NEW YORK – Revelations about the sexual abuse of students at the St. Demetrios Jamaica Day School between the late 1970s and early 1990s reported last week in the National Herald that struck the community like a bolt of lightning are now gaining momentum, as evidenced by the number of lawsuits filed by former students that are arriving the offices of the parish and the Archdiocese of America.
It was initially reported that the lawsuit filed by Lambros Lambrou of the Lambrou Law Firm, P.C. alleged that five former students of St. Demetrios were targeted by the former assistant principal and science and gym teacher Laurence Svrcek.
The case received more publicity through the press release issued by the law firm regarding the five suits it filed, which, however, are not the only ones.
The initially reported lawsuits’ defendants included the community of St. Demetrios of Jamaica, as well as the Archdiocese of America as they allegedly remained inactive, given that it is claimed that the described tendencies of Svrcek were, more or less, “an open secret."
The Archdiocese of America issued the following statement on the matter:
“In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America we take allegations of sexual abuse of children very seriously. We have in place robust long-standing policies to investigate, prevent against and remedy such abuse in addition to a rigorous background check process for all parish youth workers and volunteers. We have recently received complaints in which plaintiffs allege that at various times in the 1970's and 1980's they were sexually abused by a man named Lawrence Svcek, a lay person who was apparently employed as a teacher by the Saint Demetrios Day School in Jamaica, New York. The Archdiocese has not entered an appearance in the litigation, nor have we formally responded to the complaints. Until then, it would be premature to comment on the specific allegations at this point.”
LAWSUITS NOW TOTAL 14 AND COUNTING
According to an article in the National Herald’s weekend edition, 14 lawsuits had been sent to St. Demetrios according to the President of the Parish Council Konstantinos Doukas, who is in constant contact with the parish’s lawyers in order to determine the next steps.
As it turns out, the first lawsuit was filed in October 2019 on behalf of a former student with the initials N.P. and it bears the signature of another Greek-American attorney, Christina Georgiou. The plaintiffs are Svrcek, a once-famous Gymnast,
the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, the Archdiocese of America, the Boy Scouts of America and The Boy Scouts of America – Greater New York Councils.
The lawsuit alleges that N.P. was sexually abused by Svrcek during the five years from 1978-1982, when the accused was serving the school as a gym and science teacher. At the time he was also directly involved with camping activities. Svrcek was also N.P.’s Scoutmaster at Boy Scout Troop 346.
The suit alleges: "Lawrence Svrcek developed an inappropriate relationship with the plaintiff, N.P., inducing Plaintiff as a very young child to look up to him and place absolute trust and confidence in him. Lawrence Svrcek then abused that trust and confidence by sexually molesting N.P. From 1978-1982. Lawrence Svrcek engaged in this explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct with N.P. when N.P. was a minor child … meeting with him outside the supervision of other adults … Lawrence Svrcek abused N.P.’s trust and used such meetings as opportunities to rape and otherwise molest N.P.”
In addition, at another point in the filing, it is emphasized that Svrcek's heinous acts against the underage student had been committed, apart from the school premises, on Church premises, a charge that raises serious questions.
According to articles at the time in the archives of the National Herald, the school of St. Demetrios in Jamaica had hundreds of students in its classrooms at the time of the complaints. In fact, in an interview in 1984 given by the then-Principal, Minas Kazepis, (who passed away last April, at the age of 93) and which is during the time period of some of the lawsuits that have already been filed, 380 students attended a total of 12 classes. It is recalled that this school was closed a few years ago and the current president of the Parish Council told the NH that few members of the past councils who could give answers as to whether they had received complaints, are still alive.
"We are trying to find out more. We are having great difficulty, as a large number of people involved in the Community in those years have died. From the Council we spoke with two people who are alive and knew nothing … I tell you again, of course, that the Church did not have direct supervision" of the school, said Doukas.
New revelations are coming to light about the circumstances under which students of the St. Demetrios school allegedly experienced sexual abuse with Svrcek, as the perpetrator.
The law suit of complainant N.P raises additional questions about how the issue was handled by the then-leaders of the community and the school.
According to Georgiou, her client, who is now about 50 years old and allegedly experienced the abuse from 1978 to 1982, claims to have reported Svrcek’s behavior, as did his classmates, but there was no response or even interest in what they said.
"My client was a student of St. Demetrios and had been abused by Lawrence Svrcek for years. This happened to several students and everyone complained. They protested to members of the Board, the Church, as well as to other officials from the school and also the camp of which Svrcek was in charge. They did nothing. On the contrary, the school gave him a promotion," says Georgiou. She added that both her client and other students at the time who had been abused by Svrcek developed psychological issues, which followed them into later life.
The Lambrou Law Firm is in contact with other possible victims, so the list of plaintiffs may grow. It is estimated that these are people whose age today ranges from 35 to 50 years, based on the dates they had attended the St. Demetrios school.
Lambrou told the National Herald that the case file has already reached prosecutors and that there may be a possible criminal investigation of the case in the near future, as some of the reported crimes are not affected by statutes of limitations according to legislation currently in force.
KNOWN PEDERAST ALSO AT ST. DEMETRIOS
The lawsuit filed by Georgiou on behalf of N.P. contains one more piece of evidence that demonstrates, at the very least, that quality control regarding the school’s teachers was flawed.
According to the lawsuit, Lawrence Svrcek hired for the school a teacher working under a pseudonym – as it turned out – Brian Hughes, who left unannounced after a few months.
According to local documents and publications, ‘Brian Hughes’ was one of the nicknames used by the notorious pedophile Gerald Paul Esposito, who, according to an Associated Press report at the time, was arrested in California a few months after his unexplained departure from St. Demetrios of Jamaica.
Esposito had a history of appearing at various schools, with complaints accompanying him, while a confidential document released by Boy Scouts of America included him in a list of 52 former scout leaders who had been accused of sexually abusing minors.
To escape from the charges of sexual abuse, Esposito took advantage of the limitations of the regulations of the time, using various names, false dates of birth, and other details in order to enter educational institutions and come into contact with young children.
As mentioned above, the lawsuit alleges that Esposito, who presented himself as ‘Brian Hughes’ and was hired by St. Demetrios at the suggestion of Svrcek, took similar action against the children.
According to Georgiou, Esposito has passed away, possibly dying in prison.