MORE PEDOPHILE CASES EMERGE WITH SCOUT CAMP CONNECTIONS
By PETER ZUCKERMAN . PZUCKERMAN@POSTREGISTER.COM . AND POST REGISTER STAFF
COPYRIGHT 2005 POST REGISTER
A Post Register investigation has found evidence that at least three molesters stalked eastern Idaho Boy Scouts during the career of current Grand Teton Council leadership:
• A sworn statement filed Friday in Bannock County court alleges that a camp counselor named Dennis Empey mutilated animals, showed off his firearms and then raped a 15-year-old Eagle Scout in 1983 at the Island Park Scout Camp. The allegation matches the crimes Empey was convicted of in Utah in 1991. The story about the rape was bolstered by a second Eagle Scout who says Empey tried to rape him a few weeks later during a sleepover.
• Court records unsealed in May show that Jeff Hardin, a counselor at Camp Little Lemhi was convicted of lewd conduct for molesting a Chubbuck Scout. Hardin, a Scoutmaster, met the boy at Camp Little Lemhi, got to know him and sneaked into his bedroom to fondle the boy in September 1991. According to the victim, similar abuse occurred "too many times to count."
• As previously reported by the Post Register, former Camp Little Lemhi counselor and staff supervisor Brad Stowell confessed to molesting at least 24 boys, many of them Scouts. He was arrested in 1997.
Victims said the molesters presented the facade of respectability. They landed top Scout ranks, served LDS church missions and pursued college degrees.
Although they wouldn't grant detailed interviews for this story, Grand Teton Council officials have said that, at least in the Stowell case, they could not have done anything to stop the pedophile.
The victims disagreed. They complained that executive director Kim Hansen and other leaders of the region's Grand Teton Council discounted warnings and complaints.
They said Scout officials should have told more parents that Scouts had been fondled, seduced or sodomized by Scout leaders.
While they emphasized that most Scout volunteers and sponsors are virtuous, victims said they have spoken out in hopes that confronting the truth will forever break the pattern of pedophilia at eastern Idaho Scout camps.
"Knowing the bewildering horror that befalls young victims, how it alters so dramatically the rest of their lives, I feel it is immoral to do nothing," wrote Jeff Bird, who says Empey raped him.
" ... Be thankful that this filth has been exposed to the disinfectant of light for all to see so that we can ensure that our Scouting organization follows the rules that are there to protect our sons from the deep wounds of this crime."
When the first case surfaced in February, Grand Teton Council executive Kim Hansen said he knew of only one pedophile camp counselor: Brad Stowell.
Jeff Bird thought he ended it by reporting -- twice -- that he'd been anally raped at camp in June 1983 by an older instructor who coerced him to share a tent.
Bird grew up, got married, had six kids and told his wife little about it until he read the newspaper's report on Brad Stowell.
Change the names and it's a rerun of the same story, Bird said when he called the paper. How had pedophiles returned to camp, he demanded, after he'd reported his humiliating rape?
"They told me it would never happen again," he said. "It was supposed to stop with me."
Bird earned his Eagle Scout badge at age 13 as a member of Troop 313 sponsored by the 13th Ward of the LDS Idaho Falls North Stake.
His father was an Eagle Scout. So were his relatives and friends.
On Friday, Bird filed a sworn version of these charges in Bannock County court to support younger Scouts who have filed a lawsuit against the Grand Teton Council.
Repeated efforts to reach Dennis Empey by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful during the course of more than a month.
Kim Hansen would only comment on Empey's recent work on the Grand Teton Council Web site.
Here's a summary of Bird's allegations:
Bird said he met Empey in the early 1980s and, as a teen, considered the older man a friend. At the time, Empey worked as a waterfront instructor at several eastern Idaho Scout camps, Grand Teton Council President Dave Smith confirmed.
Empey helped boys earn merit badges and taught them to swim. Charismatic and popular, he sang made-up songs. He convinced campers to wear bejeweled cat-eye sunglasses to the laundromat. He wowed campers by creating a floating fireplace, several local Scouts recall. With gunpowder and gasoline, he concocted a cannon and small explosives, Jeff Bird said in a detailed sworn statement.
