Deep In The Heart Of Michigan: A Safe Haven For Priests Accused Of Sexual Misconduct

A recent report provided by the Associated Press has found that there is a non-profit organization named “Opus Bono Sacerdotti” that has been providing assistance quietly to priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct. This non-profit, which is located in Michigan, hides certain priests from public view who have been accused of sexual misconduct and pays for their livelihoods after being terminated from their priesthood positions. One of the co-founders, Joe Maher, who had been one of the group’s biggest spokesman over the years, has been forced to step down from his presidential role in the organization due to his violations of Michigan’s charity law.

The investigation began when Maher’s daughter, Mary Rose, wrote a letter to Michigan’s state attorney office accusing Opus of financial misconduct. She alleged within the letter that, “A simple investigation into the Michigan non-profit charity Opus Bono Sacerdotii would bring to light the millions of embezzled dollars, years of mail fraud, and the constant systemic abuse of donations.”

However, testimony from a former board member, J. Michael Carrigan, stated,

“…whatever the co-founders paid themselves was only to reimburse the tens of thousands of dollars they spent out of their own pockets supporting priests in Opus Bono’s early days.”

Even so, the investigation into Opus has resulted in finding that the leaders of the organization used the donated funds to pay for managing member’s lunches, and other personal expenses in violation of Michigan’s charity law. The violation of Michigan’s charity law has prompted the Michigan Attorney General’s office to force the now former-president and former-treasurer, Joe Maher and Peter Ferrara, to resign from their posts, and barred Maher from being involved in another non-profit in Michigan again.

However, recently Joe Maher has created another organization under the name Men of Melchizedek, which is registered in Indiana, but its website says its principal office is located in Michigan. The new organization lists Joe Maher as its current president. It is still unclear if this organization violates the settlement made by Michigan’s State Attorney’s office for Joe Maher.

The Opus organization still exists, the group’s board has been entirely replaced, and the new board has named an attorney, John Smith, as its new president. After the fallout of this investigation, Opus’s new board has declared that it is “refocusing” its mission back to conducting retreats for removed priests.

The Michigan attorney’s office will likely monitor the Opus organization, and its new leadership to ensure Michigan’s charity law is not violated again by the organization. If you or someone you know may have suffered sexual abuse by a Church Priest, Pastor, Minister, Clergy Member, Employer, or person of authority, do not stand alone. Please fill out the form or call us at (888) 869-8100. Our firm offers free consultations to help you access compensation and help with your recovery.



Can Roundup Affect Its Users For Generations To Come?

Recently, scientists have discovered that glyphosate, the active chemical in RoundUp, can cause multi-generational harmful effects including an increased risk of kidney disease and birth anomalies. The study, published in April of this year, found that glyphosate modifies a person’s genes after direct exposure and that the modification can be passed down to future generations. Thus, a grandparent’s exposure to RoundUp could eventually cause a grandchild to suffer from prostate cancer, early puberty, or obesity, as found in the study when performed on rats. The study concluded that while the toxic risk for direct exposure is low, the risk for future generations is much higher.

The awareness of the toxic impact of glyphosate is expected to increase after the influx of jury verdicts that have found that the glyphosate in RoundUp is responsible for plaintiffs’ cancer. With juries awarding plaintiffs up to $2 billion in damages, more studies may be conducted to understand the indirect and direct consequences of RoundUp exposure.

RoundUp was created by Monsanto Company, who merged with Bayer last year, in order to control weeds in residential and public areas. However, glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, has been classified as carcinogenic. While Bayer and Monsanto dispute that the chemical is linked to cancer, there are reports that the companies have a mission to discredit any journalists or scientists who point to a connection between glyphosate and cancer.

For example, journalist Carey Gillam was targeted by the investigative branch of Monsanto in order to minimize the impact of his book titled “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.”  Further, juries were convinced of a connection when they were shown documents that revealed that Monsanto has campaigned to quash any studies that have found glyphosate exposure to lead to cancer. As the recent study shows, future generations may be impacted by Monsanto and Bayer’s decision to keep this product on the market.

If you have been in direct contact with RoundUp, please reach out to the experienced attorneys at Forester Haynie.

 

 

 

New York Child Victims Act Opens The Door For Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors To Come Forward

Beginning on August 14, New Yorkers who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse will have a one-year window of opportunity to file civil suits against their abusers, under the terms of the Child Victims Act, passed by the New York State legislature earlier this year. Thousands of cases are expected to be filed, with payouts potentially in the millions.

Experts have said that for plaintiffs, the chances of winning a CVA settlement are good. “There’s not a lot of downside risk in these cases,” said Church Mutual’s Hancock. “Institutions usually settle.” In part, that’s because the absence of physical evidence is less important than a victim’s testimony.

Gordon Smith, was 14 years old when he says he was first abused by two priests at a St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and school in Albany in the early 1960s. He was filling in as a janitor for his father, who was sick. He says the abuse continued, on a weekly basis, for three years. “It was about as horrific as it could get,” said Smith, in an interview with public radio and TV. One of the priests that Smith is accusing, Father Donald Starks, appears on a list kept by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese of priests with “credible” accusations against them. Starks died in 1989. He says the priests threatened him. “They told me, if I ever said a word, first of all no one would believe me,” Smith said. “Then they also said that they would make sure my father never worked again and would ruin my family.”  For decades he told no one. Smith drank for years until he says he got married and straightened out. He first sought help in 2005 and asked the church to pay for his therapy. They paid for one session, then called and said they did not believe him.

