Committee Challenges Hoax Label - July 29, 1990 - Omaha World-Herald
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July 29, 1990 Committee Challenges Hoax Label; [Sunrise Edition] Gabriella Stern.Â Omaha World - Herald.Â Omaha, Neb.Â pg.Â 1.A
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(Copyright 1990 Omaha World-Herald Company)
World-Herald Staff Writer Leslie Boellstorff contributed to this story.
A special legislative committee said Saturday it knew about the information that the grand jury used to label the Franklin sexual abuse scandal a "carefully crafted hoax" but did not find the allegations persuasive.
The committee said that instead of discovering a "hoax," the grand jury might have been the "victim of a hoax" perpetrated by Troy Boner, 23, whom the committee called a "pathological liar."
The committee made the statement in a 22-page response to the 42-page report last week by a Douglas County grand jury that had spent more than four months investigating child sexual abuse allegations.
The grand jury said Michael J. Casey, a free-lance journalist and former Boys Town employee, encouraged the spread of misinformation in part by discussing possible movie rights to the scandal with the late Gary Caradori, the legislative committee's investigator who died in a plane crash last month.
"To the extent that the grand jury relied on the allegations against Mr. Casey, and the claims of movie rights to the 'scandal,' these allegations were known to the committee, and we found them unsubstantiated and not persuasive," the committee said. "Apparently, the grand jury did not take testimony from Mr. Casey."
The grand jury had criticized Caradori's investigative techniques, saying he fed information to witnesses and led them on during videotaped interviews. The grand jury also said Caradori was "duped into working with Casey" and allowed committee information to fall "in the hands of a movie producer."
In response to the grand jury's criticism of Caradori, the legislative committee came to his defense, saying he had "amassed a substantial amount of information" when he died with his 8-year-old son, Andrew, in the crash of his small plane in Illinois.
"Mr. Caradori appeared before this committee, and gave testimony about these allegations of a conspiracy among the victim witnesses, and he stated that he made no promises or inducements to the witnesses," the committee said. "That he had no involvement with Mr. Casey, except that he, like everyone else, had come into contact with him during his work. We believed Mr. Caradori when he told us this, and nothing we have seen or heard causes us to change our mind.
In its final report released last Tuesday, the grand jury described the sexual abuse allegations as a "carefully crafted hoax" that had been "scripted by a person or persons with considerable knowledge of the people and institutions of Omaha."
The grand jury indicted Alisha Owen, 21, on eight counts of lying to the grand jury when she said that some prominent Omaha men had sexually abused her and others when they were minors.
Last fall, Miss Owen, Boner and James Daniel "Danny" King, 20, made videotaped statements to Caradori in which they made the sexual abuse allegations. Boner and King later told the grand jury that they had lied to Caradori. Danny King is not related to Lawrence E. King Jr., who headed the Franklin Credit Union.
Some committee members said last week that Boner told them recently that his original story to Caradori might have been true and his account to the grand jury false. Boner told The World-Herald that he never told the committee members anything of the sort.
"Mr. Boner has now betrayed himself as a pathological liar," the committee said Saturday in its report. "If the grand jury believed Mr. Boner over Alisha Owen who stands by her story, the hoax may well have been perpetrated on the grand jury.
"If the perjury charge against Ms. Owen is to rest on the credibility of Mr. Boner, we suspect the confrontation will, at least, be interesting."
The committee report was signed by Sen. Loran Schmit of Bellwood, the committee chairman, and members Sens. Bernice Labedz of Omaha, Jerome Warner of Waverly and Dennis Baack of Kimball. Sen. Dan Lynch of Omaha did not sign the report because he was out of town.
Samuel Van Pelt, special prosecutor for the grand jury, declined to comment on the committee's report.
Marc Delman of Omaha, Boner's attorney, said he was surprised that the committee would attack Boner after spending most of the year asserting his credibility as a witness.
"I find it rather amusing that a person who for all these many months they have labeled as being a victim and being very credible now in their eyes is a pathological liar because he tells the truth," Delman said.