Empey was friends with Island Park Scout Camp director Kim Hansen, Bird and another Scout recall. Empey and Hansen hung out together at camp, staying up late talking.
Hansen, who now holds the top job in the Grand Teton Council, declined to comment on the relationship.
Bird says Hansen interviewed him in 1983 and hired him to teach Scout campers about plants. Bird lived in a framed tent in the nature area and fed the nearby rock chucks.
For two weeks, camp was full. Empey, then 25, was nice to Bird and included the teen with the popular Scouts.
"I got into a disagreement with another staffer and Dennis Empey reprimanded that staffer to the point that [the staffer] was crying," Bird recalls in his affidavit.
When campers and staff went home for a weekend, Empey and Bird stayed.
On Saturday, Empey used his .44-caliber pistol to blast the rock chucks to pieces.
Empey didn't stop there.
He dissected them, pulled out their entrails, played with the mangled bodies. He seemed to enjoy it.
Bird didn't tell him to stop, even though he wanted to -- Empey was scaring him.
That night, Empey asked Bird to stay in his tent.
No, Bird said.
Empey insisted it would "be fun."
After dinner, Empey and Bird went into Empey's tent, where Empey told the teen "gross ... secrets" about his girlfriend and about sex. He showed Bird the guns under his cot.
At about 1 a.m., Empey took the cot on the east side of the tent and Bird took the one on the west.
Empey extinguished the light, sat down on Bird's cot and made the boy fondle him. Then he held Bird down and raped him. Bird says he screamed in pain.
"I was so overwhelmed by the situation that I was unable to fight," Bird said.
They were still alone.
Next morning, Bird ate breakfast with his attacker, his superior in the camp chain of command. Empey took him sailing.
"I was so ashamed of what had happened because I felt I might have been responsible," Bird said. "I was confused and scared and I didn't even understand what had happened to me."
Sex-abuse prevention is now taught to Scouts and Scout leaders. But Bird said he didn't get any training back then. Still, he says, he did what Scouts are now trained to do: report pedophiles.
When campers and the rest of the staff returned to camp the next day, Bird asked to talk to the man in charge.
Big mistake, he says. Telling Hansen made the rape seem worse.
Nervous, Bird met Hansen by the treeline at the edge of the flag field, Bird's affidavit says.
"As best as I was able, I told Kim Hansen what had happened to me Saturday night," Bird said. "I was still quite scared, shaky and was tearing up as I spoke to him. I told him that when Dennis and I were alone, Dennis had me stay in his tent. I told him that Dennis had touched me in a bad way.
"Kim Hansen was very stern with me and told me that he appreciated my 'efforts as a staffer' and would really like to hire me again next year, but part of the decision about who to hire would be made on how well I could get along with others at the camp.
"Kim Hansen walked away from me. He completely ignored me and my report to him about the incident with Dennis Empey. He made me feel even more ashamed of what had happened and I felt powerless to do anything about the attack.
"To my knowledge, Kim Hansen did not notify the Scouting organizations or the sheriff's office about what had happened to me."
Bird never told the police.
He was 15, Empey was 25 and he was terrified of the man, especially after Empey sent him a note. It said: "Write me or die."
Bird took the note as a threat and got out of Scouting.
He couldn't forget it.
About a decade later, he went to get tested because he worried Empey had infected him with a sexually transmitted disease. The test was negative.
Still burdened, Bird turned to his church.
Bird says he told his stake president. The man told him he knew about Empey's history of molesting children and put him in contact with a Utah detective who was investigating rapes Empey committed in Provo.
Efforts to confirm this were unsuccessful. The man Bird says he spoke with is serving a mission in the Philippines. Church officials have confirmed that he received phone and e-mail messages, but he did not reply. Dave Bolda, the Provo, Utah, detective who worked this case and other similar cases, says he does not remember any contacts from Idaho.
Bird has broken the chain of Scouting in his family.
"I don't want my boys to participate in Scouting because it is not safe," Bird said in the affidavit he filed Friday. "As long as Kim Hansen is in a leadership position with Scouting, I will be concerned that sexual predators will be sheltered and boys won't be safe at Scout camp."
Even today, Bird says, he is worried about Dennis Empey and his guns.
