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September 06, 2005

Sex scandals shock Spokane

September 6, 2005
The Associated Press By Nicholas K. Geranios

SPOKANE -- It's been a year of staggering news for a region that likes to bill itself as a good place to raise a family. The Spokane area seems awash in pedophiles.

Local residents were already reeling from months of revelations about pedophile Catholic priests when a judge ruled last week that individual parishes, parochial schools and other church property may be sold to pay off victims and their lawyers.

This spring, the local newspaper reported that Mayor Jim West used the Internet to seek dates with young men and allegedly molested boys as a sheriff's deputy decades ago.

West assertively denies any wrongdoing.

Then it was revealed that officials at the Morning Star Boys Ranch, a revered local institution, might have tolerated physical and sexual assaults against troubled boys. A lawsuit filed last week contended that, as punishment, some boys in the past were photographed with flowers sticking out of their rectums.

In nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Joseph Edward Duncan III is accused of bludgeoning to death three members of a household as he kidnapped two small children for the purposes of sex. One of those children, 9-year-old Dylan Groene, was killed. His sister, 8-year-old Shasta Groene, was with Duncan when he was arrested in May.

Many residents worry about the effect on the region's children of seeing authority figures such as West and Catholic priests tied to lurid stories and watching repeated images of Duncan on television amid details of kidnapped and slain children.

"Children are not equipped developmentally to handle this kind of information coming at them all the time," said Connie McCleary, director of the Spokane Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Center. "It's hard for everybody, even professionals."

The West revelations were too much for Shannon Sullivan, a single mother with a high school education and no record of civic involvement. With little help, she drafted and pushed a recall proposal past various legal challenges. Locals are now signing on in droves.

"This is a moral issue for me, not a political one," Sullivan said.

The number of pedophiles in the United States is not known, but mental health experts estimate that 4 percent of the population has a sexual orientation toward children, the vast majority of them males. In 1999, 93,000 kids were sexually abused, and 70 percent of the perpetrators were family members.

The widely publicized Spokane cases are somewhat interconnected, involving a group of men in positions of authority in the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts and Spokane County Sheriff's Office in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The key players in this group were former Catholic priest Patrick O'Donnell, deceased sheriff's deputy David Hahn, deceased insurance executive George Robey, and convicted child molester Tim Carlson.

Hahn and West were friends and fellow Spokane County sheriff's deputies. They shared leadership of a Boy Scout troop before Hahn killed himself in 1981 when he was being investigated for child molestation. West has said he never knew Hahn was a pedophile.

O'Donnell, who has repeatedly denied requests for interviews, is named in 52 of the 140 claims of sexual abuse filed against the Spokane Diocese. The diocese has filed for bankruptcy, blaming the lawsuits.

Court documents contend that O'Donnell and Robey were friends who molested boys on their boats on Lake Coeur d'Alene in the 1970s. O'Donnell for the past two decades has been a mental health professional in Bellevue

Robey killed himself in 1982, also amid allegations of pedophilia. For years, a Camp Fire lodge at Camp Sweyolaken near Coeur d'Alene was dedicated to Robey after his family raised money for the building. The plaque was recently removed.

Robey and Carlson were leaders of Scout Troop 353 at Hutton Elementary in a posh neighborhood on Spokane's South Hill.

Robert Brewster, a prominent Spokane real estate developer, was in their Boy Scout troop and went on campouts with them.

"Yes, there were inappropriate things done and talked about," Brewster said, declining to disclose more about the incidents. Brewster has also questioned West's friendships with Carlson, a former roommate, and Hahn, saying those close associations raise troubling concerns about the mayor.

West has denied knowing that Hahn or Carlson were pedophiles.

"I have said before and I repeat again that the allegations that I molested young boys years ago are entirely false," West has said. "I have never had improper contact with a child."

O'Donnell has also been accused of raping a boy at the Morning Star Boys Ranch, which is operated by the Catholic Church.

Last week, Morning Star was sued by two former residents who claim they were sexually abused by counselors. The lawsuit, filed in Spokane County Superior Court, contends that in one incident, two counselors forced several boys to pose for photographs with flowers protruding from their rectums. O'Donnell is not a defendant in that lawsuit.

Morning Star officials issued a statement in which they said: "The ranch has never knowingly allowed or condoned abuse of any kind." The ranch has cared for nearly 1,300 boys since opening in 1956.

Former residents have rushed to the ranch's defense.

"We're here because we think we benefited greatly from Father Joe (Weitensteiner, the director) and from the ranch," said Ray Clary, 49, a Spokane attorney.

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