"Obviously they did not carefully read the grand jury's report where it says that even if Mr. Boner and Mr. King had not come forward, they would be able to show categorically that it was a hoax."
The committee report was not entirely critical of the work of 17 citizens of Omaha, who were selected by a judicial panel to serve on the grand jury. The grand jury began meeting March 19 in the Douglas County Courthouse and issued its report Tuesday.
The grand jury's probe of sexual abuse allegations grew out of the legislative committee's investigation of the 1988 failure of the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union in Omaha.
The committee cited several areas of partial "agreement" with the grand jury, including its finding probable cause that former Franklin chief Larry King solicited men in their late teens or early 20s to engage in acts of prostitution.
40 Felony Counts
King faces 40 felony counts in federal court of financial wrongdoing connected to the credit union's failure. None of the charges involves sexual misconduct.
The grand jury did not indict King on charges of pandering, saying it "would not be in the best use of the resources of the Douglas County District Court" to indict a man who already faces 40 federal counts of financial misdeeds.
The legislative committee said it understood that prosecuting King on pandering charges might be expensive, "but we do not agree with it. If probable cause existed to indict King, the grand jury should have done so."
On another matter, the committee said it agreed with the grand jury that former Washington County Attorney Pat Tripp should have filed charges against Jarrett Webb for allegedly sexually abusing a foster child. The committee said it recognized that "the grand jury solicited the present county attorney to file criminal charges against" Webb.
Most of the committee's report disagreed with the tone and substance of the grand jury's report, which it found "critical and argumentative" at times and containing "meaningless and gratuitous" opinion.
As a result of Caradori's work, the committee wrote, "we have filled three four-drawer file cabinets, 10 five-inch binders, and eight boxes of testimony, reports, letters, documents.
The committee has taken at least 17 depositions, obtained 27 videotapes and 62 audiotapes.
"Mr. Caradori furnished a list of 271 names by the end of May 1990 who were either witnesses of, or leads to, matters related to child abuse or illicit sexual activity."
The committee addressed the question of how the news media handled the sexual abuse allegations, saying that newspapers and television news stations made too much of the videotaped statements that Miss Owen, Boner and Danny King gave Caradori.
By focusing on the three alleged victims, the committee said, news organizations failed to address what the committee sees as the broader failure of law enforcement and social service agencies to adequately handle complaints of child abuse involving widely known figures.
"The substance of the committee's investigation was that evidence surfaced that prominent persons in Omaha engaged, were engaging, and were likely to engage in the future, in sexual abuse involving children and young adults," the report said.
Instead, news organizations were seen "stumbling over each other to be the first to find, publish and/or broadcast the contents" of the videotaped statements of Miss Owen, Boner and King "and then to discredit and criticize them."
Portions of the videotaped statements were made public by WOWT-Channel 6, KETV-Channel 7 and KMTV-Channel 3 and the Lincoln Journal. The World-Herald reported stories based on the television accounts but did not publish transcripts of the videotaped interviews.
The committee said that its effort to identify failures of the system had worked in the cases of Webb and Peter Citron, the former World-Herald columnist and Channel 6 entertainment reporter who was sentenced to three to eight years in jail for fondling two boys.
Citron, 50, pleaded no contest to the charges. The grand jury concluded that Citron's case was unrelated to Franklin.
"Perhaps circumstances caught up with Mr. Citron, or perhaps the committee's work forced specific attention on Mr. Citron, who eventually convicted himself," the committee's report said.
As for Omaha businessman Alan Baer, whom the grand jury indicted last week on two counts of pandering two adult men, the committee said its work might have led to an investigation of alleged illegal sexual activities.
"Mr. Baer is entitled to a fair trial on the allegations made against him," the committee said, "and we shall make no further comment about the charges against him."
Given evidence presented to the grand jury, the committee said, "we fail to see how the general allegations of child abuse on children and illicit sexual activity by prominent Omaha personalities, was a 'carefully crafted hoax.' "
The committee expressed concern that the grand jury indicted two people who said they were victims of or witnesses to sexual abuse - Miss Owen and Paul Bonacci, 22, who faces three counts of lying to the grand jury.