An Eagle Scout tapped for the honorary Order of the Arrow says Dennis Empey tried to rape him, too, just weeks after Jeff Bird allegedly was preyed on.
Word of this case circulated through law enforcement to the Post Register, which confirmed details with the boy, his mother and his relative, Bonneville County Commissioner Lee Staker, whom the boy said he told about the alleged attack years later.
The boy, now grown, says it happened during an Order of the Arrow ceremony in late summer 1983 at a water park near Idaho Falls.
The Order of the Arrow recognizes Scouts who exemplify the Scout Oath and Law.
The boy, 14 at the time, got a stomachache and went to the lodge to rest. Empey checked in on him and brought him cold drinks during the day.
At about midnight, while other Scouts and leaders were sleeping nearby, Staker's relative says, Empey unzipped his sleeping bag, climbed on top of the boy and tried to have anal sex with him repeatedly while the boy struggled.
The Post Register has agreed not to name the victim, whom Staker says was dangerously traumatized as a result of what happened. This account is based on an interview with the young man, his mother and with their relative, Commissioner Staker.
"I was mortified," the young man said from his home out of state. "I didn't know what to do. Afterwards, I became borderline suicidal. I felt like I'd done something wrong."
Staker confirmed this and so did the boy's mother.
The boy didn't tell police, and Empey moved on, eventually landing in Provo, Utah, Staker said.
Brigham Young University officials in Provo confirm that Empey attended from September 1983 to April 1984.
His major? According to Staker, the pedophile was pursuing a degree in child counseling.
Staker strove to stop the pedophile. Still, it took eight years and a Utah court to catch him.
The commissioner says his relative first told him what happened in the early '90s and that Staker believes he was one of the first people to hear the story.
Convinced the statute of limitations had passed, Staker said the boy couldn't press charges. So, Staker did the next best thing he could think of: He made sure Empey was kept away from boys. He told the people in power what had happened.
When Empey returned to Scouting in the early '90s, Staker says he called Utah Scout officials, who kicked Empey out immediately. Efforts to corroborate Staker's story were unsuccessful because he could not recall who he contacted.
Staker bore no grudge against Scouting. "I still want my grandsons to be part of the Boy Scouts," he says. "It's a wonderful program that does a lot for this community."
By 1991, Empey befriended a family in Provo, Utah, who opened their home when he couldn't afford a place on his own, court records say.
Nicknamed "Uncle Dennis," he gained the trust of the children in the neighborhood. He showed his victims guns before he sodomized them, causing the kids "to fear for their safety if the incidents were reported," Utah County Detective Dave Bolda told the court.
In May 1991, Empey was arrested for molesting children "with the intent to cause substantial emotional or bodily pain, or to arouse or gratify ... sexual desire," Utah County Prosecutor Kay Bryson wrote in a court record. The circumstances were nearly identical to those now described by Bird, who had not seen the Utah case file obtained from storage by the Post Register: Empey flashed a gun and inflicted pain when he sodomized his victims.
Charged with five felonies, he pleaded guilty to three: two counts of forcible sodomy on a child and one count of sexual abuse of a child.
One neighbor demanded a severe penalty.
"This man molested so many children that it involved four [b]ishops from [T]he Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-[d]ay Saints," including her own, wrote Lorrie Ann Arthur. In her Sept. 13, 1991, pre-sentencing letter to Utah County Judge George E. Ballif, she said Empey had caused great emotional distress in her Provo neighborhood. Efforts to find her for further comment were unsuccessful.
"... His 'disease' has affected five families, totaling more than 30 people," the letter continues. "Mr. Empey's disease has a far-more-reaching effect tha[n] anyone could possible believe. ... Where will Mr. Empey go after his jail term?"
Back to Scouting.
Back to Idaho.
Back to the Grand Teton Council.
Empey, sentenced to probation on Oct. 8, 1991, was released two years later. He moved home to eastern Idaho and eventually started an Internet business.
When Jeff Bird first called the Post Register about Empey, a search of the Grand Teton Council Web site revealed a photo of a mountain canyon bearing a "Dennis Empey 2002" copyright mark, designating either the date the photos were taken or published.
