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When startling news unfolded last week that William Fox, a decorated former New York City police officer, had been arrested in connection with the sexual abuse of three teenage boys under his care in Pennsylvania, Frank Spinelli felt mixed emotions. The doctor had assisted authorities in the investigation sparked by his own childhood abuse, which he says occurred at Fox's hands, but more boys had been hurt in the intervening years.
"Right now I feel a little regret that it had to go on so long and that children had to suffer after me when it could have stopped," said the Manhattan internist for HIV-positive and gay men, who then reverted to the clinical terminology of his practice. "This is a sickness. We need to get help for him and protect children and he needs to be stopped from doing this further."
In an interview, Spinelli, 43, said that between 1978 and 1980, Fox molested him and other boys repeatedly by taking advantage of his role as a Boy Scout troop leader on Staten Island. He reported the abuse to his parents, who tried to take action, but little came of their complaints in the community of Italian and Irish immigrants where life revolved around the Catholic Church.
"He was the scoutmaster," said Spinelli. "He was in charge. He asked me about masturbation and pubic hair and 'fucking' when I was 11 and he gave me a ride to camp. He led me to believe this was a right of passage for all boys."
Spinelli, an Advocate health contributor, then put the experience out of mind until 2008, when a book tour and conversations with old friends aroused his curiosity. He found newspaper accounts of the police officer's accomplishments in talking a suicidal teenage boy down from a ledge and later adopt him, a story Fox retold in the book The Cop and The Kid. The officer was named a National Father of the Year in 1982 for his efforts.
Sickened, Spinelli called Fox, by then retired and living in Pennsylvania, and heard that he had adopted 15 boys, some with disabilities, in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania over the past 30 years. Spinelli said he learned that the abuse continued and that Fox remained at least tangentially involved with the Boy Scouts.
"I was shocked that what had happened to me is still happening today," said Spinelli. "I thought, This man in one book has rewritten his history. I cannot let him do this. It will rewrite what he did to me and I know what he did to other boys."
Spinelli contacted the New York City police and a two-year investigation ensued with the Pennsylvania state police department, which had already received complaints about Fox and decided to reopen the case based on the new information. The details included two phone conversations that Spinelli agreed to wiretap.
A onetime aspiring priest who came from a family of police officers and never married, Fox discussed his opposition to homosexuality with Spinelli in their phone calls.
"He's adamantly not gay," said Spinelli. "He said, 'What you do with your life is your business. I'm Catholic. We just don't believe in that.'"
Fox, 65, never admitted to molesting Spinelli, and when he was arrested in Liberty, Pa., on March 21, no charges pertaining to the decades-old abuse were included. However, the police report lists a 21-count indictment for crimes including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, incest, indecent assault, and witness intimidation.
Pennsylvania state trooper Todd Wagaman, the lead investigator in the case, said the charges involve three teenage boys, now adults, who lived with Fox for extended periods between 1996 and 2009. One of the young men continues to live in the same residence as Fox, who is currently in the Tioga County jail awaiting an April 6 hearing after failing to make $100,000 bail.
Trooper Wagaman, who said that the three young men suffer "emotional and mental disabilities," could not confirm whether they were among "several" children Fox had legally adopted in three states over the years. He said that more charges against Fox could be pending, noting that the statute of limitations for victims in Pennsylvania is age 50.
"With these types of situations you always have the potential for other cases," he said. "There is the potential that others could come forward."
A spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts of America, which according to Spinelli enabled Fox to commit abuse over the years, sent the following statement in response to an inquiry. The organization, which officially bans gay members, has been the subject of multiple child molestation lawsuits.
"Along with the rest of the community, we were saddened to learn about the alleged abuse of a former member. Abuse is -- and has always been -- unacceptable and the Boy Scouts of America extends its sympathies to the victim.
"At this time, we are unable to confirm Mr. Fox's involvement in the Boy Scouts of America, as we don't have immediate access to files dated prior to the year 2000 when the BSA began keeping electronic membership records. However, Dr. Spinelli has indicated that he informed his parents of the molestation in 1980 and as a result, Scout leaders asked Mr. Fox to step down. To our knowledge, he did. The Greater New York Council will assist the local authorities in their review of this matter should they require additional assistance.
"Youth protection is of paramount importance to the BSA. Recognizing that youth protection requires sustained vigilance, the BSA continues to develop and enhance efforts to protect youth through clear policies, as well as training and education programs for scouts, parents and adult volunteers."