House parent tied to abuse

Mooseheart staffer charged in assaults on 7 boys at school

Dan Rozek

Before being hired as a live-in "house parent" at Mooseheart Child City near Batavia, Jonathan D. Scott passed two psychological evaluations, had his background and fingerprints checked and made it through an intensive series of interviews, officials of the residential youth center said Wednesday.

Now, three years lateer, Scott, 29, stands accused of sexually abusing seven young boys at the residential school for children from troubled or broken families. Scott has been charged with fondling or performing sex acts on boys as young as 6 years old and as old as 12.

The abuse began in January 2001 and lasted until two weeks ago, when one of the boys, who no longer lives at Mooseheart, came forward, Kane County State's Attorney Meg Gorecki said in announcing a 21-count indictment Wednesday against Scott.

Scott, arrested Tuesday, is charged with two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and 19 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He remains in the Kane County Jail, unable to post $750,000 bail.

Mooseheart administrators said they were "distraught" over the charges. They said they had tightened screening and supervision of staffers after a string of sexual- abuse charges between 1989 and 1997.

Six staffers were convicted in that period of sexually abusing children living at the center, which is owned and operated by the Loyal Order of Moose fraternal organization.

The charges against Scott show how difficult it is to protect children, Mooseheart operations director Bobby Gilliam said. "It tells us that this is a major problem in any program," Gilliam said. "Where there's children involved, there's always a high risk for predatory individuals to get involved."

But he defended the way that Mooseheart screens its staff, which includes about 100 live-in faculty members who oversee about 235 children living there.

"We think we have a state-of-the-art evaluation system and a No.1 supervision system," Gilliam said.

Of the charges against Scott, he said he "cannot comprehend how such actions could occur within our child-care environment."

Screening procedures - which include background checks and two psychological tests - rules out 14 of the 93 applicants who sought the live-in positions at the school last year, Gilliam said.

Authorities would not say where the alleged abuse took place or if it involved any of the eight to 10 youngsters for whom Scott, along with four other house parents, was directly responsible.

Neither Mooseheart nor Kane County authorities would say where Scott worked before coming to Mooseheart.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services - which licenses Mooseheart but not its employees - had no previous contact with Scott but has opened an investigation into the abuse allegations against him, agency spokesman Andy Martinez said.

Scott hired prominent Kane County lawyer David Camic to defend him. Camic wouldn't discuss Scott's background, except to say he has no previous arrests or convictions.

Camic also would not respond to the charges, saying only, "We are going to investigate the case carefully and respond accordingly."

Mooseheart officials said they plan to work with authorities to determine whether the organization needs to change the way it screens or reviews house parents and other staffers.

"Although I think our system is a wonderful system of checks and balances, we will be looking at every possible other way to protect the lives of these children," Gilliam said.

Gorecki said police and prosecutors have interviewed "dozens" of other kids at the center, as they try to determine whether any more children had been abused.

"The investigation will continue," Gorecki said.