When asked why a convicted pedophile was supplying material to the Grand Teton Council, Hansen wrote in a May 13 letter: "In recent years, Dennis Empey donated graphic designs to the council. All materials were sent by either electronic means or mail. He has not been in our office and has not had any volunteer positions."
Hansen's boss provided more detail.
"We paid him for the supplies he used to make pictures and designs," Grand Teton Executive Council President David Smith said in a June 9 interview. Smith said the Grand Teton Council had just severed its business relationship with Empey and that the man didn't have any contact with children.
Jeff Bird, whom Empey allegedly raped in 1983, mentioned Empey's Web work in the court papers he filed Friday.
"When I found out that Empey was still alive and still employed by the Scouts, I was terrified not only for my own personal safety, but for all the hundreds of boys who attend Scout camp in the Grand Teton Council each year," he said in a sworn statement.
Empey is not registered as a sex offender in Idaho or Utah.
There were two pedophiles working at the Camp Little Lemhi waterfront in 1990.
Brad Stowell, whose case has been widely publicized, and Jeff Hardin, whose case lay hidden in a sealed and stored Bannock County file until last month.
Hardin was arrested for molesting a boy just as Stowell was starting to prey on children.
Hardin's victim agreed to an interview on the condition he not be named. He guided the Post Register to the file that details Hardin's crimes.
The Post Register petitioned the court for public access and corroborated the victims' account with the documents in the file, where his name is blacked out.
Jeff Hardin seemed like a model Scout: a 25-year-old returned LDS missionary, he was dating the sister of another camp staffer when he first met the 13-year-old.
Hardin was warm with campers: wrestling, giving young Scouts hugs, chummy head locks and the occasional wedgie. But he watched a little too closely while they took showers and was at least once visibly aroused while toweling off at the waterfront, the victim said in a May 23 interview.
Back home in Chubbuck, Hardin was the Varsity Scouts leader for his ward's troop, a Sept. 14, 1991, Chubbuck Police Department report says. He was a member of the National Guard and studying for a college degree.
Like Empey, he wanted to be a counselor.
Like Stowell, Hardin drove a cool car -- an orange Fiat two-seater. And like Stowell, he took his time getting close to the victim, eating dinner at his house, playing in the yard with his brothers and watching movies.
Not only were Stowell and Hardin similar, they were friends, according to the victim and a police report in the Stowell case.
On Sept. 9, 1991, Hardin's wife was out of town and Hardin was at the victim's house for a visit.
At about 4:30 a.m., Hardin, then 26, sneaked into the boy's bedroom, court records say. "I pulled the sheets off him a couple times and he pulled them back, half asleep," Hardin wrote in a statement to police. "Then the thought came to masturbate him and I didn't even think about it or push the thought away. I just began to do it."
The boy had finally had enough.
He grabbed Hardin's hand and said, "I've been awake for 20 minutes," Hardin wrote in a statement to the court.
Police reports say that Hardin told the boy, "I was messing around and shouldn't have, I don't think I'm [g]ay. Do you think I need to contact my Bishop?"
The boy pushed Hardin off him and told his mom what happened, court files say.
Hardin followed him, spoke to the boy's mom and left.
Hardin told his LDS bishop, and the congregation leader reported him.
"I remember being embarrassed," the victim said. "I didn't feel comfortable saying anything." He and Hardin didn't discuss what happened. "I felt like it was my fault," the victim said.
The boy said Hardin molested him several times before the arrest. When nobody was watching, Hardin fondled the 13- and later, 14-year-old "too many times to count" at the boy's Chubbuck home, the boy said.
Hardin pleaded guilty in October 1991, to lewd conduct with a child under 16 and was sentenced to probation. He was released six years later.
Attempts to locate and contact Hardin were unsuccessful, both through phone records, the Internet and several Western states' registries of sex offenders.
The victim, now married with two children, said he still suffers from panic attacks and feels depressed about what happened.
"It's repulsive to think there were more victims after me," he said. "How many more will it take for it to change?"
Brad Stowell, the most recent known pedophile to prey on local Scouts, may be the Grand Teton Council's most expensive mistake.
Last year, at about the same time, the national Scout office awarded eastern Idaho's organization top honors for its risk management, Scout lawyers settled a second lawsuit brought by a scout molested by Stowell.
