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Detectives To Investigate Abuse Claims

Feb 13, 2003 | Omaha World Herald

Girls and Boys Town's attorney has hired three prominent detectives to investigate allegations that a priest and a counselor sexually abused a youth at Boys Town in the 1970s.

James Martin Davis, hired by Girls and Boys Town last week to handle the case, said he hired longtime Omaha private detective Dennis Whelan to find Michael Wolf, the counselor accused of abuse in a lawsuit filed Jan. 30 in U.S. District Court.

Retired FBI agent John Pankonin and retired Omaha Police Detective Richard Circo will interview former residents and employees to determine whether anyone else was abused or saw signs of the alleged abuse by Wolf and the Rev. James Kelly. Kelly has denied the allegations.

"What we're going to do is try to tell whether there is any truth to these allegations," Davis said at a press conference Wednesday.

He said he and the detectives have established a "war room" at Girls and Boys Town from which they will conduct the investigation.

If Kelly and Wolf abused the man who sued, Davis said, the detectives will be able to find other victims or witnesses who saw some signs of abuse.

William Walker of Tucson, Ariz., attorney for the man who sued, said he also has been unable to find Wolf and also has a detective investigating for other allegations.

"We will have other witnesses who will charge abuse by both Wolf and Kelly while they were at Boys Town," Walker said.

Boys Town, founded by Father Edward Flanagan in 1917, now operates child care programs around the country. It changed its name to Girls and Boys Town in 2000.

"Boys Town is a national institution," Davis said. "My concern is that this is not some sort of effort to shake down or blackmail Boys Town because it has deep pockets."

The suit names Girls and Boys Town and the Omaha Archdiocese as defendants.

Davis said the two organizations are completely separate, even though Archbishop Elden Curtiss is chairman of the Girls and Boys Town board and the executive director, the Rev. Val Peter, is a priest of the archdiocese.

"He doesn't take his orders from the archbishop except for matters of faith and morals," Davis said. "From the beginning, Boys Town has been nondenominational and nonsectarian."

Davis said Peter has not been served with the suit yet. Walker said Girls and Boys Town refused to accept voluntary service, but will be served formally soon.

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