As old abuse claims mount, Boy Scouts face financial hits

The Boy Scouts of America faces at least nine lawsuits under a Minnesota law that gives victims of child sex abuse more time to sue for older incidents.

The Boy Scouts are "determining whether there is insurance coverage for these claims from decades ago," said Kent York, a spokesperson for the Northern Star Council, the governing body for Scouts in central Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

"There will likely be some financial impact, at the minimum in terms of higher premiums," he added.

The latest lawsuit, filed today in Ramsey County by an unnamed man, accuses the Boy Scouts of America and the Northern Star Council of negligence and fraud in connection with alleged abuse by Leland Opalinski, a former Scout volunteer who died last year.

The man who sued, identified in court records as John Doe 153, said Opalinski took photographs of him when he was naked and sexually abused him "dozens of times" from 1967 and 1971, according to the lawsuit. The abuse started when the boy was about 12 years old and happened at First Covenant Church in St. Paul, three Boy Scout camps in Wisconsin and Minnesota — and at the boy's home in St. Paul, it said.

The lawsuit argues the Boy Scouts committed fraud by misleading parents about the risk of sexual abuse by adult volunteers. The Boy Scouts "knew for decades prior to Plaintiff's abuse that sexual predators of boys were continually infiltrating scouting and using the scouting program to accomplish their sexual abuse of boys," it said.

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York, the spokesperson for the Northern Star Council, declined to comment on the allegations. In a written statement, he said, "We are here for all children and are profoundly saddened when any child is ever harmed by anyone."

York referenced Opalinski, the Scouts volunteer who is named in several other lawsuits. "Today's child protection environment is much more advanced than when this leader was permanently removed 45 years ago, as law enforcement has better systems and technology has improved," he said.

The Boy Scouts of America "also constantly strengthens its safeguards and systems and as a result, Scouting is one of the safest places for children in our community," he said.

A spokesperson for the national Boy Scouts of America declined to comment.

Opalinski left the Boy Scouts in 1971 after he was arrested for sexually abusing a teenager, according to a nine-page file kept by the Boy Scouts of America.

He pleaded guilty to a charge of "indecent liberties involving a 14-year-old boy" and received seven years' probation, according to a report by the St. Paul Dispatch.

The man who filed the lawsuit today had testified against Opalinski as part of that criminal case, according to his attorney, Patrick Noaker.

The lawsuits against the Boy Scouts are allowed under the Minnesota Child Victims Act — the same law that abuse victims have used to sue the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.