Lawsuit alleges Bergen Catholic covered up wrestling coaches abuse

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
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NJ Burkett reports on the Bergen Catholic wrestling sexual abuse lawsuit.

ORADELL, New Jersey (WABC) -- A former wrestler has sued a prestigious Catholic high school in New Jersey, claiming school and church officials conspired to cover up sexual and verbal abuse in its nationally recognized wrestling program.

Andrew Miltenberg represents the former student, who accuses Bergen Catholic High School wrestling head coach David Bell and assistant coach Dominick Spataro of sexually harassing the boy and others on the team.

The lawsuit alleges the coaches shared pornographic images with team members, watched wrestlers strip naked and sent athletes inappropriate text messages.

Specifically, Spataro is accused of circulating nude photos of himself to the boy and his teammates.

According to the lawsuit, Bell "stated that the plaintiff was 'shredded.'" He texted and emailed "that he loved him, as well as other highly inappropriate and sexual predatory behavior on a minor child."

The lawsuit also alleges that Bell "inappropriately watched wrestlers change and strip naked in locker rooms."

It also claims school and Archdiocese of Newark officials worked to shield the coaches. When informed of the accusations, administrators at Bergen Catholic, "chose to sweep serious allegations of harassment, intimidation, bullying and even sexual abuse of a minor under the rug," according to the suit.

Bergen Catholic has traditionally had one of the nation's finest wrestling teams. Administrators at the all-male high school deny the allegations.

Brother Brian Walsh, president of the school in Oradell , released the following statement:

"Let's be very clear that the administration has zero tolerance for the actions alleged in this complaint - and consistent with our zero tolerance policy and protocols, despite not having been served the complaint until yesterday, the administration reported these allegations to the Archdiocese of Newark and the Bergen County prosecutor's office when it first learned of them. With that said, the administration believes that this lawsuit is based on allegations that are unfounded, frivolous and untrue. The administration will vigorously defend against these false and baseless allegations in the appropriate arena - and as such, there will be no further comment about these allegations."

School and archdiocese officials say they reported the abuse allegations to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office when they learned about them.

Several members of the team have defended the coaches on social media, and Spataro insists he's being smeared.

"The allegations are false, defamatory and made for an improper purpose," his attorney said. "Mr. Spataro did nothing improper."

"I know David Bell well. He's the nicest person I've met in my entire life," said 21-year-old JP Ascolese, who is now a wrestler at Columbia University.

He came back to Bergen Catholic High School Tuesday night for one reason, to defend his former high school coach David Bell.

"He helped get me recruited to college," said Ascolese.

Some parents are furious at the accuser. Their sons graduated from Bergen Catholic and they all went on to wrestle in college. All of them consider Coach Bell a saint, not a monster

"I bet my house it didn't happen. I know it didn't happen. Coach Bell is not that way. Not that kind of person," said one parent.

"If he really had this happen, he would've called police and not filed a lawsuit," said another parent, Mike Maye. "If it was true, it would have been a crime. He either wants money or it's sour grapes because he could not make the wrestling team."

The student, who is identified in the lawsuit as "John Doe," claims he was cut from the wrestling team after making the allegations and has since transferred out of the school.


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