Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Men fondled by convicted sex offender settle lawsuit for $780,000

BY PEGGY WRIGHT • STAFF WRITER [Daily Record] • September 8, 2009

Three men who were fondled by a volunteer at a now-defunct substance abuse resource center run by the town of Morristown have settled their lawsuit claims for a total of $780,000, according to records.

The men, whose names are being withheld by the Daily Record because they were victims of sexual abuse, were all referred in 2004 and 2005 by Morris County probation officers to the Morristown-run Beginnings substance abuse and counseling center to satisfy terms of sentences for drug offenses.

But instead of receiving healthy counseling, the treatment they got from volunteer Terence Michael Lynch involved spankings, genital exams, hernia checks and nosy questions about their sex lives.

Morristown went through a scandal when Lynch, a then-71-year-old town resident who called himself "Dr. Mike," was charged in December 2005 with criminal sexual contact on three adult probationers who attended Beginnings.

It was revealed that Lynch had been a volunteer counselor for the facility since 1997, the year he was released from prison after spending seven years behind bars for sexually abusing 12 boys at the exclusive boarding school he used to run in Mendham Township, called Chartwell Manor.

While a volunteer and to this day, Lynch, a Miller Road resident, was and is classified as a Tier 3 offender under Megan's Law, meaning he poses a high risk of re-offending.

Alleging battery, negligent hiring and supervision and other claims, five men sued. Two had their claims dismissed and three others accepted settlements over the past year, according to court records and information received through the Open Public Records Act.

The cases were transferred to Superior Court in Passaic County, and the defendants included Morristown, Beginnings, Terence Lynch and his wife, Judith, and the state of New Jersey, because probation services in counties are funded and overseen by the state.

On behalf of Morristown, its insurer, the New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund, agreed to pay a total of $482,500 to the three men, now ages 48, 52 and 56. Fund attorney Eric Nemeth said the insurer will pay the entire share of Morristown's settlement, plus attorney fees, and that the town paid no deductible.

The state of New Jersey paid a total of $117,500 to the trio. Lynch paid $180,000. The outcome is that one man received $380,000, the second $240,000, and the third, $160,000, for a global settlement of $780,000.

Town Mayor Donald Cresitello was not in office when Lynch became a volunteer but was mayor when he was arrested. He said the period of time around Lynch's arrest was frightening because the town didn't know what its liability exposure might be.

Right after the arrest, he learned that a state parole officer recommended Lynch volunteer for Beginnings because of his strong educational background, a fact confirmed by the state Parole Board.

"I think the position was 'he's a pedophile, he only goes after children, not grown men,"' Cresitello said. "He never should have been around people who are vulnerable. But I don't think anyone meant to do anything improper in having him there."

Soon after the Lynch scandal broke, the state shut down Beginnings because it never had received proper licenses to function as a substance abuse and counseling facility.

Several council members and Cresitello said at the time they were aware of Lynch's background but didn't know he was a town volunteer for the center that was overseen by a director, David McCoy.

Lynch, now 75, pleaded guilty in November 2006 to abusing three men at Beginnings and to holding himself out to them as a medical doctor qualified to give physical examinations. He was sentenced to a period in the county jail and is on probation now, and still is a Megan's Law registrant.

Peggy Wright: 973-267-1142;

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