Gone are the days when the Boy Scouts' only tool to weed out sex offenders was a massive set of "perversion files," an area Scout leader said Friday. But the files remain, with at least four local men appearing in 14,500 pages that stretch back to the 1950s.
The reams of documents, released online this week after an Oregon court ruling, detail accusations against men suspected or, in many cases, convicted of sex crimes against children. They comprise much of the Boy Scouts' "ineligible" list, a system still in use, Laurel Highlands Council Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said.
There are at least 76 accused people from Pennsylvania on the list.
Many of those named in the "perversion files" released on Thursday committed their alleged crimes decades ago, although some - including a Cambria County native and onetime Cresson elementary teacher in 1970 - never faced charges, purportedly to spare victims an "ordeal in court," according to the documents.
"I've put that behind me," said one former Blair County Scout leader, whose name was added to the list after a Mifflin County child-abuse conviction in the 1980s.
"I've straightened myself out," he told a reporter Friday.
Two other Blair County men were added after sex-crime convictions in the 1960s; both were in their 20s when Scouting officials placed their names on the "perversion list." One, a former Marine, had been an active Boy Scout as a young man, according to news articles at the time.
The list may have both helped and hindered children's safety, analysis has shown: In some cases, like the Cresson teacher's, Scout leaders were merely booted from the organization without charges being filed.
"Possibly going to Connecticut," his 1969 file ends abruptly, after describing his alleged sex acts with a series of young boys.
Still, the Boy Scouts were ahead of their time in actively identifying and removing suspected child molesters, Surbaugh said. At a time when other youth-based groups didn't use a clear system to weed out criminals, the Scouts checked national crime databases, he said.
The confidential lists served as a makeshift criminal database in the decades before law-enforcement authorities kept detailed, easily accessible lists.
And where such powerful organizations as the Roman Catholic Church have faced accusations of hiding, moving and reassigning sex criminals, the Scouts rarely have reason to transfer any officers, criminal or otherwise.
"They are volunteers - they're not in our employ," Surbaugh said. "We don't move people place-to-place to try to hide behavior."
In addition to frequent background checks, a two-adults-in-a-room rule and abuse-identification training, the Boy Scouts continue to keep lists of ineligible volunteers, he said. They reportedly include pardoned offenders and, in many cases, those merely suspected of impropriety.
"When we find information that a person should not be a leader ... they're prevented from doing so," Surbaugh said.
He said frequent movement is a common part of serial molesters' modus operandi - as a result, some mobile offenders can fall through the cracks of national crime databases. The Scouts' lists help seal those cracks, he said.
In fact, a mere allegation is often enough to get a Scout leader's name on the list. As soon as charges are filed, Surbaugh said, the volunteer is forbidden to participate in the program. Those later found innocent can ask to be removed from the list, he said.
When the Scouts first required intensive background checks, which required personal information and Social Security numbers, many applicants were taken aback, Surbaugh said.
"Now ... everybody does it," he said. "People would expect us to do a background check."