Updated: 4:42 p.m.
A former Children's Theatre Company teacher who fled to Mexico to avoid trial has returned to the United States.
Jason McLean, onetime owner of the Loring Pasta Bar, the Varsity Theater and other establishments, is resuming his role as manager of Small Wonder, a bar he owns in Oakland, Calif., according to the Bay City News Service.
In January of this year, he was found liable in a civil trial in the rape of CTC student Laura Stearns, who brought suit against him and the theater. Stearns was 15 at the time of the alleged rape. The jury awarded Stearns a judgment of $3.68 million, but McLean had liquidated his assets and fled the country. CTC was found to have been negligent but not liable.
At least five other women have testified that McLean sexually abused or raped them when they were students at the Children's Theatre.
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Scott Morris, a Bay City News Service reporter, posted a statement by McLean that said, “I deny any wrongdoing.” He said allegations against him had been investigated at the time. “I was never charged with anything and cleared by the investigation.”
“The cost of defense against these unwarranted claims, mostly tried by damaging publicity in the media, destroyed my enterprises in Minnesota and forced me into default,” he wrote. He said he hoped that his bar “will continue to provide me with an opportunity to demonstrate to the Bay Area my deserved reputation for integrity and excellence in the hospitality business.”
A former employee of McLean’s business in Oakland tipped off the local media to his return. According to another employee, the dozen or so staff members kept the business going in his absence, assuming they would never see him again. Then in early September he fired them all.
They say he returned to Oakland two weeks ago, and planned to reopen the business with a new staff.
In an interview Thursday, Stearns said she doubts she’ll see any of the money awarded her, even now that McLean has returned to the country.
"The fact that he has come back makes me believe that he has taken all of his resources and put them in places that we can’t get them,” she said. “So I think it's unlikely that there's much that can be done."
She said she never thought he would come back to the States.
"How he can think that people will believe that he is innocent, No. 1, or that he has some kind of good history to restore, or whatever his wording is? I'm just baffled," she said.
Stearns said she hopes a more recent victim of McLean's abuse will come forward and press criminal charges.
Another plaintiff who asked to remain anonymous said she's not surprised he's back, because he believes he's done nothing wrong: "For many of these predators, they're very good at compartmentalizing and shifting blame. So in many of their minds, we were full participants in what went on — we were just as responsible as he was, even though we were children."