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NORTH KINGSTOWN

Former North Kingstown coach who conducted ‘naked fat tests’ is arraigned on child molestation, sexual assault charges

The judge set Aaron Thomas’s bail is at $10,000 personal recognizance, ordered he have no contact with the two alleged victims, and said he is not allowed to be involved with teaching or coaching

Former North Kingstown High School basketball coach Aaron Thomas, left, with his lawyer, John MacDonald, right, in Washington County Superior Court, where Thomas was arraigned Friday on felony charges of second-degree sexual assault and second-degree child molestation.Glenn Osmundson

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Aaron Thomas, the formerly celebrated high school basketball coach accused of conducting “naked fat tests” on teen athletes for decades, was arraigned Friday on felony charges of second-degree child molestation and second-degree sexual assault.

Wearing sunglasses, Thomas ignored reporters’ questions as he entered the Washington County Superior Court with his criminal lawyer, John MacDonald.

Thomas pleaded not guilty before Judge Melanie Wilk Thunberg, who set his bail at $10,000 personal recognizance and ordered Thomas have no contact with the two alleged victims. Thunberg also said that Thomas is not allowed to be involved with teaching or coaching.

Thomas told the judge that he is living with his wife and his adult daughter in North Kingstown.

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Noting that Thomas didn’t have a criminal record, and that despite the well-publicized investigation into his conduct, he hasn’t attempted to flee, the judge said she didn’t consider him to be a flight risk. Thunberg rejected a request from special assistant attorney general Meagan Thomson to set surety bail and bar him from contact with anyone under 16 years old.

Outside the courthouse, Thomas walked away quickly with criminal lawyer John L. Calcagni, as MacDonald spoke on his behalf.

“He’s dedicated his professional life to the students of North Kingstown. He adamantly denies any criminal conduct whatsoever,” MacDonald said to reporters. “Scores of students have been interviewed by North Kingstown police to say that they have participated in this program voluntarily, they benefited from this program, and nothing of a sexual nature ever took place. Aaron Thomas looks forward to his day in court.”

Thomas, 55, has been under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office and the North Kingstown police since 2021, after former athletes complained about the “fat tests” they’d undergone, some dating back more than 25 years.

Thomas had developed his own weight management program that involved having male students strip and perform stretches, while he touched and measured their bodies, including near their groins.

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Former students going back to the 1990s said that Thomas’s testing began with the same question: “Are you shy or not shy?” Those who were “not shy” were expected to strip naked before Thomas, alone in either a closet or a small room attached to his office, and to allow him to conduct his “fat tests.”

Some said he used skin-fold calipers to explore their groin and buttocks, and had them do stretches and “duck walks” while nude. One told The Boston Globe Thomas used his bare hands to perform a “hernia check.” One said he was just 13 years old at the time.

While Thomas distributed “weight testing” permission forms for students and parents to sign, the forms didn’t say anything about the students being naked. MacDonald previously told the Globe that Thomas found it easier to do the tests if the boys were nude.

However, Dr. Christopher Duggan, a pediatric gastroenterologist and nutrition physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, told the Globe that there’s no reason for people to be unclothed during these types of tests.

Some athletes and a coach raised complaints and concerns in 2018, but the school administration took little action, aside from buying a body-fat machine and telling Thomas to stop.

But, according to several independent investigations, the machine went relatively unused, while Thomas continued his “naked fat tests.”

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After former students complained to the school administration in February 2021, the School Committee voted to terminate Thomas’s job. He was hired by Monsignor Clarke School in South Kingstown last fall, but the school fired him when the allegations became public.

Aaron Thomas, center, leaves the courthouse with his lawyer, John Cacagni, left, after the arraignment Friday.Glenn Osmundson

The attorney general’s office and North Kingstown police said they conducted interviews with more than 30 former students who attended North Kingstown High School from the early 1990s through 2020, as well as teachers, coaches, administrators, and medical professionals. The authorities brought charges against Thomas in July.

Thomas is charged with second-degree child molestation because one boy was under 14 years old when the coach had him strip naked. The authorities allege that the coach had sexual contact with the boy sometime between Sept. 1, 2000, and Feb. 22, 2002. There is no statute of limitations for this charge.

Thomas is charged with second-degree sexual assault for allegedly engaging in sexual contact with another boy while “engaging in the medical treatment of the victim” for sexual arousal, gratification, or stimulation. The action occurred sometime between Sept. 1, 2019, and Feb. 22, 2020; there is a three-year statute of limitations.

Thomas is also facing a civil lawsuit brought by several former athletes. Meanwhile, the school district is under investigation by federal civil rights attorneys.

Lawyer Timothy J. Conlon, who is representing current and former athletes, had filed the civil complaint and made the complaints to the US Attorney’s Office, saying school officials ignored Thomas’ misconduct and allowed Thomas to use his position inappropriately.

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“We commend the Attorney General for pursuing justice and accountability with Coach Thomas,” Conlon said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We will not comment further on the criminal matter — we are focused on ongoing efforts to pursue accountability and justice with the officials and institutions responsible for practices in the schools that were ignored for decades.”

Reports by independent investigators for the Town Council and the School Committee found that Thomas had built a winning basketball program, ran the summer sports camps without supervision for 20 years, and was part of the school’s sports culture that gave him a “free pass” to do whatever he wanted.

The revelations and searing criticisms forced the sudden resignation of then-Superintendent Phil Auger and retirement of Assistant Superintendent Denise Mancieri.

This story has been updated to add comments from the lawyers for Aaron Thomas and the student athletes.







Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.