When two families went to court to find out why their boys weren't protected, they learned Scout leaders had been warned about Stowell years before his arrest.
Parties to the lawsuits aren't allowed to say how much the Grand Teton Council paid.
But as a condition of settlement, the Grand Teton Council -- or its insurance company -- insisted the files be sealed.
Grand Teton Council executive Kim Hansen assured the public that everything had been handled properly, that Scout leaders couldn't have done anything because Stowell was too slick.
But when a judge opened case files to the public, readers learned Stowell didn't have two victims. He had at least two dozen.
The unsealed court file revealed:
• Once Stowell was arrested, Grand Teton Council leaders didn't tell some parents their children had been molested. Doing so "would open old wounds" and the victims "could have been asleep when the molestations occurred and might not remember anything anyway," said Boy Scout attorney Gary Dance, according to a sworn statement filed by plaintiff's attorney Chad Campos.
• Six years before his arrest, the Boy Scouts received a written warning about Brad Stowell's past molestation of a 6-year-old neighbor. The church that sponsored Stowell's troop also received a warning about Stowell from the same man, a neighbor of the Stowell family.
• Judith Stowell, the pedophile's mother, served on the Grand Teton Council executive board. She knew her son had confessed to abusing a neighbor boy. She talked about it with the victim's mother and the police officer. And she knew Brad was ordered to attend six months of professional counseling through LDS Social Services in Pocatello as a result.
• Brad Stowell confessed what he had done to his LDS bishop, who sent him to counseling. Bishop Lorin Talbot said he was told Stowell was cured. Years later, a Scout leader checked a tip about Stowell by calling Talbot. He reported that he knew of no reason Brad Stowell shouldn't be in Scouting.
• Adam Steed, a junior counselor at the time, said he reported Stowell, but Scout leaders ignored him for days before finally calling police. Subsequent reporting has confirmed this account.
• In the first civil case, Judge Gregory Anderson ruled out punitive damages, meaning the victim could only ask jurors to award him the actual costs of his injuries. Anderson opined that no one person had a complete picture of what Stowell was doing and therefore the Scouts should not be held accountable.
• In 2004, Judge W. H. Woodland had new information, about the Grand Teton Council's decision not to alert parents. Woodland opined that "There are facts in the record of this case which demonstrate a reasonable likelihood that the conduct of the Grand Teton Council was at least oppressive and outrageous." He said they failed to follow their own reporting rules.
• Woodland opined that evidence showed the Grand Teton Council concealed the molestation of the victim to avoid liability and that the concealment was "fraudulent."
• In the end, the Grand Teton Council decided to avoid trial and paid the boys' claims.
Shortly after these and other details were brought to light in February, probation officials investigated Stowell's behavior and sent him back to prison. He had been caught spending time alone with children.
Scout leaders returning from the first few weeks of camp this summer say it is obvious leaders have been more carefully trained to follow the Grand Teton Council's award-winning child protection program.
ON THE RECORD
"It's repulsive to think there were more victims after me. How many more will it take for it to change?"
-- Young relative of Bonneville County Commissioner Lee Staker, who alleges Dennis Empey tried to rape him in 1983
"I still want my grandsons to be part of the Boy Scouts. It's a wonderful program that does a lot for this community."
-- Bonneville County Commissioner Lee Staker, who tracked the movements of Dennis Empey after a young relative confided Empey tried to rape him
"They told me it would never happen again. It was supposed to stop with me."
-- Jeff Bird, the Rexburg man whose sworn statement, filed Friday, alleges Dennis Empey raped him at Island Park Scout Camp
"Kim Hansen walked away from me. He completely ignored me and my report to him about the incident with Dennis Empey. As long as Kim Hansen is in a leadership position with Scouting, I will be concerned that sexual predators will be sheltered and boys won't be safe at Scout camp."
-- Jeff Bird
"In recent years, Dennis Empey donated graphic designs to the council."
-- May 13 letter from Grand Teton Council executive Kim Hansen, explaining Empey's work is being used on the local Boy Scout Web site
"We paid him for the supplies he used to make pictures and designs."
-- Grand Teton Executive Council President David Smith in a June 9 interview about Empey