Both Miss Owen and Bonacci are inmates of the Nebraska Department of Corrections. Miss Owen is serving time for writing bad checks and Bonacci for sexually assaulting a boy.
"Alisha Owen and Paul Bonacci are charged with perjury and Troy Boner and Danny King are not," the report said. "As we see it, the victims who stand by their story are charged with perjury, while those that have admitted to false statements before the committee are not.
"That makes little sense to us. Either all of them should have been indicted or none of them. The message is mixed and appears to favor encouraging the recanting as a way to avoid the hazards of criminal prosecution. It also tells persons they can lie under oath to legislative committees, so long as they change their story by the time they get to court. Neither message is a good one."
The committee said it "is profoundly disappointed" with statements the grand jury made about the committee and its members.
The grand jury report said that the committee strayed from its original purpose of investigating Franklin's failure; that the committee "operated largely from a political and personal motivational base"; and that Schmit as chairman might have been responsible for leaks of confidential information to the press and public.
The committee said such criticisms were baseless because the original committee mandate by the full Legislature included investigation of child abuse allegations; because the committee "pursued its task quietly, thoroughly, and with care and great deliberation," and because the committee was not responsible for leaks of information.
Any leaks occurred after the legislative committee had turned over substantial information to federal and state investigators, the committee report said. Leaks to the press have included copies of the videotaped statements to Caradori by Miss Owen, Boner and King, and copies of a federal subpoena requesting material from Caradori.
The grand jury said in its report that had the committee done its work, there would have been no need for Nebraska Attorney General Robert Spire to call a grand jury.
In response, the committee said it was "at a complete loss to understand" such criticism.
"The legislative committee turned all of its information over to the existing agencies of law enforcement," and Spire decided to call a grand jury in order to restore public confidence in the state's law enforcement and social services institutions.
The special legislative committee said it agreed with the grand jury's findings that:
It had "probable cause to believe that Lawrence E. King Jr. solicited men in their late teens or early 20s to engage in acts of prostitution and other illicit sexual activity."
The Washington County attorney "should have filed criminal charges" against Jarrett Webb for allegedly sexually abusing a minor.
Omaha Police Department procedure "regarding the followup on allegations of child abuse and cult activity was flawed and that there is a lack of public confidence in the Omaha Police Department."
''Media acted irresponsibly in releasing information 'leaked' by various sources and thereby contributed to the destructive effects of the various rumors."
"The grand jury found evidence to establish that more than 500 known pedophiles actively prey upon minors in the Omaha area."
The committee said it disagreed with:
The grand jury's decision not to indict King when it had found probable cause to believe he had solicited men for prostitution. The grand jury noted King already faces 40 federal counts of financial wrongdoing connected to the failed Franklin Community Federal Credit Union, which he headed. The jury said prosecuting King for soliciting would be a costly use of county funds.
The grand jury's criticism of the committee and its members for straying from the original mandate and exploring a wide range of child sexual abuse allegations and for allowing leaks of confidential information to the public and press. The committee said that, from the start, it had a broad mandate from the Legislature allowing it to explore the problem of child abuse. And it said it was not responsible for leaks to the press.
The grand jury's criticism of the late Gary Caradori, the committee's investigator. The grand jury said Caradori led witnesses, fed them information and allowed himself to be "duped" by Michael J. Casey, a free-lance writer who spoke to him about possible movie rights. The committee defended Caradori, saying, "We unanimously and unequivocally stand by the integrity of the work, and the great personal sacrifices of Gary Caradori, to seek out those who abuse children."
What it saw as the grand jury's apparent reliance on the testimony of Troy Boner, 23, when it indicted Alisha Owen, 21, on eight counts of perjury. Miss Owen, Boner and James Daniel King, 20, originally told Caradori that they had been sexually abused as minors.
Boner and King later told the grand jury they had lied. Miss Owen has not changed her story.
Credit: World-Herald Staff Writer