EXCLUSIVE: After admission of sex abuse, leader continued with scouts

6:19 p.m Thursday, May 18, 2017 Local
February 17, 2016 Gainesville, GA: Robb Lawson has come forward saying he was sexually assaulted by a Boy Scout leader at Gainesville’s Troop 26 while on a camping trip in the 1980’s. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

When former human resources executive Fleming Weaver admitted in 1982 to sexually abusing scouts under his supervision at a troop sponsored by a prominent Gainesville church, he was quietly removed as scoutmaster and told to stay away from children.

But Weaver remained active in the First Baptist Church of Gainesville and, new documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveal, active with the scouts. Although at least one top Boy Scout official knew of Weaver’s sexual abuse, he was still named president of the Northeast Georgia Council in 1983, the records show. And, according to a lawsuit filed in Cobb County Superior Court by one of his alleged victims, he also personally recruited children from multiple troops to attend the Order of the Arrow, an honor society for Scouts.

It was there, in 1985, that he’s alleged to have raped Robb Lawson, 15 at the time. The new revelations, culled from an internal Boy Scouts file on Weaver that the organization fought to keep secret, demonstrate a “systematic and ongoing pattern” by the Scouts and First Baptist to “preserve and maximize profitability, preserve and protect their reputations in the community and avoid criminal and civil legal actions,” according to the lawsuit filed by Lawson, now 47.

The defendants have moved to dismiss the suit, citing Lawson’s 31-year silence before coming forward.

The new records reviewed by the AJC reveal how a local prosecutor watched in “silent rage” as Weaver continued to collect scouting honors, even after admitting the sexual abuse to authorities. And they show how the scouts were focused on hiring a public relations firm to help it craft a damage control strategy.

Last year, an investigation by The AJC uncovered the secret life of Weaver, who, in 1995, confessed to Hall County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Judy Mecum that he had sexually abused boys — “five or six at least” — though he insisted he stopped in 1981. A criminal investigation had been opened after one of his victims, Jim Lloyd, told authorities he feared his former scoutmaster from Troop 26 was still preying on children. No charges were ever brought because the statute of limitations had run out.

Fleming Weaver is shown in this undated photo. Photo: Order of the Arrow

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members,” Trip Selman, CEO of the Northeast Georgia Council Boy Scouts of America said in a statement. “The BSA is outraged there have been times when Scouts were abused and we sincerely apologize to victims and their families.”

The Scouts have maintained they were unaware of Weaver’s activities until learning of the criminal investigation in 1995.

However, one of its more respected officials, Gene Bobo — named in Lawson’s suit along with the Scouts, First Baptist and its then-pastor, Steve Brown — knew all about the abuse, the new records show. Bobo, formerly executive director of the Northeast Georgia Council who remained affiliated with it until his death in 2012, had been consulted by Brown after the father of one of Weaver’s victims came forward in 1982. They agreed that law enforcement should not be involved.

Bobo told investigators in 1994 that “it was decided that nothing would be said about the incident because of Fleming Weaver’s wife and daughter,” according to a document contained in the just-released Boy Scouts file. While Bobo said “there are no indications” that Weaver molested other children he acknowledged the disgraced scoutmaster had worked with the Order of the Arrow at Rainey Mountain State Park, where Lawson alleges he was raped.

“According to Mr. Bobo, it is possible that Fleming Weaver may have been around these older Boy Scouts recently at the (sic) Rainy Mountain State Park,” the document states.

The Northeast Georgia Council says it first became aware of the allegations against Weaver in January 1995 after Michael Crawford, a prosecutor in a neighboring county, informed them of the results of the investigation.

“I must tell you that, at the Council Banquet Saturday night, I sat there in silent rage as Fleming Weaver took a major part in the awards ceremony, knowing what he has done and knowing that many Scouters hold him in awe for his accomplishments when in fact he was nothing more than a pedophile” Crawford wrote.

He also warned the council that Weaver should not be taken at his word when he said he stopped molesting children in 1981.

“The saying that ‘you can’t change a leopard’s spots’ certainly applies to pedophiles,” Crawford said in his letter, adding that Weaver should be stripped of all the awards he had received from the Scouts.

But that never happened. Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts acknowledged in court documents released last month that they have “acquired knowledge that Weaver has been accused of sexually abusing Scouts from other troops from a time period prior to his appointment as Troop 26 Scout Leader” in 1969. It’s unclear when and how the Scouts became aware of those allegations.

Brant Sanderlin
Robb Lawson, photographed in Gainesville in February 2016, filed a lawsuit saying he was sexually abused by a Boy Scout leader while at a camp. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Weaver’s association with the Boy Scouts began in the 1950s with Troop 22 in Athens, where he attended college. There, he worked under Ernest Boland who molested a dozen or more scouts and other boys between the ’50s and the 1970s. Even though some of the boys reported the abuse, an internal Boy Scouts file showed, prominent adults in Athens failed to act, tacitly giving Boland the opportunity to continue preying on children.

Lawson’s attorneys, Natalie Woodward and Esther Panitch, say the same thing happened in Gainesville with Weaver.

“Despite having actual knowledge of the danger that Weaver posed to scouts, Bobo and Brown failed to take appropriate action to safeguard scouts from Weaver,” Lawson’s suit states.

Weaver’s resignation as Troop 26 scoutmaster was addressed in a First Baptist Church bulletin, which stated he was stepping aside to spend more time with his family.

In 1995, after learning of the investigation into Weaver’s activities, the Northeast Georgia Council focused on how they would handle possible media inquiries, consulting a Dallas-based public relations firm.

“This recent issue is an unfortunate situation,” read a prepared media statement, included in the newly released Boy Scouts documents. “Our plan now is to move on and continue to provide the successful scouting program this community has known for many years.”

That statement proved unnecessary, as the press never got wind of the investigation into Weaver. Meanwhile, it was agreed that Weaver would be suspended from further participation with the Scouts. Internal documents reveal that when Tim Cooper, the executive director of the Northeast Georgia Council, shared that decision with Bobo and John Taylor, who had succeeded Brown as First Baptist pastor, “both showed (sic) concerned over Fleming’s well-being.”

There was little talk of the victims, however.

“Counseling will also be available for any victims and their family if necessary,” according to notes contained within the Scouts timeline.

But three of the victims whose identities were known by the Scouts at that time told The AJC they were never offered counseling.

Though no longer with the Scouts, Weaver continued to serve on several volunteer boards in Hall County and remained a deacon at First Baptist until April 2016, when The AJC’s article on Weaver was published.

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