Admitted Boy Scout molester: "I just don't want to wake up in jail"

Thomas J. Menghi Jr.
Thomas J. Menghi Jr.

MONROE, NC (WBTV/AP) - A former scoutmaster in North Carolina admits he molested as many as 10 boys in the early 1970s.

Thomas J. Menghi Jr. was just one of thousands of former scout leaders named in secret files on suspected abusers kept by the Boy Scouts of America and released under a recent court order.

He tells The Associated Press that he was usually drunk when he had sex with boys in Troop 786 in Fayetteville.

He was in his late 20s, living in a Fayetteville motel and working as Tupperware deliveryman. He invited boys from Troop 786 as young as 11 years old to ride with him along his route, requesting that they come to his room to spend the night before so they could get an early start.

"Yes, I abused kids," Menghi, now 69, admitted in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. "But just how many and other details I can't remember. It was a long time ago and I was in a fog."

He's now 69 years old and lives in Monroe, near Charlotte. He says he would like to apologize to his victims and fears going to jail.

"Whatever happened back then, I'm sure he's guilty of and he's probably trying to rectify what  happened. The damage has already been done. Just let the past rest," said Menghi's son, Shane.

Menghi previously confessed in January 1974, when confronted in a private meeting by other scout leaders about his sexual abuse of as many as 10 boys. He was barred from scouting functions and pledged to seek help from a psychiatrist and a preacher.

Memos in Menghi's file from 1974 show other scout leaders contemplated whether to report the abuse to the police, but were directed not to by a national official.

"The biggest thing was to get the guy out of scouting and away from our boys," said George Heib, 86, a retired U.S. Army officer and one of the Occoneechee Council officials at the meeting. "Putting the boys through all the trauma of having to go to court and trial and all the stuff like that, I didn't think it was worth it. Of course, the publicity wouldn't be good for scouting, either."

Secret records about Menghi were among 14,500 pages of "perversion files" compiled by the Boy Scouts of America between 1959 to 1985 and made public last week by court order. Thousands more files for abuse cases after 1985 remain secret.

Menghi's confidential file was one of 23 involving cases in North Carolina. The AP reviewed each file, but focused on four where the perpetrator was reported to have admitted guilt when confronted by parents or other scout leaders.

Of those four, two of the accused are dead.

The other, Edwin Loren Tenny, now 74 and living in Missouri, did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.

"There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong," the Boy Scouts of America released in a statement to WBTV on Thursday.

"Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families."

There's no statute of limitations on prosecuting child sexual abuse in North Carolina.

A spokeswoman for the State Bureau of Investigation said no review of the Boy Scout's files is planned, though the agency could assist district attorneys who want to probe cases in their jurisdictions.

William West, the district attorney for the county that includes Fayetteville, said in a statement that his office and the sheriff's department would review Menghi's case.

Menghi now lives on a quiet street around the corner from an elementary school in Monroe with his adult son. Had he ever been convicted and placed on the state's sex offender registry, a 2006 law would bar him from living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare.

He said he was 25 years old and single when he decided to volunteer with a local troop. As he spent more time alone with the boys, his "dark side" took over.

"While it is difficult to understand or explain individuals' actions from many decades ago, today Scouting is a leader among youth-serving organizations in preventing child abuse. The BSA requires background checks; administers comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth, and parents; and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse," the statement from the Boy Scouts continued.

"We have continuously enhanced our multi-tiered policies and procedures to ensure we are in line with and, where possible, ahead of society's knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention. The BSA's standards and relentless focus on Youth Protection have been recognized and praised by experts in child protection, including Victor Vieth, a former prosecutor who heads the National Child Protection Training Center."

"What I did was wrong," Menghi said, sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch. "I'm not making any excuses. But I was a heavy drinker and did pot every once in a while."

