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A Margate, N.J. lawyer who has made a practice of suing Roman Catholic priests for child sexual abuse is taking on a new ecclesiastical target: the Mormons. On July 26, Stephen Rubino filed a federal suit in Newark on behalf of David Ames, who alleges he was abused as a teenager by a volunteer youth leader at a Mormon congregation in Ledgewood. The counselor, William Hanson, pleaded guilty in 2001 to multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse of Ames and another boy and is serving a 15- to 30-year sentence at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel. The civil suit, Ames v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, No. 06-3441, charges the church with a failure to take appropriate action to supervise Hanson or to isolate him from activities with youth, even after he had been found guilty of sex offenses in Utah and Wisconsin. Rubino’s co-counsel, Timothy Kosnoff of Seattle, who has handled about 15 sexual abuse cases against the Mormon Church there, says there is a widespread incidence of child sexual abuse in the church. “The [Mormon] church has even a worse problem than the Catholic Church with child abuse,” says Kosnoff, citing the Mormons’ “insular, defensive” nature and the influence of the traditional Mormon doctrine of polygamy. While officially renounced by the church, polygamy still persists. Some Mormons have taken brides as young as 12, which Kosnoff says gives the church a “historical, cultural tolerance of men having sex with children.” The church vigorously disputes that characterization and says it has a zero-tolerance policy toward abusers, which calls for members who suspect abuse to contact the authorities first and their local bishop second. In one of Kosnoff’s cases, a Seattle jury awarded $4.2 million last November to two sisters, now 24 and 19, who claimed a church bishop failed to act on a report by one of the girls that their stepfather, a priest, was molesting them in the 1990s. The suit says that Hanson, now 44, had a checkered history with the Mormon church, which he served as a youth leader in congregations – or “wards” – in Utah, Texas, Wisconsin, Virginia and Indiana. In 1987, in Provo, Utah, Hanson was charged with multiple counts of attempted forcible sodomy and aggravated sexual abuse of three Boy Scouts. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of lewdness involving a child. A Mormon bishop argued for leniency, saying Hanson was not a pedophile but had only shown bad judgment. He was sentenced to probation and counseling. Rather than complete the counseling, Hanson moved to Dallas in 1988 and joined a Mormon ward there. The bishop from Provo notified Hanson’s new ward about his criminal history, but the Dallas ward still put him in positions working with children, the complaint says. In 1989, Hanson moved to West Lafayette, Ind., joining a local Mormon ward and becoming a youth leader. He subsequently lived in Reston, Va.; Beaumont, Texas; and Waukesha, Wis. In each place, he joined a local Mormon ward and took youth leader positions, the complaint says. In 1998, he moved to New Jersey, joined the Ledgewood congregation and began serving as a youth leader and Boy Scout leader. In that capacity, he met Ames, then 12, who joined him on a variety of vacations and camping trips. Ames’ father was disabled and clinically depressed, says Kosnoff, and Hanson saw himself as the boy’s surrogate father. When Ames’ parents divorced, he began to have behavioral and academic problems. He went to live with his father in Maine and told him he was abused by Hanson, and the father contacted the police, says Kosnoff. The Mormons’ attorney, Alan Kraus of Latham & Watkins in Newark, issued a statement in response to questions about the suit: “The disturbing and tragic case of William Scott Hanson is complicated and difficult to unravel. He moved frequently and was apparently able to conceal his behavior. “Hanson was never a clergyman in the church but did work with youth on and off between 1986 and 2000. As far as the church can ascertain, local leaders in the areas where Hanson resided had no knowledge of any misconduct with children. Allegations that the church knowingly put children at risk are baseless. “When New Jersey church leaders learned of Hanson’s improper conduct they took swift action. Hanson was excommunicated from the church, the highest form of church discipline. “Our hearts go out to victims of abuse and their families. The church has established a number of programs to assist its local leaders in preventing abuse whenever possible and caring for victims. The church regards children among the greatest gifts of God. It condemns abuse in any form and extends its heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families.” Plaintiffs’ lawyer Rubino, who has handled more than 300 clergy abuse cases against the Catholic Church, participated in the negotiation of a $100 million settlement in 2004 from the Diocese of Orange in Orange, Calif., on behalf of 87 abuse victims. In 2003, he won an $880,000 settlement from the Diocese of Camden on behalf of 23 plaintiffs. In 2002, he consulted on a Canadian case in which 82 men received a total of $21.5 million for sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a teacher in territorial schools.

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