In twist to decade-old scandal, Lasaga’s victim sues Yale

A victim of a former Saybrook College master convicted of child molestation has filed a civil suit against the University, charging that a professor witnessed an instance of abuse and failed to report it to the authorities.

The master, former Yale geology professor Antonio Lasaga, is serving a 20-year prison sentence stemming from his 1998 arrest on charges of sexual assault and possession of child pornography. For more than five years prior to his arrest, he was said to have abused a New Haven boy he mentored in a public-school program.

Fallen Saybrook  Master Antonio Lasaga leaves a courtroom in January 2002 after pleading 'no contest' to charges that he sexually abused a New Haven public-school student he was tutoring. Lasaga, who faced up to 100 years in prison, ultimately received a 20-year sentence.
Fallen Saybrook Master Antonio Lasaga leaves a courtroom in January 2002 after pleading 'no contest' to charges that he sexually abused a New Haven public-school student he was tutoring. Lasaga, who faced up to 100 years in prison, ultimately received a 20-year sentence.

The boy, who is now in his 20s and is identified in court papers only as Joseph Doe, now claims that another geology professor saw Lasaga standing over him in a Yale classroom in the 1990s and did not alert law enforcement to the incident. The lawsuit asserts that the University is liable for negligence as a result.

The suit — which seeks unspecified monetary damages — reopens among the most sordid scandals in the University’s history, although one that has been out of the headlines for several years and is probably unknown to many Elis today.

It all began Nov. 6, 1998, when the FBI raided the Saybrook Master’s House after two graduate students stumbled upon suspicious images on Lasaga’s Geology Department computer and passed along their findings to the authorities. Lasaga resigned that day for what then-Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead described as “personal reasons.”

The perverse details of Lasaga’s wrongdoing would emerge over the following months. On Lasaga’s computer, investigators found explicit videos the professor had shot of the boy, who was 13 at the time, in the Kline Geology Laboratory and even the Saybrook Master’s House. They also revealed that Lasaga was found to have built a digital collection of some 150,000 pornographic images.

Yet several of Lasaga’s colleagues pleaded in court for leniency in the professor’s case, with one professor from another university asserting that Lasaga was such an eminent scholar with so many research interests that he never could have had enough time to look at so much pornography.

Lasaga, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to both federal and state charges and has been incarcerated since being sentenced in 2002 to 20 years for the sexual-assault charges and a concurrent 15 years for federal pornography charges. The year before, Lasaga was fired by University President Richard Levin, who acted on the recommendation of the University Tribunal, Yale’s highest disciplinary body.

To make matters worse for the former master, a jury ruled in 2004 that Lasaga is liable for $16.5 million in damages to the boy he molested. The University was at first a co-defendant in that suit, but attorneys for the boy withdrew their claim against Yale and said they planned to sue the University separately in the future.

The suit claims that at an unspecified time between 1996 and 1998, an assistant professor in Yale’s Geology department entered a locked classroom only to find the boy sitting on a desk, with Lasaga standing in front of him, facing him. By law, the professor was required to report the incident to police and the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, according to the victim’s lawyer, Thomas McNamara.

Because the professor did not speak up, Lasaga continued to molest the boy until his arrest in 1998, McNamara said.

The victim claims to have suffered “severe trauma and psychological injuries, some of which may be permanent” as a result of the abuse, which began when he was only seven years old. He also underwent what the suit described as “extensive therapy” and could still be forced to spend more money on counseling and medication.

In a written statement Friday, the University rejected the lawsuit’s premise, arguing that the victim is “seeking to revive a claim” he chose not to pursue back when the original civil suit was filed.

“Yale believes that this lawsuit is without a legal basis,” the statement read. “In taking this position, Yale does not seek to minimize the plaintiff’s suffering, but the responsible party is Antonio Lasaga, not Yale University.”

The lawsuit, filed last month in New Haven Superior Court, was first reported Friday by The New Haven Register. The professor in question now teaches at another university, McNamara told the Register.

—The Associated Press contributed reporting.

Selected past News coverage of the Lasaga scandal:

No end in sight for Lasaga case (2.27.01)
Levin fires Lasaga; prof appeals ruling (3.20.01)
Lasaga submits ‘no contest plea’ (1.14.02)
Called a flight risk, Lasaga taken into custody by feds (1.18.02)
Lasaga gets 15 years in federal prison (2.18.02)
Coming to terms with Lasaga’s legacy
Lasaga may pay victims millions (3.22.04)
Lasaga prison sentence faces new scrutiny (4.4.05)

Comments

  • Anti-SWAY

    I wish I'd known this when blogging about SWAY week. It would have been a great retort to those who blogged that pornography is harmless.

  • The Lorax

    Why would walking into a locked room and finding a boy sitting and a man standing in front of him legally require the asst. prof. to report it under child welfare laws? That is a key relevancy of the whole story--explain the case being made. Telling me there is a case pending is something, but your job as a journalist is to explain it. This is pretty shoddy and therefore pointless reporting.

  • joey h.

    Good God ! another 1998 issue
    ---off the record---
    Do you think the boy might of had an uncle or father that waspissed and embarrased and might have seeked revenge??
    ala s.jovin,

  • Anonymous

    Wow

  • @#2

    blame the attorney for not bringing a more compelling suit. the argument spelled out in the lawsuit is that what the professor saw -- as described in the article -- would have been, to a reasonable person, suspicious and indicative of potential child abuse, thus requiring the professor to report it to the authorities (as educators are required to do under connecticut statute)

  • A.C.

    Silly #1: pornography and child pornography are NOT the same thing.

