THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Reports of abuse at camp grow

13 allege sex assault over years on Cape

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / April 13, 2011

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The number of people alleging they were sexually assaulted at Camp Good News in Sandwich climbed yesterday as a Boston lawyer announced that 13 alleged victims have detailed widespread abuse at the camp, spanning three decades and involving up to four employees.

Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the 11 men and two women who have come forward, said it is unclear whether any of the former campers were sexually assaulted by the counselor who allegedly fondled US Senator Scott Brown, but that it is possible. The senator, in his autobiography, has said he was abused at an unnamed Cape Cod religious camp when he was 10 years old. Garabedian said yesterday one of the victims who just came forward attended Camp Good News in the 1970s, within five years of when the camp has acknowledged the senator was there.

During a telephone interview yesterday, Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said State Police detectives assigned to his office are investigating the allegations, and he has asked Garabedian to refer victims to his office immediately.

“He’s naming 13 people; we don’t have that many,’’ said O’Keefe, who declined to provide details of the investigation or comment on how many alleged victims have been interviewed.

“It’s much better if people who are the victim of this particular crime come directly to police and experts in our office who are very familiar with the very tricky statute of limitations in the case,’’ O’Keefe said. “These matters are all very fact-intensive with respect to how the statute is applied to them. We have people in this office who do this for a living. It would be better for everyone if the information were brought directly to those experts.’’

Yesterday, Brown issued a statement saying, “If my book has encouraged people to come forward with their own stories of abuse, or if it’s given comfort to a victim who thought they were all alone and that no one would believe them, then that is a good thing.’’

ML Strategies, a Boston consulting firm, issued a statement yesterday on behalf of the camp saying, “Camp officials will tell their side of the story in an appropriate forum, rather than addressing these types of allegations in the media.’’

Officials at the camp, founded in 1935 by Wyeth and Grace Willard and still operated by their family, announced Friday night that it will be closed this summer and issued an apology to campers who may have been harmed there. Officials said they need to review every aspect of camp operations before reopening.

The American Camp Association stripped the camp of its accreditation last week, but it remains licensed by the town of Sandwich.

A longtime camp employee, Charles “Chuck’’ Devita, 43, shot himself to death in a car outside the camp last Wednesday after learning he was under investigation for alleged sexual abuse at the site, authorities said.

Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of victims who sued the Archdiocese of Boston during the clergy abuse scandal, said during a press conference at his office that he has received numerous calls in recent weeks from people alleging they were sexually abused at Camp Good News in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s.

Of the 13 victims, Garabedian said four of them — three men and a woman — say they were sexually assaulted by Devita. He said there were “under five’’ alleged abusers, including Devita, but he declined to identify the others. He said three additional people have contacted him alleging they were sexually assaulted at other camps, which he declined to name, in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Garabedian said a former Good News employee told him she warned the camp’s operators in the early 1990s “that something was very strange with Chuck Devita, and he was always with little children an unusual amount of time.’’

The employee, according to Garabedian, said she was referred to a supervisor, who “told her she had too much hate in her heart.’’

Devita’s mother, Sandra Devita, who had not spoken to her son in about 20 years, told the Globe last week that she warned the camp’s former director, Faith Willard, when her son was in his early 20s that she feared he may have been molesting children. Sandra Devita said Willard insisted nothing was amiss and allowed her son to remain working there.

When asked yesterday if the unfolding scandal at Camp Good News was reminiscent of the clergy abuse investigation, Garabedian said, “It looks just like it. Children were being molested. People were turning their backs, and everyone hushed up because business was great.’’

Garabedian said he’s trying to determine whether the camp ever paid settlements to sexual abuse victims in exchange for their silence. The Globe previously reported that the camp, operated by the Society for Christian Activities, paid $20,000 in August 2008 to settle a civil suit filed by the parents of a 13-year-old girl from Switzerland who accused a counselor of inappropriate conduct, which involved a kiss. The operators of the camp have said they never paid any other settlements involving sexual allegations.

Garabedian said the 13 alleged victims said they were inspired to come forward after Brown, 51, disclosed in his autobiography, “Against All Odds,’’ published in February, that he had been sexually assaulted by a counselor while attending a Cape Cod religious camp some 40 years ago.

Although Brown has not identified the camp or named his abuser, the operators of Camp Good News acknowledged in February that he had attended their camp as a boy and issued him a letter of apology.

O’Keefe offered to investigate Brown’s allegations, but the Republican senator has repeatedly said he is not interested in pursuing it further. His decision has drawn fire from some critics, who say he has an obligation to identify his attacker to police so they can determine whether he continues to work with children.

“Would it help if he named the molester? Sure,’’ Garabedian said. But, he said, Brown was a victim of molestation long before he was a senator, and how he deals with it is a very personal decision. “He has to deal with it on his own terms.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.