Bergen Catholic High School officials conspired to cover up sexual and verbal harassment and abuse in its nationally recognized wrestling program that included sharing pornographic images, watching wrestlers strip naked and inappropriate text messages between coaches and athletes, according to a lawsuit filed in state Superior Court in Bergen County.
The 29-page, 12-count lawsuit also alleges that school and Newark Archdiocese officials worked to shield the wrestling coaches from “criminal detection” in a “conspiracy to endanger children.”
A former wrestler and his parents allege that the school’s president, Brother Brian Walsh, threw him off the team after he complained of abuse during this past wrestling season, according to the suit. The complaint alleges that the school did only a cursory investigation and never contacted authorities.
However, Newark Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness said on Monday that the Oradell-based school notified the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. He couldn’t say when the notification was made.
The complaint alleges the school’s head wrestling coach, David Bell, made inappropriate comments to the wrestler telling him he was “shredded,” an apparent reference to his muscular build, and “texted and emailed Plaintiff that he loved him, as well as other highly inappropriate and sexual predatory behavior on a minor child.”
In December, an assistant coach, Dominick “Donnie” Spataro showed “pornographic and nude photographs of himself and others on his mobile photo to Plaintiff and other minor wrestlers,” according to the suit.
The wrestlers allegedly told administrators that a former assistant Bergen Catholic wrestling coach who had been “let go for bullying and other violations,” was allowed to be back in the wrestling room.
The complaint was filed on behalf of one former wrestler and up to 100 other unnamed victims.
Walsh, the school’s president, issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.
“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 today, the administration reported these allegations to the Archdiocese of Newark and the Bergen County prosecutor’s office when it first learned of them,” said Walsh, through the school’s appointed attorney, Steve Mangione.
“With that said, the administration believes that this lawsuit is based on allegations that are unfounded, frivolous and untrue,” Mangione said. “The administration will vigorously defend against these false and baseless allegations.”
Bell’s lawyer, Sean Pena, sent a letter to The Record and NorthJersey.com on April 6 threatening to take legal action if a story about the lawsuit was published.
On Monday, he sent a statement saying that the lawsuit was baseless and filed on behalf of a student-athlete who fell short of expectations as a wrestler.
“When people fall short far too often rather than taking accountability for their own shortcomings, they look to strike a blow at anyone they perceive is the reason for their failure,” Pena wrote. “This is not the first time Coach Bell has been baselessly attacked and regrettably it’s unlikely to be the last.”
An attorney for Spataro, Patrick Jennings, also threatened legal action against The Record and NorthJersey.com and said that the allegations are “false, defamatory and made for an improper purpose.” He did not elaborate.