Within months, he was accused of sexually abusing two boys on a camping trip. The Providence Journal asked the local Scouts council why it hadn’t done a background check.
“We just don’t,” a top official said. “I don’t know why. It’s just the procedure of the Boy Scouts of America.”
Scouting is a vast, decentralized organization — with 2.7 million youths and 1 million volunteers under the watch of about 3,800 paid supervisors.
It is up to chartering organizations that operate Scouting units — church groups, community centers and schools — to select and screen volunteers. Historically, they have received only general guidance from headquarters.
“In my opinion, it is the responsibility of parents to know who their leaders are and to know where their kids are,” a Scouting spokesman explained after learning in 1987 that a Canyon Country Scout leader had allegedly abused 11 boys.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Scouts’ application for volunteers asked about character references and criminal histories.
“We’ve gotten extremely tough in selecting leaders,” Louisiana Scouting official Carlos del Hierro said in 1989. “We can’t pussyfoot around on this.”
Dozens of applicants with criminal histories simply lied on the form, the files show.
When Michael Flavin applied to be a scoutmaster in Pennsylvania in early 1989, he circled “no” on the criminal history question.
But officials were suspicious, and in one of the rare instances in which they decided to do a criminal check, it proved worthwhile: Flavin was wanted in Arkansas on a 1987 child molestation.
Arrested with 23 pictures of naked children in his pocket, Flavin was ultimately charged with molesting eight children and convicted of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse.
In some cases, convicted abusers were identified only by chance. In 1989, Scouting officials learned that a man who had been a scoutmaster in Hercules, Calif., for four years was a registered sex offender — only because he had confided his sexual interest in Scouts to an off-duty police officer.