By KATE HOLLAND, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Two former paperboys for a Gannett-owned newspaper filed a complaint on Friday alleging that they were sexually abused by their supervisor nearly 40 years ago, joining five other former paperboys who have made similar allegations.
Ballard Tackett, 47, and Kelby Ash, 49, allege that they were repeatedly molested by Jack J. Lazeroff, a onetime district sales manager for the Rochester, N.Y.-based Democrat & Chronicle, when Lazeroff oversaw their paper route between 1982 and 1985, when Tackett was 11 to 12 years old and Ash was 11 to 13 years old.
Lazeroff’s misconduct was widely known among D&C staff, the complaint alleges, but the newspaper and its corporate owner Gannett Co., Inc., failed to protect the boys under their care, custody and control, directly resulting in their abuse.
“The D&C negligently hired Lazeroff then failed to properly supervise him … permitted Lazeroff unfettered and unsupervised access to … young children, failed to address sexual abuse that was occurring in plain sight, and exposed Plaintiffs to danger,” the filing reads. “As a result of the wrongful conduct of the D&C, Plaintiffs were sexually abused.”
Lazeroff was arrested in 1987 and charged with disorderly conduct, according to the lawsuit, after an employee at a donut shop told police that Lazeroff came into the donut shop “almost daily with a young paperboy” whom he would touch inappropriately. The police report identifies three D&C paperboys who Lazeroff had taken there. It is unclear, however, how the case was resolved.
Lazeroff was arrested again in 1988, the lawsuit said, and “charged with sexual abuse in the second degree,” but he was reportedly allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to avoid jail time.
Lazeroff died in 2003, but five other former D&C paperboys have since publicly accused him of sexual abuse, filing two separate claims against the newspaper and parent company in October 2019 and February 2020. All three filings allege that Lazeroff was hired by the D&C after being fired from his position at a Rochester bank for openly abusing high school boys who came in to apply for student loans.
Spokespeople for the newspaper and its parent company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
According to statements from several former employees detailed in the complaints, Lazeroff was ultimately fired from the paper for “messing with a paperboy,” though the exact date is unclear. The D&C has published several articles about Lazeroff, writing in one that the complaints “do not cite any direct evidence” substantiating the reason for Lazeroff’s termination from the paper.
In 2019, the D&C reported that Lazeroff “might have been a sexual predator,” but that “It could not be determined whether any of Lazeroff’s supervisors at the Democrat and Chronicle knew of or acted on the allegations of misconduct against him.”
Child news carriers are largely a relic of the past. A 1987 study conducted by what later became the News Media Alliance reportedly found that newspapers replaced at least 70,000 paperboys and girls with adults during the 1980s.
But an understanding of the dangers of the profession have only just begun to emerge. In 2018, The Columbia Journalism Review reported that at least 12 child newspaper carriers were “abducted, sexually abused or killed” between 1970 and 1993.
With their lawsuit, Tackett and Ash join thousands of other people seeking restitution through the New York State court system under the Child Victims Act, passed in 2019 and recently extended until 2021, that allows victims of childhood sexual abuse to pursue civil claims that would have otherwise expired under the state’s statute of limitations.
According to James Marsh, a partner at Marsh Law Firm PLLC, which represents all seven of Lazeroff’s alleged victims, these cases “highlight the risk that all children face.”
“The realization that it isn’t just scouts or students or alter boys who are at-risk for child sex abuse is profound and these lawsuits are a good example of how predators will take advantage of children wherever and however they can,” Marsh told ABC News in a statement. “Power, access, and opportunity can place any child at risk anywhere from anyone. Even a paperboy trying their best to finish their route before school can be victimized, which, while a shocking realization, also unfortunately makes perfect sense.”
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