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    Suit calls St. Paul’s ‘haven’ for predators

    Accusations include abuse by Gerry Studds and other teachers

    St. Paul's School is a private school in Concord, N.H.
    Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
    St. Paul's School is a private school in Concord, N.H.

    Two students who attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., in the 1960s and 1970s sued the elite prep school for negligence Wednesday, accusing several teachers, including the late Massachusetts congressman Gerry Studds, of abuse and denouncing the school as “a haven for sexual predators.”

    Keith Mithoefer, who attended the school from 1966 to 1970, alleged that Studds and two other faculty members inappropriately touched him at different times, the lawsuit stated. He accused a fourth faculty member of making unwanted sexual remarks.

    Mithoefer is one of two former St. Paul’s students to accuse Studds of sexual misconduct, said Roderick Mac-Leish, a Cambridge lawyer who represents Mithoefer. The other former student is considering legal action, he said.

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    Studds, the first member of Congress to openly say he was gay, was a teacher at St. Paul’s from 1965 to 1969. He later spent 24 years in the US House of Representatives, where he represented the 10th Congressional District covering New Bedford, the South Shore, and Cape Cod.

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    The House censured Studds in 1983 for sexual misconduct after a former congressional page said he and the congressman had a sexual relationship a decade earlier, when the page was 17. Studds died in 2006 at age 69. His husband couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

    In the complaint, Mithoefer said Studds invited him to dinner and drove him to a restaurant in Concord. On the way back, Studds allegedly pulled his vehicle off on a deserted road and offered Mithoefer a cigarette, the lawsuit said.

    Mithoefer had never smoked before, but accepted the cigarette because he wanted to appear “cool,” according to the complaint. Mithoefer and Studds were discussing politics and civil rights when, the lawsuit alleges, Studds placed his hands on the student’s crotch and propositioned him.

    “Mithoefer felt betrayed, terrified, and trapped, and asked to go home,” the complaint said.

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    Mithoefer, who now lives in Dorset, Vt., could not be reached for comment.

    The other plaintiff, George Chester Irons, alleged a former administrator took him to New York City, gave him alcohol, then escorted him to a brothel with other students, where he was forced to engage in sex acts with prostitutes, the complaint said.

    An investigation at the school last year substantiated accusations of sexual misconduct against the administrator, Coolidge Mead Chapin, who worked at the school from 1935 to 1980. He died in 1992.

    The suit was filed in Merrimack County Superior Court in New Hampshire. Damages were not specified.

    In a statement Wednesday, school leaders apologized to the former students.

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    “We are truly sorry for the pain they experienced and for any failure of the school to protect them,” said the statement from Archibald Cox Jr., president of the board of trustees, and Michael Hirschfeld, the rector. “We are as committed as ever to understanding the worst elements of our past to help those who were harmed heal and to improve the school today and into the future.”

    Last July, New Hampshire authorities said they were launching a criminal investigation of the school following new reports of sexual misconduct.

    That probe is examining whether the school endangered the welfare of children or violated a law that prohibits obstructing criminal investigations, according to New Hampshire authorities.

    In a telephone interview, Irons said he was 15 years old and had no sexual experience when Chapin took him to the brothel in the winter of 1973-1974.

    “I’ve been sick for 43 years. For the first 40 years I didn’t know the cause of my illness,” said Irons, 60, a retired finance executive who lives in Palm Beach, Fla. “The cause of my wretched illness is that I was repeatedly raped by prostitutes at the hands of a top St. Paul’s administrator.”

    Irons said he never spoke or thought about the encounter until a 2014 therapy session. Over the years, Irons said, he has donated more than $100,000 to St. Paul’s and, during the early and mid-2000s, served in several leadership positions, including stints as president of the alumni association and a member of the board of trustees.

    The school must be held accountable for “decades of malfeasance,” he said.

    “It’s not our shame and rot to carry to our grave,” Irons said. “The school needs to be held accountable. The shame and rot needs to be at their doorstep.”

    Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com.