Lawsuit Claims Poly Prep Covered Up Iconic Football Coach Phil Foglietta's Sex Abuse Of Young Boys For Decades
By Michael O'Keefee (NY Daily News)
December 7, 2011
Phil Foglietta was already a famous Brooklyn sports celebrity known for giving Lombardi-like motivational speeches and squeezing as much effort out of his teams as possible when Poly Prep Country Day School hired him in 1966 to teach phys ed and coach its woeful football team. He always had a gang of kids in his green Impala, and they always seemed to be on their way to a sporting event or a pizza joint. Wherever he went, former players and rival coaches would line up to shake his hand.
David Hiltbrand, a talented athlete who showed promise in baseball and football, was in the eighth grade when the coach with the booming voice, beer-keg body and Popeye forearms arrived at Poly Prep's leafy Dyker Heights campus. Hiltbrand was thrilled when Foglietta invited him to spend his free periods in the athletic department offices, a clubhouse away from the rest of the faculty and students. Foglietta, surrounded by a clique that quickly became known as "Foggy's Boys," would crack jokes, mock other faculty members and make crude remarks about the school's Jewish students.
"He made you feel like you were in an exclusive club," says Hiltbrand, now a 57-year-old entertainment journalist who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs. "I went from nothing, a nobody who got picked on, to someone important. I basked in the light of his glory."
The burly coach invited Hiltbrand and a few other boys to shoot baskets in the school's gym on a Saturday morning, and Hiltbrand says that is when the sexual abuse began. He took the boys into the coaches' locker room to shower and told them they were going to give each other "massages." Hiltbrand says Foglietta rubbed his shoulders and then placed his hand between Hiltbrand's legs. Hiltbrand jumped away, into a corner and into the scalding water pouring out of a shower head.
As Hiltbrand tried to regain his composure, he says he saw Foglietta — the man who mocked some teachers as "homos" — groping the other boys.
"It was so terrifying," Hiltbrand says. "It made me feel like I had done something wrong. I come from a Roman Catholic family and I just knew I was going to hell."
Hiltbrand is a plaintiff in a bombshell RICO lawsuit filed two years ago in Brooklyn federal court that claims Foglietta, who died in 1998, sexually abused Hiltbrand and eight other men from 1966 until the early 1980s. The lawsuit, which names the venerable 157-year-old college preparatory school and top officials as defendants, says Poly Prep received complaints about Foglietta just months after he was hired, but put its reputation, football program and fund-raising ahead of the safety of its children. Most of the plaintiffs have not talked publicly about the abuse until recently, when they were interviewed at length by the Daily News.
The lawsuit, which seeks at least $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages for each plaintiff, says high-ranking Poly Prep officials not only ignored students' complaints for decades but threatened to discipline and even expel boys who reported the abuse. The suit says Foglietta may have abused dozens — possibly hundreds — of other boys.
Kevin Mulhearn, the Orangeburg, N.Y., lawyer who played football for Foglietta and who is representing Hiltbrand and the other plaintiffs, says there are disturbing parallels between Poly Prep and the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked Penn State and Syracuse University. One plaintiff, identified in the complaint as John Doe II, even says longtime Poly Prep athletic director Harlow Parker, who died two years ago, saw Foglietta abusing him in a shower and simply walked away without stopping the assault — just as a grand jury report describes Nittany Lions receivers coach Mike McQueary failing to act when he witnessed longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping a boy in the showers of a Penn State locker room.
Poly Prep officials reject comparisons to the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked their school and the universities but have declined to comment on the contents of the lawsuit. The school's attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that the plaintiffs have failed to prove they have a legal claim under the anti-racketeering statute that has traditionally been used to prosecute mobsters.
"It would not be appropriate to comment upon specific allegations now pending in a federal court," current headmaster David Harman, a defendant in the suit, said in a statement to the Daily News. "At the moment, and in accord with federal civil procedure, a motion to dismiss the lawsuit is pending before the court and no response to the factual allegations is due until after that motion to dismiss is decided. The school believes that a lawsuit seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages based on conduct that took place largely in the 1960s and 1970s is not actionable."
Foglietta, the man who transformed Poly Prep sports into a New York City powerhouse and a magnet for alumni donations, died more than a dozen years ago, and he never had an opportunity to publicly respond to those who say he was a child molester who robbed young men of their innocence and ruptured their souls. But he doesn't get much support from his closest living relative, a nephew who attended Poly Prep at the same time as Hiltbrand who says he is haunted by the accusations in the federal lawsuit.
"David Hiltbrand was a gifted student, an amazing musician and a great athlete, and I have no reason to doubt him," says the nephew, who asked that his name not be used in this story. "I'm not going to say these are unfounded allegations. I continue to have nightmares over this."
So does Hiltbrand, who battled crippling depression and addiction for many years after he says Foglietta molested him. He says he tried everything from sniffing glue to intravenous drugs to numb the riot of emotions that churned inside him before he got sober in the late 1980s.
