The Boy Scouts of America kept secret sex abuse files hidden for decades

For decades, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) kept secret files of accused pedophiles, a process meant to identify and ban molesters from working with children.

But, an ABC15 Investigation found that didn't always happen.

The BSA tracked thousands of allegations from around the country, involving scout masters molesting boy scouts. But our investigation discovered, few cases were reported to authorities.

Years of Abuse

One of the cases involved Matt Stewart.

Stewart said a scout leader molested him from the time he was seven until he turned 18.

"He molested me every week of every month. As a small child, it destroys your soul," Stewart said.

"I'll never forget his bright lights shining from his car through the window, and he would knock on the door."

Stewart never told anyone about the molestation. Not even his parents.

"He would molest me in the basement of my parents' house while my parents were upstairs," Stewart said.

Stewart also claims the BSA knew about his scout master, Bruce Phelps.

Phelps was never charged with a crime. The statute of limitations expired.

When Stewart decided to tell his story, he hired attorney Tim Kosnoff.

"I think the amount of abuse in the Boy Scouts of America dwarfs that which we've seen in the Catholic Church," said Kosnoff.

Stewart sued the BSA, and in court documents, Phelps admitted molesting scouts more than100 times.

Stewart settled his case for an undisclosed amount. The lawsuit forced the BSA to reveal part of what it now calls the "ineligible volunteer files."

Secret Files

The ABC15 Investigators looked at the cases with ties to Arizona.

One secret file shows a boy in New Hampshire came forward in the 1970's to report abuse by his scout master. Ten others were interviewed, but the scout leader was found not guilty.

Records show the same scout leader moved to the Tucson area where he once again became a scout master before eventually being removed.

The secret files show more than 5,000 cases across America dating as far back as 1947.

The BSA knew about and kept track of at least 66 cases in Arizona. About a third of the cases have extensive documentation, but only one case shows local authorities were called.

In New Jersey, a boy scout killed himself after being repeatedly molested by his troop leader.  The accused molester moved to Arizona in 1980 and applied to be a troop leader in Phoenix. He was never tried for the crime.

In 2001, scout leader Robert Eggert was indicted for child molestation in Yavapai County. According to our own station's news reports, when Eggert was first charged, five boys came forward.

"If they are holding all these confidential files, sheltering all of these pedophiles, where is the trustworthiness? How is that helpful, not telling the parents?" said Stewart.

The BSA's own records show the accused scout masters include religious leaders, members of the military and men listed on the sex offender registry.

BSA Response

The BSA admits to keeping the secret files for nearly 65 years. The organization would not agree to an on-camera interview, but as the files became public, the leaders posted a video clip response online. Click here to see the full video .

Some excerpts include:

"We take our responsibility to protect youth from abuse very seriously. And we work hard to make sure we maintain the highest quality leadership."

"It is a fact, that scouts are safer because the barrier created by these files is real."

Today, the organization touts a youth protection program which includes at least 2 adults supervising all activities, no one-on-one contact between leaders and scouts and allowing parents to observe activities.

For decades, the records show the BSA removed accused molesters from their ranks.

But, it wasn't until last year the policy included mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to law enforcement.

The BSA said it has been successful using these files to keep molesters and even those suspected of molesting out of scouting.

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