LOS ANGELES — The veil was lifted Thursday on decades of confidential sexual abuse allegations in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America with the court-ordered release of more than 1,200 of the organization's "perversion files."
The files offer an unprecedented look at how suspected molestations were handled by the organization from the early 1960s through 1985, a time when awareness of sexual abuse was evolving rapidly.
"The secrets are out," said Kelly Clark, one of the plaintiff's lawyers in an Oregon lawsuit that resulted in a nearly $20 million judgment against the Scouts in 2010.
Clark's office made the files public — minus the names of victims and others who reported suspected abuse — after the Oregon Supreme Court ordered their release in June at the request of news organizations including the Oregonian newspaper of Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting, the New York Times and the Associated Press.
Among the so-called "perversion files" are documented at least 137 allegations in Florida between 1959 and 1991, including 13 in the Tampa Bay area.
They detail a range of behavior by Scout leaders. In some cases they include news clippings and police reports, alleging sex crimes against children. In others, they recount episodes in which Scout officials forced leaders to resign amid suspicions of sexual misconduct — but apparently didn't report the cases to law enforcement.
In New Port Richey in 1972, one Scout leader was caught in a "homosexual act" with a member of his troop, say the files, which note that he had made advances toward another boy. After a confidential meeting with Scout executives, the Scout leader resigned and moved away.
About half of the cases that took place in Florida were detailed in the documents made public Thursday. The rest were included in records that have circulated among lawyers and journalists since the 1990s.
In a statement Thursday, the Boy Scouts' national president, Wayne Perry, underscored the organization's enhanced child-protection efforts in recent years, including beefed-up background checks and training of leaders and mandatory reporting of all suspected abuse. He also acknowledged that incidents of abuse have occurred, some mishandled by the Scouts.
"There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong," Perry said. "Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families."
In recent months, the Los Angeles Times has published an investigation of those files and thousands of case summaries from 1940 to 2005. The files and summaries were obtained from Seattle lawyer Timothy Kosnoff, who has sued the Scouts on behalf of dozens of abuse victims.
The investigation has revealed a broad range of patterns in the Scouts' handling of abuse allegations that echo similar revelations about the Catholic Church and, more recently, the Penn State scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
In September, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public. Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign and helped many cover their tracks, allowing the molesters to cite bogus reasons for their departure.
In 80 percent of the 500 cases where the Scouts were the first to learn about abuse, there is no record of Scouting officials reporting the allegations to police. In more than 100 of the cases, officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it, the Los Angeles Times found.
Responding to pressure, the Boy Scouts announced it would conduct a comprehensive review of some 5,000 files going back to the 1940s and would report to law enforcement any cases it had not previously disclosed.
In August, the Los Angeles Times reported that the blacklist, for years the primary line of defense against child molesters, was repeatedly breached. In more than 125 cases, men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior.
Predators slipped back into the program by falsifying personal information or skirting the registration process. Others were able to jump from troop to troop around the country thanks to clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts' failure to check the blacklist.
In some cases, officials documented abuse but allowed the abuser to continue working with boys while on "probation." In at least 50 cases, the Boy Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover later that they had re-entered the program and were accused of molesting again.
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Michael LaForgia contributed to this report.