"I was dead inside. All I could feel were these inappropriate waves of rage and shame," says Hiltbrand. "I didn't use drugs and alcohol recreationally. I used them to get as out of my head as I could get. I was a zombie."
The other plaintiffs also say they've suffered from substance abuse and emotional problems. One plaintiff, identified as John Doe III, said he was distraught when he learned his wife was pregnant because he feared he, too, would abuse children.
"I can't tell you how many times he raped me," Doe III, who claims Foglietta's anal and oral assaults began when he was 10 years old, said in an interview with The News. "He abused me so much I would get sores on my penis. I begged him to stop."
The first student who reported abuse was not one of "Foggy's Boys." William Jackson describes himself as an overweight eighth-grader more interested in theater than football when Foglietta arrived at Poly Prep. Foglietta, Jackson's gym teacher, seemed to get a kick out of taunting the bookish student. "Faggot" was a favorite taunt.
Jackson and his parents met with then-headmaster J. Folwell Scull and Parker, the longtime athletic director, to report the abuse. After what the complaint calls "a sham investigation," the school officials told Jackson's parents that his allegations were not credible.
The 40-year cover-up, the plaintiffs say, had begun.
"They said I was a liar and strongly suggested I stop talking about it," Jackson says. "They said there would be consequences if I didn't stop talking about it."
A Poly Prep football player named John Marino — who is not a plaintiff in the suit — was the next to blow the whistle on Foglietta, according to the lawsuit. Marino rebuffed Foglietta's advances in 1972, during his freshman year, and Foglietta paid him back by using him as a punching bag during football practice. He told other players that Marino was a "ratfink pussy" and "an undisciplined faggot."
Marino says he saw Foglietta sexually abusing boys at least 10 times on Poly Prep's campus, or in his green Impala on Seventh Ave. in south Brooklyn. Marino's father also witnessed Foglietta abusing a child, the lawsuit says.
But when Marino's parents met with Parker and William M. Williams, who had succeeded Scull as headmaster, in 1973, they were told their son was an undisciplined troublemaker and threatened to throw him out of the school if he continued to spread malicious rumors about the coach. When Marino's parents brought up the allegations again during a 1974 meeting with Williams and Parker, they were told their son was "on thin ice."
According to court documents, Williams later testified during a deposition that he didn't believe Marino's allegations because Foglietta did not "seem like the kind of guy who would do that."
Williams, who was succeeded as headmaster by Harman in 2000, received two anonymous letters during the mid-1970s that said, "Mr. Foglietta is doing terrible things to your students."
Williams said he confronted the coach about the letters — and even threatened to fire him if he learned the allegations were true — but ultimately took no action. Williams didn't do anything after he received an anonymous phone call that repeated the allegations. Parker, the athletic director, told Williams that somebody was out to get Foglietta. Court records say Williams testified during his deposition that neither man expressed concern for the safety of their students.
Poly Prep officials, according to court documents, didn't take action until 1991, when Hiltbrand wrote a letter to Williams that claimed he had been sexually abused by Foglietta. Hiltbrand expected a prompt, concerned response, and when it didn't come, he called the headmaster to make sure his allegations weren't lost in the mail. When Hiltbrand finally got Williams on the phone after several frustrating weeks, he says he got the feeling Williams didn't want to talk to him and had picked up the phone by accident.
Hiltbrand says he was stunned when Williams told him that the school had received similar complaints about Foglietta, and that the burly coach who had abused him years earlier was still teaching and coaching at Poly Prep.
"That was the moment I realized he must have done this hundreds of times, and if I had spoken up, I could have stopped it," Hiltbrand says, his eyes red and raw, his body shaking with anger during an interview near his home in suburban Philadelphia. "I told Williams, 'You have to get rid of him right now.'"
Williams, according to court documents, said he considered firing Foglietta after he received Hiltbrand's letter, but feared litigation from the coach and an alumni backlash. Instead, he simply didn't renew the coach's contract, forcing Foglietta into an early retirement in June 1991, and failing to object when 500 alumni and supporters roasted and toasted the coach at a lavish retirement party at the Downtown Athletic Club.
Williams said he did not go to the police because he believed Hiltbrand would not testify against Foglietta, and because he believes Hiltbrand did not want to press the issue. Hiltbrand's alleged reluctance to go public is now part of Poly Prep's version of the decades-old events. In a Nov. 22 letter to the Poly Prep community, Harman, the current headmaster, says Williams "took the actions he did in the belief he was protecting the confidentiality that he understood the alumnus had requested."
It is an allegation Hiltbrand denies. It is a bald-faced lie, he says, part of the decades-long cover-up by the school.
"I have forgiven Foglietta because I don't want to carry that hatred in my heart anymore," Hiltbrand says through clenched teeth. "But when they say they didn't report the abuse out of sensitivity to the victim? I cannot express how deeply offensive that is to me."