Menghi's long-secret file with the Boy Scouts shows that officials in the organization were contacted in early 1974 by the father of two brothers in Troop 786. The boys, ages 11 and 12, had been overhead by an older sister talking about what happened in Menghi's motel room. Other parents also reported that their sons had been molested.

After interviewing the parents and some of the scouts, Kia Kim District Scout Executive George F. Hardwick Sr. drafted a memo stating that he believed there was evidence Menghi had abused as many as 10 boys in his motel room or on camping trips.

"Sometimes during the night, mostly early in the morning, the boy would be wakened from sleep by Tom kissing him and sucking his penis," Hardwick wrote. "This happened several times with each of the ... boys."

The following day, Jan. 12, Hardwick wrote that he, Heib and another scout leader met with Menghi and confronted him with written statements from scouts and parents.

"I told Tom Menghi that this was sodomy and he acknowledged this and stated that he was seeing a doctor and his minister about this," Hardwick said. "Menghi was advised that he was out of scouting."

Hardwick's memo was sent to Wallace E. Wood, the supervising scout executive at the headquarters of the Occoneechee Council in Raleigh. Wood sent a memo to national BSA headquarters in North Brunswick, N.J., asking what to do next.

"This case, I think, might turn out to involve some litigation," Wood wrote on Feb. 13, 1974. "Personally, if a son of mine had been involved in one of these instances, I think I'd be considering some sort of legal action to have this man placed somewhere so that he could not molest any more boys. I wonder if we should possibly advise parents along this line, but I also wonder if we might not be named in any suit brought against this man. Would you have any advice about this?"

Less than two weeks later, Wood received a reply from Paul I. Ernst, the BSA executive then in charge of the organization's secret files.

"Normally, we do not suggest that any legal action be instituted by parents," Ernst wrote. "If they desire to do this on their own they certainly should bring about any action they feel necessary. Certainly in this case, there is every indication that legal action is justified."

A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Ernst, who now lives in Texas, directed questions to BSA and hung up.

Besides the local scout leaders' decision not to contact law enforcement, some parents whose sons had been molested by Menghi may not have been told.

"If any of the parents wanted to know why he is out of scouting and were to ask me, I would have to reveal the fact that their son's name was on the list," Hardwick wrote in 1974.

Now 83 and still active in scouting, Hardwick said Thursday he never contacted some of the parents and never considered going to the police himself.

"As the district executive, I followed the procedure I was supposed to follow," said Hardwick, a retired U.S. Army officer. "I handled it according to my instructions. Today, there's no question the guy would be put in handcuffs. But that wasn't the way it was done in those days. Nobody even wanted to talk about it."

Wood could not be reached for comment.

The current leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, which has hired a public relations firm to handle media questions involving molestation cases, declined to comment on Menghi's case.

Menghi said Wednesday the only reason he stopped molesting boys was because he got caught.

"That's when it really hit me. I knew I needed to quit and get help. Then I blacked it out," he said.

After his problems in Fayetteville, Menghi relocated to Monroe and got married.

In 1987, when his boy grew old enough to become a Cub Scout, Menghi once again tried to volunteer. He was rejected after his name was matched to the Boy Scout's confidential list of sexual predators.

"Experts have found that the BSA's system of ineligible volunteer files functions well to help protect Scouts by denying entry to potentially dangerous individuals," the BSA statement said. "And Scouting believes they play an important role in our comprehensive Youth Protection system."

Still, he managed to keep his past a secret from everyone in his new life for nearly four decades.

"I never talked to anyone in my family about this. Not my wife. Not my son," Menghi said. "I didn't see any reason to dig it up. I made my changes. I felt bad about the past but there was nothing I could do to make up for what happened."

He recognizes the emotional and physical pain he caused and said he would like to apologize to his victims. He conceded that saying he's sorry might not be enough now that his secret file can be read by anyone with an Internet connection.

"I don't know what I'm going to do now," he said. "I just don't want to wake up in jail."

Copyright 2012 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this article. All rights reserved