Poly Prep Football Players Warned Freshmen of Coach Phil Foglietta's Sex Abuse, School Threatened Discipline Against Reports
By Michael O'Keefe (NY Daily News)
December 7, 2011
Poly Prep Country Day School football players warned their teammates. Juniors and seniors told the freshmen: Don’t get into the green Impala with Phil Foglietta, the football coach at the elite private school in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Don’t go to the empty visitors’ locker room with him. Don’t let him take you to the squash courts.
But not everybody got the message.
“John Doe III” says Foglietta showered him with attention, took him to a Heisman Trophy dinner, gave him sneakers and got him autographs from O.J. Simpson and other famous athletes, and says he worshipped the fiery football coach who turned the school’s pitiful football program into a New York powerhouse and a magnet for alumni donations as “a god.”
He was 10 years old, John Doe III says, when the anal and oral assaults began. Foglietta, a short, stout man who worked at Poly Prep from 1966 to 1991, raped him hundreds of times between 1968 and 1972, sometimes twice a week, sometimes twice a day. The assaults, he told the Daily News in interviews, took place on the Poly Prep campus, in the green Impala, and at the Bay Ridge apartment the football coach shared with his elderly mother.
John Doe III is a plaintiff in an explosive RICO lawsuit filed two years ago in Brooklyn federal court that claims Foglietta sexually abused him and eight other men from 1966 until the early 1980s. The lawsuit, which names the 157-year-old college prep school and top officials as defendants, says Poly Prep received complaints about Foglietta just months after he was hired but put its football program and its fund-raising efforts ahead of student safety.
The lawsuit, which seeks at least $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages for each plaintiff, says high-ranking Poly Prep officials not only ignored complaints of sexual abuse, they threatened to discipline and expel boys who reported it.
“There is no amount of money that makes this OK,” says John Doe III. “They stole my childhood from me. They stole my teens and twenties and I can never get that back. I want my pound of flesh.”
When Foglietta died in 1998, John Doe III attended the wake at Bay Ridge funeral home.
“I spit on the body,” he says. “It was the best day of my life.”
The school, which charges up to $33,000 a year for tuition, has declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. It continues to handle the crisis that has drawn comparisons to the Penn State and Syracuse sex-abuse scandals in a clumsy manner, the plaintiffs’ alumni supporters say.
In an open letter sent to alumni and parents last week, headmaster David Harman said Poly Prep is forming an advisory committee to bolster its sex-abuse prevention policy. Bill Fordes, a 1971 graduate who is now a producer for NBC’s “Law & Order” franchise, says the announcement was a ham-handed attempt to calm alumni outrage over what the lawsuit describes as a decades-long cover-up.
“It is an unabashed attempt to cover the school from legal, moral and financial responsibility,” Fordes, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, told the Daily News. “This man (Foglietta) was a rapist.”
The suit claims Foglietta may have abused hundreds of other boys. John Doe III says he saw evidence of that in 1971, when he opened a dresser drawer in Foglietta’s bedroom. Inside the drawer, according to the complaint, were hundreds of photos of naked boys, apparently taken with a Kodak Instamatic in Foglietta’s apartment.
Most of the plaintiffs have not spoken publicly about how Foglietta abused them - sexually, emotionally and physically - until recently, when they were interviewed at length by the Daily News.
Here are their stories.
ABUSE STRAINS FAMILY
Foglietta sexually assaulted William Jackson several times in the autumn of 1966, shortly after the private school hired Foglietta to coach its football team and teach physical education. One of the incidents, Jackson remembers, took place on the school’s squash courts. The lights were out and Jackson was terrified as Foglietta fondled his genitals.
When Jackson and his parents reported the abuse to then-headmaster J. Folwell Scull and Harlow Parker, Poly Prep’s athletic director, the officials promised to investigate. There was never any discussion about calling the police, he says.
Scull later told Jackson’s mother and father that their son had made the whole thing up and threatened to expel Jackson if he continued to accuse Foglietta of sexual abuse. His parents, thrilled that Jackson was attending such a prestigious school, sided with the school officials.
“From that point on, my parents distrusted me,” says Jackson, who now lives in Florida. “I never really reconciled with my parents after that. We had strained feelings for the rest of their lives.”
Jackson says his father dragged him to a church, brought him to the pulpit and demanded the truth. He would try to slip out of gym class without showering to avoid the coach. Foglietta forced him to wash up, leering and touching himself while a terrified Jackson stood naked in the shower.
Jackson, however, had an exit strategy: He allowed his grades to slip and got into fights with other students. He was expelled in 1968. By then, according to the lawsuit, Poly Prep’s 40-year cover-up had begun. Dozens, and maybe hundreds, of boys would be abused because Scull and Parker failed to act when Jackson first stepped forward.
The man identified in the lawsuit as John Doe II says Foglietta abused him dozens of times - two to four times a month - in Poly Prep’s squash court, the visiting locker room and at Foglietta’s Bay Ridge apartment.
Foglietta also abused him at the lake house John Doe II’s grandparents owned in New Jersey, the man says. But the most memorable incident, he says, took place in a Poly Prep shower. Foglietta had soaped the boy up and had him in a bear hug from behind when Parker, the school’s longtime athletic director who died in 2009, walked into the locker room.
“Parker saw us there and closed the door,” John Doe II says. “That memory has stuck in my mind for 40 years. The fact that that guy stood there and watched us has haunted me. There has not been a day in the last 40 years that I haven’t thought about what happened, especially that incident.”
