Scoutmaster who admitted abusing kids worked in Charlotte church daycare

Charlotte ObserverOctober 26, 2012 

Monroe — A former Scoutmaster who admitted this week to molesting numerous Boy Scouts in the Fayetteville area nearly four decades ago worked for years in the preschool center at Charlotte’s Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church, the senior minister there said Friday.

The Rev. Rush Otey said Joseph Menghi Jr., 69, who now lives in Monroe, was employed for more than eight years at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian’s Child Development Center.

Menghi worked mostly as an office worker, Otey said, but occasionally substituted for teachers who were out.

Otey said there were never any reports of problems with Menghi, who told the Associated Press this week that he molested Scouts in the 1970s while leading Troop 786 in the Fayetteville area.

“At no time during Mr. Menghi’s employment were there hints, suspicions, observations, or allegations of any inappropriate conduct related to sexual abuse, molestation, or neglect duties,” Otey said in a letter to the preschool’s parents.

He said Menghi was laid off in March 2011, along with several other employees, when their positions were eliminated so an assistant director’s position could be created.

“His departure was not in any way related to misconduct or suspicions or allegations thereof,” Otey said.

“He was well-liked,” the minister told the Observer. “There was never a negative report regarding his behavior.”

The senior minister said church officials never became aware of Menghi’s activities with young Scouts until the Observer published an Associated Press story about it Friday.

In that story, Menghi said he previously confessed in January 1974, when confronted in a private meeting by other Scout leaders about his sexual abuse of up to 10 boys. He was barred from scouting functions and pledged to seek help from a psychiatrist and a preacher.

But Menghi’s crimes were never reported to the police or to parents of some of the boys who were abused.

That meant Menghi had no criminal background, and officials at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church say the former Scoutmaster passed a background check conducted before he was hired.

“There was nothing in his record,” Otey said. “He cleared every criminal records check by the (daycare) and the state of North Carolina, and every other reference check.”

Selwyn Presbyterian is home to Boy Scout Troop 99, but Boy Scouts officials in Union and Mecklenburg counties have said there is no record of Menghi serving as a volunteer with any of their troops.

Menghi told the Associated Press he moved to Monroe, got married, and eventually had a son. He said he tried to become a Cub Scout volunteer in 1987, when his son was old enough for scouting, but was rejected because of his molestation admission in 1974.

Secret records about Menghi were among 14,500 pages of “perversion files” compiled by the Boy Scouts of America between 1959 and 1985 and made public last week under court order.

Thousands more cases since 1985 remain secret.

The secret files contain a February 1988 application from Menghi, when he tried to become active with the Union-area council. In the space where the form asked him to disclose any previous scouting background, he wrote “N/A.”

An Associated Press reporter asked Menghi about his full work history during the Wednesday interview. But Menghi never mentioned his work at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian’s child development center.

Instead, he said he had worked a variety of odd jobs, including a stretch at Scott Aviation in Monroe.

In the interview with the Associated Press, Menghi said the molestation incidents happened after he had been drinking. He said it came to light when the sister of two Scouts overheard the brothers talking about something that had happened while they were with Menghi in a hotel room. Lillian Dickson, of Monroe, said her infant son was enrolled in the Selwyn Avenue preschool in 2002 and 2003, when Menghi worked there.

Menghi struck her as quiet, friendly and gentle, she said, and there was never an indication that he behaved improperly with children.

“But I remember thinking, ‘Isn’t that a little odd for a grown man to want to work in the infant room,’ ” she said.

She said she wished police had been alerted when it became clear decades ago that Menghi had molested children.

“It’s so disturbing that people were shoving things under the rug because these things can continue to happen,” she said. “ … He was very nice.

But looking back, it’s a little unsettling to know that he might have had the opportunity to take advantage of children.”

Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian officials say they have received no complaints about Menghi’s actions at the child center, but if they do, they will ask for a police investigation.

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokeswoman said her department has not received any requests for an investigation into Menghi’s activities in Charlotte. Police and prosecutors in the Fayetteville area have said they are reviewing Menghi’s case.

Otey said that since charges were not filed against Menghi by the Boy Scouts in the 1970s, Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian was unaware of what had happened.

He noted that if the information had been made available to all Boy Scout troops, someone with Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian’s troop might have known.

“For us, there really wasn’t any way of knowing,” he said.

Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian’s Child Development Center has a five-star rating, the best possible, from the State of North Carolina. It provides care and classes for children from age 6 weeks through 5 years.

Otey said all prospective employees are given criminal background checks and other reference checks, and he said the criminal checks are repeated regularly. In addition, all employees must complete training on child protection policies and sign a statement that reads, “I have not been convicted of a child or youth sexual or physical abuse crime. I am not currently involved in any allegation of abuse of a child or youth.”

The church’s Child Development Center does not have video cameras, but Otey said the center requires that all doors are kept open.

“No employee or volunteer is to be alone with a child,” he said.

Several parents of children at the center have called the Observer expressing concern in the wake of Menghi’s confession.

Otey said church officials realize parents of children who were enrolled at the center are feeling “anxiety, stress, disappointment, anger and fear” after hearing the report.

Otey said he received about 20 phone calls early Friday, including many from “parents wondering if their child had been harmed. We're hoping that they will ask their child about any person that's been acting inappropriately toward them.”

“I'm surprised and sad. I'm praying for all the children,” he said.

On Friday, no one answered the door at Menghi's home, a squat white house near the CMC-Union hospital near downtown Monroe. The home was decorated for Halloween – tombstones in the front yard, a ghost hanging on the porch and fake blood on the front doors spelling the words "keep out."

A note on the mailbox directed visitors to call a lawyer at the Kiger law firm, though a woman who answered the phone at that number said she wasn't representing Menghi.

A neighbor who didn't want to give his name said Menghi was a good neighbor. "As far as I'm converned, he's about as good a neighbor as you could want."

(Staff Writers Cleve Wootson, Ames Alexander and Associated Press writer Mitch Weiss contributed. )

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