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Former Bridgewater day care chief disputes charges

Lawyer says she told university of complaints

Judith Ritacco was arraigned in Brockton District Court on Thursday.George Rizer for the Boston Globe/george rizer

BROCKTON — Prosecutors said Thursday that the former director of a Bridgewater child-care center failed to act on multiple complaints about an accused molester on her staff, but Judith Ritacco's lawyer said she had done "everything she could to notify her superiors."

Ritacco's lawyer, Thomas Guiney, asserted that initial complaints about the alleged abuser's interactions with children at the Bridgewater State University center were not serious enough to report. But, he said, Ritacco immediately notified her supervisor when a parent voiced her concerns, leading to the arrest of a student worker, Kyle P. Loughlin.

Ritacco had been made a scapegoat for the inaction of her superiors, Guiney said. "This is a classic page from an old, tattered playbook," he said. "It's an outrage."


Guiney did not say what evidence supported his assertion that Ritacco alerted her supervisor. He could not be reached for comment later Thursday.

The contrasting versions emerged Thursday as Ritacco, 53, was arraigned on charges that she recklessly endangered children in her care by failing to report his troubling conduct for several weeks.

Ritacco pleaded not guilty and was ordered held on $25,000 bail. Loughlin allegedly admitted last week to molesting two boys at the center, authorities say.

At an afternoon news conference, Bridgewater State President Dana Mohler-Faria declined to comment on whether Ritacco's superiors were made aware of her concerns, as her lawyer contends. But he described the allegations — both those against Ritacco and her supervisor — as troubling.

"It is troubling to me — at any point — when someone is not responsive," he said. "It's troubling that people would feel they did not have the opportunity to come forward."

Court documents released Thursday provide new details about the center's handling of the concerns after the parent's complaint.

After the parent expressed worries last month that Loughlin might have abused her son, Ritacco told a teacher "she was to speak with no one" about the matter, the documents say. The next day, Ritacco notified campus police, who arrested Loughlin a few days later.


"She said she would handle the matter, and only she would handle the matter," Amanda Fowle, an assistant district attorney for Plymouth County, said in court Thursday.

Ritacco was placed on paid administrative leave April 2. Her certification to run a child-care facility has been suspended indefinitely.

When police came to search her home in Boylston last week, she had a suitcase open on her bed and appeared to be packing, prosecutors said. Guiney, her attorney, said she planned to go to a hotel to get away from the media camped outside.

"She wasn't fleeing anything," he said.

On Wednesday, when police came to arrest her, her husband told the officers he would not tell them where she was, authorities said. Ritacco later surrendered to police.

Her husband, Kevin Ritacco, is the police chief at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. He was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday, the college said.

Sexual abuse specialists say the charges like those Ritacco is facing are extremely unusual and underline the importance of reporting mistreatment of children. Investigators said Ritacco not only failed to notify the state's children's welfare agency, she "intimidated those teachers with the knowledge of the incidents involving Loughlin by making them keep quiet," according to a police report.

Prosecutors said Ritacco downplayed concerns about Loughlin's apparently strange behavior, even as veteran teachers became alarmed.


But Guiney, Ritacco's lawyer, said she did take action.

He said Ritacco had previously told her supervisor, Brian Salvaggio, assistant vice president of student affairs, about teachers' concerns about Loughlin's behavior. The concerns involved inappropriate touching and a preoccupation with two alleged victims, and she told him she was considering removing Loughlin from the facility, Guiney said.

Salvaggio said they "have to be careful to avoid a potential discrimination lawsuit because Loughlin is legally blind."

A man answering the phone at a number listed for Salvaggio hung up when a reporter identified himself Thursday night. There was also no response to a request for comment sent to Salvaggio's e-mail address.

The prosecutor, Fowle, said she was not aware of the reported exchange between Ritacco and Salvaggio but told Judge Ronald Moynihan "it's certainly something that will be investigated."

Police say Loughlin, 21, who was studying early childhood education at Bridgewater State, said he had been attracted to young boys for several years and said he didn't "plan his actions."

Loughlin is being held without bail until an April 13 hearing to determine whether he is too dangerous to be released. His lawyer has declined to comment.

The mother who reported the suspected abuse said her son had asked her to tickle him "like Kyle does." The mother said she had also seen Loughlin touch another boy's buttocks.

But teachers had made Ritacco aware of their concerns about Loughlin since early March, investigators said. One teacher told Ritacco she had seen Loughlin "zeroing in" on a boy, but Ritacco said she didn't want to "jump to conclusions."


On March 24, the lead teacher reported her concerns to Ritacco, who said they would "keep an eye on him" and said he should not be allowed in the children's nap room.

After the lead teacher told Ritacco what the parent had said, Ritacco made it clear she wasn't going to contact state authorities, even when the teacher reminded her they were legally bound to do so.

She told the teacher she was "to speak with no one" about the complaint. The teacher said she was afraid she would lose her job if she filed a report.

Mohler-Faria said the campus prided itself on a "culture of openness" and said the rules on reporting worrisome behavior toward children are clear. He said he had met three times with parents whose children attend the center and said most would return. Students will not work there while administrators evaluate the program.

"I doubt there will be a safer center to come back to," he said.

George Rizer for the Boston Globe

Evan Allen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at