John Doe II, now a physician, says he told a Poly Prep administrator named Robert Foreman in 1972 that Foglietta was inappropriately grabbing boys. Foreman, he says, didn’t do anything to stop the abuse.
“I was floored by the similarities between this case and Penn State,” John Doe II says. “The cover-up is amazing. It’s all about protecting the football program and Poly Prep.”
During the years he spent at the school, James Zimmerman was one of Poly Prep’s best athletes, an All-State wrestler and a co-captain of the football team in 1981.
“Jim was the best guy on the team,” says Poly Prep graduate Kevin Mulhearn, the Orangeburg, N.Y., attorney who filed the lawsuit and played next to Zimmerman on the offensive line. “He was a gung-ho football player. There was something that happened our senior year. All of a sudden he hated being on the field. He was miserable.”
Zimmerman says Foglietta molested him several times that year on school grounds, giving him “sports massages” that turned into sexual abuse.
Foglietta helped Zimmerman land a football scholarship at upstate Colgate University. Zimmerman, now a New York City school teacher, says he turned down the offer. “I said f--- that,” Zimmerman says. “I’m not going to the school that he wants.”
Classmates say David Hiltbrand was a brilliant student and an exceptional football and baseball player. But all that changed when Foglietta arrived at Poly Prep in 1966. Hiltbrand quit baseball and football - two sports that Foglietta coached - and tried out for soccer and cross-country instead. He started getting high with the Catholic school stoners at a nearby playground.
Hiltbrand says he started to act out in the eighth grade, the same year he was molested several times by Foglietta, to break out of his abuser’s orbit.
“I became a rebellious kid,” says Hiltbrand, a veteran entertainment journalist and novelist who lives near Philadelphia. “If he said anything to me, I would ignore him. If he told me to do something, I would flip him off. I was spinning out of control and it became impossible for him to keep me in his sphere of influence. He kicked me off the football team.”
When John Doe IV injured his tailbone in 1971, Foglietta offered “therapy” to help him recover. The coach took him to the empty visiting locker room, massaged the quarterback’s back, then flipped him over and grabbed his genitals.
“He manually copulated me,” Doe IV told The News. “I was 14 years old and I walked back to the locker room in a daze. I couldn’t tell my parents. I didn’t know what was going on inside of me.”
The next incident, Doe IV says, came a year or so later, when Foglietta invited him to his home to review game films.
“We thought he lived with his mother, so it would be OK. You couldn’t say no to the man. It happened again, this time by force. He pinned me down on a bed. It was over in a minute.”
Doe IV was sitting in his parents’ home one night that summer when there was a knock on the door. It was Foglietta, who begged him to come to his Bay Ridge apartment. Doe IV says he told Foglietta to get lost.
Doe IV became Foglietta’s whipping boy that year. He called him “faggot” and other names during team meetings and encouraged defensive players to nail Doe IV during practices. Doe IV completed 11 of 15 passes and scored three touchdowns during a game in his senior year. He asked Foglietta for film to show to college recruiters. Foglietta, he says, edited him out of the film.
VICTIMS BAND TOGETHER
George Zarou has spent much of his life battling addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling, according to the lawsuit. Foglietta, the suit says, abused him in 1968, when he was a Poly Prep fifth-grader.
“I was 10 years old and we would go to the school to play basketball in the gym,” Zarou told The News. “I was taking a shower and he got undressed and soaped up his body. He told me he wanted to clean me. He bear-hugged me. He rubbed me back and forth. I resisted, but he was very strong.
“It never happened again. He treated me like s--- afterward. He was the kind of person who could look at you and make you feel like nothing.”
Foglietta, according to the complaint, abused a man named Jay Paggioli two or three times per week between 1970 and 1974. Paggioli graduated from Poly Prep in 1976 and has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, depression and other severe emotional problem ever since. Paggioli sued Poly Prep in Brooklyn Supreme Court in 2005, but the suit was dismissed because of statute of limitations issues.
“The case is simply too old,” Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Lewis Douglass said when he dismissed the suit in 2006. Paggioli’s lawsuit, however, was a spark that prompted the other plaintiffs to join together to file the current RICO statute in federal court.
“Jay was a lone wolf in the wilderness, crying out for help,” Mulhearn says. “He got it going.”
Philip Culhane, now an attorney who lives in Hong Kong, was a varsity swimmer, member of the track team and president of his class for four years. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude from Williams College and received a law degree from New York University.
He is, according to the lawsuit, a sexual-abuse survivor who has was molested by Phil Foglietta.
In 2009, he wrote a lengthy letter to Harman, the Poly Prep headmaster, that explained how Foglietta abused him from 1976 to 1978, and said that he was aware that Foglietta had abused other boys, too. The letter urged Poly Prep to “fulfill its responsibilities” to Foglietta’s victims.
“I believe that the school must name Foglietta as the abuser, that the school must clearly state that his abuse was of a serial nature spanning three decades, that the school must admit that its then-administration failed to address the situation even though it had knowledge, that the school must make a rigorous effort to find the victims and that the school must make restitution to victims in need,” Culhane wrote.
The response from Harman was brief.
“We are sorry to hear your story,” Harman wrote. “Because of previous litigation against this school on this matter, we will confer with our counsel and be guided by them moving forward.”