Smith is preparing to file his lawsuit against the church on August 14. Under the previous statute of limitation laws, he would have had to file charges when he was in his 20s. With the one-year window provided by the new law, anyone who was abused can initiate civil court action. Smith’s attorney, Jennifer Freeman, says The Marsh Law Firm, where she is a senior counsel, has 515 cases lined up and ready to be filed in civil courts in New York on August 14. “This is landmark legislation,” said Freeman. New York went from being one of the worst states in which to seek recourse for childhood sexual abuse, to being one of the best, according to Freeman. The Catholic Church in New York has for years lobbied against the Child Victims Act, however, they have dropped their opposition earlier this year. The Diocese is not disputing or fighting any of the accusations. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Albany Diocese, in a videotaped message about the upcoming civil cases, says he supports the victims in seeking “justice and healing.” “There’s no place in our family of faith for abusers to act out, regardless of their status, or to hide from their crimes,” said Scharfenberger. “Nor should anyone fear calling them out, past or present.”

If you or someone you know has experienced abuse at the hands of a member of the clergy, please reach out to the experienced attorneys at Forester Haynie.

 



Pending FLSA Case Against Pizza Hut of San Antonio

In 2018 Forester Haynie filed a Federal lawsuit against Pizza Hut of San Antonio and its owner. The lawsuit was styled Autry v. Pizza Hut of San Antonio. Following a class notice period, Forester Haynie filed numerous consent forms on behalf of about 200 current and former delivery drivers. The case alleges that pizza delivery drivers working for Pizza Hut of San Antonio are paid below the federal minimum wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that instead of reimbursing delivery drivers for the costs of using their personal vehicles, the pizza franchises use a flawed method to determine reimbursement for delivery drivers’ mileage. These rates fall below any reasonable estimate of the expenses the drivers incur, causing their wages to fall below the federal minimum wage.

Recently, FH has discovered that employees at numerous stores were also required to work “off-the-clock” meaning that they were either required to clock out and continue to working or were not paid for all their time. FH has recently filed a separate lawsuit in federal court for these violations and continues to investigate whether this practice is also companywide.

If you have ever been an employee at one of the many stores owned by Pizza Hut of San Antonio and would like more information or to participate in the investigation, follow the link below.

Willful Negligence? A Look At One Southern Baptist Church’s Handling Of Alleged Child Sexual Abuse

In what is perhaps the most high-profile current lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, a woman (who we will refer to as Jane Doe) alleges that she was sexually abused as a child by a pastor of the Village Church based in Flower Mound, Texas, and is currently suing the church for more than $1 million in damages. Her suit also alleging gross negligence on the part of the SBC.

The suit alleges that the church was “willfully negligent” in its failure to protect a child in its care from being sexually assaulted. It also states that the church is liable for the actions of the pastor, who was removed from the staff last year. Ms. Doe is seeking damages after she says the abuse caused emotional distress, including an ongoing struggle with depression.

Matthew Tonne, the former children’s minister, was indicted by a grand jury in November and arrested in January on charges of sexually molesting Ms. Bragg’s daughter in 2012 when she was only 11 years old. Mr. Tonne, whose lawyer has said his client had been falsely accused, faces a forthcoming criminal trial.

The family of Jane Doe has said the Village has failed to provide them with sufficient answers and support since they told church leaders about the abuse in February 2018. The Village has “not yet to date demonstrated a good faith desire to resolve this,” said Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer representing Ms. Doe, who is now 18. “We have provided ample opportunity and ample time for that. We have hit a brick wall, and at that point in time we had to make the difficult but necessary decision to press forward to filing the lawsuit.”

The suit states Mr. Tonne was able to access and abuse the plaintiff at a Village summer camp for children because her cabin was also the location for some adult staff meetings. Both male and female adults were present at these meetings, in violation of the church’s own policies about people of the opposite sex in children’s cabins, the suit states. On the night of the alleged assault, the suit states that Mr. Tonne met with other adults right outside Ms. Doe’s room, giving him the opportunity to enter her room and sexually violate her. The suit also alleges that the church was not forthcoming to Ms. Doe and the congregation about the reason Mr. Tonne was removed from its staff last year.

The Village has stated repeatedly that Mr. Tonne was removed for alcohol abuse, rather than because of the criminal investigation into whether he had sexually abused a child. When church officials decided to remove him, Mr. Chandler told congregants last month, “we had not been informed that he was the accused.” However, the lawsuit states that the Braggs had told a Village staff member by then that Mr. Tonne was a suspect.

The suit alleges that the church has not taken “independent efforts to ascertain whether Tonne abused any other children under its care and supervision.” The Village has not stated publicly if it has conducted an independent investigation.

When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Alabama last month, the denomination created a committee to evaluate allegations against churches accused of mishandling abuse. The Southern Baptist Convention’s top leaders, who promised last month to fix the way churches address sexual abuse, have not commented on the Braggs’ case.

Since 1987, the State of Texas protects churches and other charitable organizations from damages in lawsuits by capping their maximum liability at $500,000. However, the limit does not apply to acts that are “intentional, willfully negligent, or done with conscious indifference or reckless disregard for the safety of others.” The lawsuit alleges that the damage cap does not apply because the church was “willfully negligent” in its failure to protect a child in its care from being sexually assaulted.

If you or someone you know has experienced abuse from a member of the clergy, please reach out to the experienced attorneys at Forester Haynie.