boy Scout files were intended to stop those accused of molestation from participating in Scouting, the effort actually "reflects [the organization's] own self-interest and not the interest of children." She noted that the files wouldn't prevent accused molesters from moving to other child-oriented organizations.
Jordan urged Maryland lawmakers to strengthen laws to punish those who conceal child abuse. She said measures are likely to be proposed in the coming General Assembly session.
As for possible legal recourse available to victims in the Boy Scout files, some may be able to push for the prosecution of cases despite the passage of many years, depending on the facts and circumstances, Jordan said. Civil lawsuits, however, may be out of the question for many. Starting in 2003 under Maryland law, victims have until the age of 25 to sue for child abuse; before that, the cutoff was age 21.
Emotionally, Jordan said, the victims may experience a variety of reactions to the newly released material. Victims were not identified in the files that were made public.
"There are some survivors who will be upset that this is being brought up again. I think there are others who will feel validated that this was recognized as something done wrong," she said. "Many survivors will feel frustrated that even if we bring these cases to light, we won't be bringing them to justice."
Margulies, who died in 2009, does not appear to have applied to volunteer for a third time with the Scouts after a 1985 indictment on two counts of child abuse and four counts of sexual assault, the second set of crimes detailed in the files kept by the Boy Scouts. He pleaded guilty to single count of sexual assault.
In 1980, newspaper articles that were contained in the files report that Margulies had pleaded guilty to 10 sex charges in the earlier case. In the two years before his indictment, he had been involved in troops in Cumberland and Wheaton and another in West Virginia.
The Boy Scouts have instituted a more rigorous system of background checks and youth protection training for adults, local Scout leaders said. Some said those efforts should give concerned parents comfort.
"What I am going to say to my parents is what I have said to my parents for the last 30 years: The Boy Scouts have done a damn good job over these many years," said Jim Dunne, who has been involved with Scouting for nearly five decades and serves as Scoutmaster for Troop 216 in Severna Park.
Some records demonstrate how the Boy Scouts' system worked to keep alleged abusers away from troops, though not necessarily with the help of police.
In a 1974 case from Odenton, a mother reported that her son's Scoutmaster "treated him like he was a woman" and touched him in sexual ways. The Scoutmaster allegedly made the boy assure him that he wasn't upset about what had happened.
Another mother reported that the same Scoutmaster asked to share a tent with her son, and then inappropriately rubbed him and held him. On another occasion, the Scoutmaster kept the boy at his house for an extra night after a camping trip without telling his parents. The mother told the Boy Scouts: "We hope that you act upon this quietly and discretely."