Abuse scandal at Milton Academy was 30 years in the making
Allegations that a beloved Milton Academy faculty member sexually abused students date to at least 1982, when a teen told his mother that teacher Rey Buono had groped his friend on a bike trip in Italy.
The mother informed the academy, the friends said, but Buono continued at Milton until he was fired in 1987 for allegedly molesting another student.
Other former students later came forward, including one who filed a claim with the school in 1993 alleging three years of abuse, his lawyer said.
Former headmaster Edwin P. Fredie vividly remembers the day in the early 1990s when yet another ex-student, distraught and seemingly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, said Buono repeatedly raped him.
“The minute I met him, I knew he was a broken young man,” Fredie said, in interviews about his meeting with the young man in the school library. “He’d had a horrible life as a result of the predatory behavior of Mr. Buono.”
But it wasn’t until last week that Milton finally revealed that for 14 years it employed an alleged serial predator. In a bombshell letter, school leaders wrote that a nine-month investigation by a New York security consultant had determined that Buono, who taught drama and English, had molested at least a dozen male students at Milton Academy.
Now Milton police and Norfolk County prosecutors say they are investigating the allegations, and school officials say they have contacted child welfare officials and federal immigration authorities. Buono has worked since 1988 at theaters, schools, and a water park in Southeast Asia, according to his LinkedIn profile, and appears to live in Malaysia.
Although the alleged abuse occurred three decades ago — potentially beyond the criminal statutes of limitations — charges have sometimes been brought in such cases if the abuser left the state.
Some people are wondering why it took Milton Academy so long to disclose Buono’s pattern of alleged abuses.
His lawyer, Datuk N. Sivananthan of Malaysia, has denied the findings of the security consultant hired by Milton Academy, T&M Protection Resources. Those denials appeared in published reports in Malaysia and Singapore.
“My client notes that the investigation and purported findings was by a private entity and notes that to date no criminal complaint has been filed against him,” Sivananthan told the Straits Times of Singapore on Friday.
Buono is “in his 70s and retired after a long and illustrious career in the performing arts and takes the view that he should not be vilified without any proper investigation,” the lawyer said.
Neither Sivananthan nor Buono returned repeated e-mails and phone calls.
The letter from Milton Academy revealing Buono’s alleged misconduct promptly emboldened a graduate to go public with what he said the teacher did to him.
“I am a victim,’’ Jamie Forbes, a 50-year-old New Hampshire businessman, wrote on Facebook last week. “I am also a survivor.”
Forbes, a 1985 graduate of Milton who was interviewed by the T&M investigator hired last May by the prestigious school, said Buono began abusing him in the summer of 1981 on the bike trip.
His lifelong friend, Doug Cabot, who was also on the trip, wrote on Facebook that Buono had hugged Cabot and rubbed his back at a campsite after a night of red wine. Cabot told Buono to stop, and the teacher did. Weeks later, Forbes told Cabot in Venice that Buono had groped him the night before in Forbes’s bed, according to Cabot.
Forbes wrote on Facebook that Buono continued to abuse him the first half of his freshman year, while Buono was his academic adviser. It stopped when Cabot got Forbes’s permission to tell his mother about Italy. She told a school official, said Forbes, who did not identify that individual.
In their letter last Tuesday, Milton Academy’s current head of school, Todd Bland, and the president of the board of trustees, Lisa Donohue, acknowledged that the school “failed to protect some of the young people in its care’’ by acting sooner.
The consultant, T&M, determined that Jerome A. Pieh, headmaster from 1973 to 1991, “had some knowledge of Buono’s misconduct in 1982,” according to the letter. But Pieh didn’t fire Buono until 1987, when Buono admitted to abusing another student, wrote school leaders.
Pieh has not returned repeated phone calls, and the letter did not elaborate on the extent of Pieh’s knowledge.
Erin Berg, a school spokeswoman, said Milton would not share details about incidents investigated by T&M because the administration wanted to protect the privacy of victims and witnesses.
The investigator conducted extensive interviews with 60 alumni, parents, and current and former officials of the school. Some witnesses, including victims, agreed to speak under the condition that the investigator would know their identities but would not pass that information on to the school.
Milton is among dozens of private schools that launched investigations in 2016, amid a Globe Spotlight Team series that found allegations of sexual misconduct by staff at more than 110 private schools in New England over the prior 25 years.
Invoking the school motto “Dare to Be True,” Milton leaders apologized in the letter and vowed to “hold ourselves collectively accountable.” The school offered to pay for mental health counseling of victims.
In addition to naming Buono, the letter said three other unnamed male employees committed misconduct “several decades ago” with three female minors that ranged from making lewd comments to sexual intercourse.
But the letter provided few specifics, and, apart from the reference to Pieh, it made no mention of instances where people had reported allegations about Buono to school officials through the years.
Eric MacLeish, a Cambridge lawyer who has represented hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and educators, said he filed a claim with the school in 1993 about a 1977 graduate allegedly abused by Buono for three years. That claim was resolved out of court, the attorney said, and was never made public.
Among those who knew about it, MacLeish said, was the head of the board of trustees at the time, Harold W. Janeway. The lawyer said Janeway met with his client.
Janeway, 81, of Webster, N.H., told the Globe that he chaired the board from 1992 to 1997 but has no recollection of a former student saying Buono abused him. “I would have remembered that,” he said.
Berg, the school spokeswoman, told the Globe that Bland, who became head of school in 2009, was unaware of the 1993 report by MacLeish’s client until Milton Academy began investigating potential abuse last May.
“We have no evidence that Milton’s leadership investigated any allegations against Rey Buono until last year,” she said in an e-mail. “We can’t speculate today on the decision-making of school leadership at that time.”
Around the same time as the claim by MacLeish’s client, Fredie, head of school from 1991 to 1999, met with a man in his late 20s about alleged abuse years earlier by Buono, Fredie said.
Fredie said he had never met Buono, who had left in 1987, but he had heard that Buono sometimes visited friends in the English department.
Fredie considered the allegations so credible that he immediately banned Buono from school grounds, provided photographs of the former teacher to campus security, and alerted Milton Academy’s legal counsel, he said.
He said he also called the Milton police chief to ask officers to arrest Buono if he showed up on campus. (Milton police could not verify Fredie’s account but said that could be because the call might not have been documented.)
Fredie did not take several steps that are now commonplace when schools receive credible allegations of sexual abuse: investigate them and, if they are substantiated, inform alumni and parents. He explained that Buono no longer worked at Milton Academy and no longer seemed a threat to students.
“I chose to stick to the issue of banning him from the campus,’’ said Fredie. “The thinking at the time was more on developing sexual misconduct policies and putting those in place, and that’s what we did.”
Despite Fredie’s account, Berg said that “T&M did not substantiate that any additional victims came forward in the 1990s” besides MacLeish’s client.
The failure to inform alumni and parents about abuse allegations concerning former teachers can have dangerous consequences. The Globe Spotlight Team found seven cases where teachers ousted for sexual misconduct at one school faced subsequent allegations at other schools and settings where they worked with children.
Buono’s LinkedIn profile indicated that he has worked at more than a dozen other schools, theaters, and a water park in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore since he left Milton Academy.
MacLeish said the school didn’t contact Buono’s subsequent employers until February although he had requested that months earlier.
“If Milton had serious enough concerns to have Buono arrested if he came on campus [in 1993], the school should have initiated efforts to determine whether he was working at other campuses which presumably had no knowledge of his predatory past,’’ he said.