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January 9, 2004

New York Times

It was the spring of 2001 when an employee of the Boys Choir of Harlem went to Walter J. Turnbull, the founder and director of the world-renowned group, with shocking news: a 14-year-old student in the choir's academy had just accused the school's chief counselor of having molested him repeatedly for years. The police were not called. Afraid for his beloved institution, Dr. Turnbull chose instead to meet with the boy, investigators for the city say. The boy asked that the counselor be dismissed. "You don't make that decision," investigators say Dr. Turnbull replied. The counselor remained, and the school did not investigate, investigators say.

That silence was eventually broken when the student's mother went to the authorities that fall. The counselor was arrested, tried, convicted and sent to prison on a two-year term for sexual abuse. Now, the behind-the-scenes activity at the choir has been revealed in a startling memorandum on the case that was sent last month to the choir's board of directors by investigators for the New York City schools. The existence of the memo, which urged the choir's board to dismiss Dr. Turnbull, was first reported yesterday in The New York Post and The Daily News. The board has asked for the resignation of Dr. Turnbull and his brother, Horace, the choir's executive vice president.

At a news conference yesterday where they released the memo, investigators said the two men had let the counselor, Frank Jones Jr., stay in contact with students even after city officials explicitly banned him from the 650-student academy, a public school that is overseen and financed in part by the Department of Education.

Later, talking to reporters outside the academy on Madison Avenue in Harlem, Dr. Turnbull, 59, defended himself against the accusations and begged the board to keep him on. "The board of directors has asked for my resignation," he said, even as the outraged parents of several choir members gathered around. "I'm saying it's unfair. I have asked the board to reconsider." Horace H. Turnbull, 54, also speaking outside the school, said he and his brother had 35 years of experience with students and had never before had problems. "I accept responsibility for the mistake," he said, "but is the punishment warranted?" Also yesterday, the abuse victim filed a $20 million lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the city, the school, the Department of Education, his abuser and several choir officials, including the Turnbulls, The Associated Press reported. The accusations against the Turnbulls have dealt the choir and its academy a painful blow at a time when both are struggling with their finances, as they have on and off for many years. The crisis could signify the end of an era for the group, which has performed from Yankee Stadium to Tokyo, and the beginning of a decidedly shaky future. More

Posted by acapnews at January 9, 2004 8:40 AM

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