By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
May 14, 2016
ALBANY - An upstate investor who was molested as a child in the 1960s says he's prepared to spend $100,000 or more against incumbent state senators from both parties who refuse to support legislation to help child sexual assault victims.
Gary Greenberg, who lives in New Baltimore, Greene County, and is a minority owner of the casino, hotel and racetrack Vernon Downs, told the Daily News he can't understand why the Legislature won't act to give adults who were victimized as children more time to bring criminal and civil cases against their abusers.
"It surprises me that it isn't at the top of their priority list," Greenberg said. "Each year goes by but nothing happens and kids are still getting abused every day."
Greenberg, 57, said he wants to spend $100,000 against senators in both parties if they don’t act. The money could go toward campaign contributions to their opponents or for ads in their districts.
Previous efforts to reform the law have cleared the Assembly, but died in the Senate.
Greenberg said he’s also prepared to work with other abuse survivors to hold public events to “tell the residents (of the districts) that their senator voted for perpetrators over survivors and victims of sexual abuse.”
“I want to get the word out by any means that’s necessary,” he said. “I think it’s the only way these public officials are going to understand the seriousness of the issue and that the matter needs to be dealt with now. It seems they only understand when someone will actually go in and take them on in their districts, hold them accountable to the people that they service.”
In a recent tweet that said “I’ll spend $100,000+ to defeat State Sens who support perps,” Greenberg specifically referenced state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) and Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse).
Flanagan has not taken a public position on the issue, while DeFrancisco has told The News he opposes doing away with the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases because people die and memories fade after time.
Greenberg in his tweet also mentioned Sens. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) and Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau County), who, like DeFrancisco, told The News they oppose the bill because they don't believe in doing away entirely with statute-of-limitation provisions that cap how long a criminal or civil case can be brought.
He also cited his own senator, George Amedore (R-Ulster County), whose spokesman previously told The News the senator doesn’t have a position on a specific bill but is “supportive of working this session on a solution to make sure all children are protected from sexual predators.”
Doing any type of ad or other public campaign would likely require Greenberg to register as a lobbyist with the state, something he said he was prepared to do.
He said he also recognizes that if he decides to raise money for his effort, he will have to formally create some type of political action committee in order not to violate state elections law.
Several bills have been introduced to address the problem of limited legal recourse for adults who were victimized as children.
One, sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), would do away with a provision of law that gives adults who were victimized as children only until they reach the age of 23 to bring a civil lawsuit. The bill would also provide a one-year window for those victims in cases where the statute of limitation has run out under current law to bring a civil lawsuit. A separate bill by the two would also eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on sex crimes against children.
There is no statute of limitations for first-degree rape.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-S.I.) has legislation that would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for cases of child sexual abuse and would allow someone to file a civil lawsuit up until their 28th birthday, up from the current 23rd birthday. That bill does not include a one-year window for victims whose time to seek recourse has run out under current law.
A third bill sponsored by Hoylman and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) would do away with the criminal and civil statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases and provide the one-year window for victims who under current law can no longer bring a civil case. That bill would eliminate the 90-day requirement from the date of the incident to notify a public entity — like a school — of their intent to sue.
Greenberg said he could support any of the bills that include the one-year lookback.
A Senate GOP spokesman had no comment on Greenberg’s threat to spend big money on Senate races this year when control of the chamber is up for grabs.
The Daily News Editorial Board has offered its own suggestions to spur the do-nothings in Albany — including the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations entirely, and opening the courts for one year to those who say they were victimized and had previously been turned away.
For Greenberg, the issue is personal. He said he was molested in 1966 when he was 7. He said he was visiting his father at the now-shuttered upstate Cohoes Memorial Hospital when a worker offered to give him a tour of the nearby X-ray room. Greenberg’s parents let him go.
“Back then, who would think anything like that would happen,” he said.
The hospital staffer took him to the X-ray room, suggesting they go upstairs and look around.
“He wanted to abuse me and molest me,” Greenberg recalled. “I tried to run away and he took me and lifted me up. He took me to a room . . . and hung me over the ledge of the building and said if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d let me go.”
Greenberg said he managed to briefly get away, but the worker caught him and, this time, held him upside-down in an elevator shaft. The worker pulled the youngster in and molested him. He then gave Greenberg some coins, told him if he told anyone, he’d kill his family, and walked him back to his father’s room.
Greenberg said nothing, but his parents knew something was wrong. He would shake and didn’t want to take showers or baths. His mother eventually asked him if anything happened and he told her.
Greenberg’s father went to the hospital a month later and was told the worker had been fired because of other reported incidents. Police told his father to forget about it, that no one would believe the boy. The case, they said, wasn’t worth pursuing.
“My father contacted an attorney and he basically said the same thing, that juries don’t believe kids,” he said.
Greenberg said he went public once before — in 1996, when he heard about a case of a man who abused 150 kids over four decades. Greenberg called the detectives in the case even though by law he could no longer bring charges because too much time had passed.
The detectives learned that the man once worked at the hospital where Greenberg said he was attacked. Greenberg said he ran ads in a local paper that resulted in about 100 people coming forward to police to say they were abused by the same man, who ultimately was convicted and is still serving time in prison.
Greenberg said if a reform law is passed, he most likely would not sue his attacker “since it probably would be a waste of time.”
“But there are people out there who can and should be able to sue,” he said. “That’s the purpose of the bill.”
He said he disagrees with the Catholic Church and other groups that say they could be financially ruined if there is a one-year window to sue for past victims where the legal time frame has run out under current law.
He said for many victims, it’s more about healing than the money.
“Not everybody wants money,” he said. “The majority want to heal and want to find out the true facts. In a lot of cases, to get the facts, you have to sue. These are not frivolous lawsuits. They’re lawsuits so people can get healing and get answers.”