    Also, let's hope that the professor from the other university who offered the "he's too busy to look at all that porn" defense got fired too.

  • Anonymous

    Sure thing. Post questions that you (or others) would like to see answered in our next online update, and we'll do our best. In the meantime, we're looking into the one posed in comment 2.

    Andrew Mangino, Editor in Chief

  • @#5

    No, I'll still quibble with the reporting. If I were writing this article then I would mention that the suit alluded to the barest of details and then explain something about the statutes that are being called into play.

    The law obligating educators to report an adult and an child in a room would be a topic of interest to a community of educators and potential educators. I doubt many readers are familiar with these laws and I would imagine this would be worth elaborating on. I don't think it is reasonable for the author to presume that the audience is familiar with the Connecticut statutes.

    Just trying to give some feedback so the author can learn to write a better article.

  • Anonymous

    if all YDN offers is what the AP already had, why even post the online update? why not just post a link to the AP?

  • Anonymous

    See Sections 17a-101 through 17a-103a, inclusive of the Connecticut General Statutes.

    Mandated reporters are required to report or cause a report to be made when, in the ordinary course of their employment or profession, they have reasonable cause to suspect or believe that a child under the age of 18 has been abused, neglected or is placed in imminent risk of serious harm. (Connecticut General Statutes §17a-101a)

    Child abuse occurs where a child has had physical injury inflicted upon him or her other than by accidental means, has injuries at variance with history given of them, or is in a condition resulting in maltreatment, such as, but not limited to, malnutrition, sexual molestation or exploitation, deprivation of necessities, emotional maltreatment or cruel punishment. (Connecticut General Statutes §46b-120)

    The issue would seem to turn on 1) what in fact was taking place and 2) whether there was "reasonable cause to suspect" that the child was subject to sexual abuse. At the moment, we know answers to neither of these crucial questions.

  • Recent Alum

    Since the YDN was quick to bring up Desfeux's support for Romney, I am a bit disappointed that this article failed to mention that Lasaga is almost certainly a lifelong liberal Democrat. Or is that just too obvious to be worth pointing out?

  • Recent Alum

    #11: Clearly the story did offer a Yale-centric perspective that would not have been available on the AP. The author just didn't have any additional information on the complaint.

  • really?

    It's sad to see that the comments on an article concerning such a serious and depraved issues focus on criticizing the journalist instead of actually discussing the issue itself.

  • princeton08

    Yale has a well known history of covering up sex scandals, reports of rape and abuse and sexual harassment, so this really shouldn't surprise anyone. I mean, isn't Harold Bloom still there?

  • Y11

    Princeton08, this is now the second article on which you've posted making snide comments that reek of bitterness and immaturity. The insecurity is so visible it's actually possible to conclude you're the same person who commented on the inane "enrolled" vs. "attended" issue. I don't know what Yalie beat you out for what job or why you have to post on our boards to justify going to Princeton instead of Yale, but it's pathetic and we don't care. End of story.

  • princeton08

    Of course. And your petulant responses prove just how much you guys "don't care. End of story." LOL.

    Tell me, was anything I said about Yale covering up sex scandals untrue? Are you familiar with the hideous lengths the University has gone to to protect Harold Bloom? If you read other news publications -- and worthy ones, not just a University cum rag of a paper -- you'd know what i was referring to. Do a google search on Bloom, it will blow your mind.

    And I think it's disgusting (but not surprising) that most of you are debating everything under the sun except the matter at hand: a boy was sexually abused, and University officials looked the other way. What a proud day for all of you.

  • Y10

    I feel deeply for the victim of this tragedy, and I understand his anger and desire for justice, but I fail to see how the university could actually be held responsible for the negligence of one assistant professor. Not to tell was the assistant professor's personal choice. Could the university legally be held accountable?

  • Y09

    @#17: Actually, Princeton08 is right. Do some research before making a knee-jerk reaction. Talk to some older students, and they'll be able to tell you more about how the university's responses have tended to be.
    And while what he did may not have actually constituted sexual harassment in the Naomi Wolf case, Harold Bloom is still a creeper: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9932/

  • Princeton08

    Thank you Yale09. I did not mean to insult an entire population when I attacked "Yale." My criticism was intended at the institution and those who are blindly and slavishly faithful to it. Obviously, there are still a few students who can think on their own, as you have proven.

    My god, a CHILD was SEXUALLY ABUSED. And this is not the only time the University has covered up cases of rape, abuse and harassment. Typical that so many of the student responses were about defending the institution rather than denouncing a heinous crime. One must give the Yale Corporation credit for its brainwashing. It has certainly taught its student body well -- to defend the institution at all costs, even to the detriment of personal character, personal convictions or principles. Not one poster here criticized the University for its treatment of this issue, in fact not one person here even expressed dismay, horror or sympathy for the victim. No. The instant reaction was protecting the institution, maintaining the status quo. Such good soldiers, really. You all should be proud.

    We may be in 2008, but it feels like 1984.

  • Anonymous

    Y09 -- I do not think you criticism "Do some research" is well placed at all. The fact of the University's responses to harassment allegations is one thing. The fact that princeton08 (tellingly uncapitalized) is a pathetic troll is another, and I believe it is that troll-hood is the focus of the criticism, not whether some issue P08 might bring up is true or not.

  • Princeton08

    Excellent Anonymous, keep evading the real matter at hand. It only further proves my point. And of course in your obfuscating world, this allows one to ignore the veracity of any of my assertions. What a great diversionary tactic! You've learned well from your institution and your country!

  • Pingback: Cyber Wars: Students demand investigation on “American University Pedophile case” | BirchIndigo