Three Western New York Scout councils will have to pay into a $425 million pot to settle sex abuse claims, under a bankruptcy reorganization plan proposed by the Boy Scouts of America.
The plan would protect 253 separately incorporated Scout councils across the country from abuse lawsuits. But if it falls apart, some councils, including those in Western New York, might end up pursuing their own Chapter 11 bankruptcies.
Nearly 400 of the 82,500 sex abuse claims filed in the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy allege the abuse happened within Western New York area Scout councils.
The national organization has proposed settling all the claims with $120 million of its own funds, $425 million from the 253 local Scout councils and at least $625 million in insurance. It is not clear from court papers how much each council would pay under the current plan.
Lawsuits over abuse allegations against the national organization and local councils would cease under the Boy Scouts’ reorganization plan.
But the plan hinges on the cooperation of all parties – abuse survivors, insurance providers and local councils, as well as the national organization – and not everyone is on board.
The sides are in mediated negotiations, and if a deal is not reached an alternative plan offered by the national organization would cut local councils out of the deal and leave them to fend for themselves, against lawsuits in state courts or by filing their own Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases.
Both scenarios raise questions about how the Boy Scouts of America reorganization ultimately will affect scouting operations in Western New York, where three councils employ 239 people and own and operate seven camp properties valued at more than $6 million.
One of the biggest draws of area scouting programs is the chance for kids to camp at sites such as Camp Merz, a 350-acre facility on the shores of Lake Chautauqua near Mayville, and Camp Scouthaven, which includes 400 acres on Silver Lake in Freedom.
Councils might be forced to sell or mortgage properties to help pay the proposed national BSA bankruptcy settlement or to resolve lawsuits in state court.
Court papers filed by the Boy Scouts of America last month warned that its alternative plan, which is a backup in case abuse claimants reject the preferred reorganization plan, would lead to local council bankruptcies in states, including New York, that have statute of limitations windows allowing lawsuits in sex abuse cases from many years ago.
The Greater Niagara Frontier Council, which has 6,000 scouts in Erie and Niagara counties, was connected with 258 abuse claims filed with Boy Scouts of America. The Allegheny Highlands Council, which includes Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, was identified in 79 claims. Iroquois Trail Council includes the eastern part of Niagara County, as well Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties. It was named in 61 claims, according to federal court papers.
Hamburg resident Scott Miller is among the 82,500 former scouts who have filed abuse claims with the national organization. He also filed a Child Victims Act lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Erie County, naming the Greater Niagara Frontier Council, the Boy Scouts of America and the United Methodist Church, which sponsored the Scout troop, as defendants.
At least 38 former Scout volunteers have been accused of sexually abusing children in about 60 Child Victims Act lawsuits filed in state courts in Western New York, The News has found.
Miller said what the Scouts have proposed so far shows no real accountability.
“It only adds salt to the wounds,” said Miller. “They just keep trying to manipulate a way to stay viable, and their viability is more important to them than all the lives that were destroyed.”
If litigated, the claims filed in the Boy Scouts bankruptcy would cost an estimated $2.4 billion to $7.1 billion, according to an analysis by an economic consulting firm Bates White. The tort claimants’ committee, which represents abuse survivors, has argued that the claims amount were worth more than $100 billion.
What is on the table so far amounts to $1.1 billion.
Seattle attorney Jason P. Amala said the councils, especially, should be offering much more money if they seek to settle cases.
Collectively, the councils have net assets of $3.3 billion, according to court papers. But Amala said he believes that is a conservative accounting based on book values of properties that are worth far more now than when councils first acquired them.