Former Saybrook College Master Antonio C. Lasaga is liable for $16.5 million in damages to the boy he molested, a jury decided March 10 in New Haven Superior Court.
Lasaga and the New Haven Board of Education were codefendants in the lawsuit filed by New Haven attorney Frederick Trotta on behalf of the boy, known in court documents as John Doe. Before closing arguments in the case, Judge Richard Arnold granted the city’s motion for a directed verdict and dismissed Trotta’s claim against the Board of Education.
Trotta said he was impressed that the jury was able to view disturbing evidence — including pornographic movies Lasaga made of Doe — and make a reasonable decision concerning damages.
“I believe [the decision] does represent the heinous value of the crime,” Trotta said.
Lasaga chose not to defend himself in the suit and the jury only needed to determine the amount of damages for which he was liable.
Trotta said he was disappointed that the judge ruled the jury could not hold the Board of Education liable for damages.
“I hate to hell that the city got out,” Trotta said.
However, Trotta said he knew his case against the city was difficult, since there is no evidence Lasaga sexually assaulted Doe while he was still in the New Haven mentoring program where the two met. According to police, Lasaga began molesting Doe after the boy moved to Wallingford and had left the mentoring program.
During the trial, Trotta argued that the city should have done more to check Lasaga’s background. But in court documents, Arnold agreed with Martin Echter, the attorney representing the Board of Education, that the city was not responsible for the damage Lasaga inflicted on Doe.
“One cannot leap to a conclusion that the defendant Board of Education failure [sic] to do a background check in this matter or oversee the mentoring program caused Lasaga to sexually assault John Doe,” Arnold said in his decision. “Lasaga’s sexual assaults were not reasonably foreseeable.”
Trotta said he does not intend to appeal the judge’s decision.
It is unclear when, if at all, Doe will receive the damages from Lasaga, who is currently serving a 15-year federal sentence for possession and receipt of child pornography concurrently with a 20-year state sentence for assaulting Doe.
Trotta said he is now looking for assets from which to collect the damages, including royalties from books Lasaga penned and a home in Cheshire once owned by Lasaga and given to his ex-wife. Even if no current assets are found, Trotta said Doe can collect money when Lasaga is released from prison and the damages will accrue 10 percent interest — or $1.65 million — for each year they are not paid.
“He may be penniless now but he’s going to be penniless for a long time when he gets out,” Trotta said.
Both Echter and Trotta said that following the Lasaga scandal, the city has updated its procedures to keep dangerous individuals from having access to New Haven public school students, including doing background checks.
“We’ve really gone out of our way to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Echter said.
Trotta said he still intends to sue Yale for the damage inflicted on Doe and that the directed verdict in favor of the city will not affect the case against the university.