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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Victoria Bekiempis

Boy Scouts will sell Norman Rockwell paintings to fund sexual abuse claim payments

The Boy Scouts of America potentially faces having to make hundreds of millions dollars in settlement payments.
The Boy Scouts of America potentially faces having to make hundreds of millions dollars in settlement payments. Photograph: Tony Gutierrez/AP

The Boy Scouts of America has said it will establish a victims’ fund of at least $300m, to deal with payments arising from lawsuits over sexual abuse and funded in part by selling its portfolio of Norman Rockwell paintings.

More than 85,000 former scouts have made legal claims against the 111-year-old organization about alleged sexual abuse by leaders, according to reports.

The pledge was part of a 379-page reorganization proposal filed in federal court in Delaware on Monday, arising from a filing for bankruptcy protection in February last year.

States including California and New York have enabled more claimants to file lawsuits in recent years, meaning the Boy Scouts potentially faces having to make hundreds of millions dollars in settlement payments.

The reorganization plan did not indicate how much the Boy Scouts was willing to pay victims. The national organization had more than $1bn in assets when it sought bankruptcy. Local Boy Scouts councils possessed billions more, the Los Angeles Times reported.

More than 50 Rockwell oil paintings are among hundreds of artworks whose sale could contribute to the victims’ compensation fund. Proceeds from the Boy Scouts’ “oil and gas interests” would also contribute, according to court documents. Attorneys for accusers will probably oppose the proposal, as it leaves out valuable real estate holdings.

Paul Mones, an attorney who secured a $20m judgment against the organization and now represents “hundreds of accusers in the bankruptcy”, criticized this proposal as “really disgraceful”.

“Considering the enormity of the problem, are they taking care of survivors as they should? I don’t think so,” Mones told the LA Times.

Because so many accusers have stepped forward, plaintiffs’ attorneys believe the number of claims against the Boy Scouts, as well as total settlements, will exceed those faced by the Catholic church in the US in sexual abuse cases.

Bankruptcy proceedings have put “hundreds” of lawsuits on hold, however, in the event that a mass settlement might be negotiated. The bankruptcy proceedings reportedly required that new abuse allegations would be handled in that court, rather than state jurisdictions.

Local Boy Scouts councils’ contributions to the fund have prompted criticism. Such contributions would remain voluntary and the court filing did not outline specific payments.

“It appears very clear the Boy Scouts are trying to conceal the fact that these councils are not paying a fair amount, and worse, they are trying to force abuse survivors to give up their claims for close to nothing,” attorney Michael Pfau told the LA Times.

Asked for comment, the Boy Scouts said in an emailed statement: “The plan demonstrates that considerable progress has been made as we continue to work with all parties toward achieving our strategy to provide equitable compensation for victims and address our other financial obligations so that we can continue to serve youth for years to come.

“There are still many aspects of the plan that we are refining through ongoing mediation, but the amended plan is an important step in demonstrating progress that we believe will ultimately lead to a final plan that the bankruptcy court will confirm.

“In the coming months, supplements to the plan will include a more detailed breakdown of the process to compensate survivors and more details about how local councils will support this effort.”

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