Late on a stormy New Hampshire night in the summer of 1986, a convicted sex offender named Philip Paul was working as an athletic trainer at Keene State College when he sexually molested a summer camper, a 15-year-old boy.
Paul, who was 32, pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual assault and was sent to the county jail. Four days later, he sexually assaulted another inmate, a judge ruled, and he was ordered to serve the balance of his 2½- to 7-year sentence at the New Hampshire state prison.
Today, Paul is a registered sex offender, living in Framingham and classified as Level 2 — a moderate risk to reoffend. He is also a regular in referee pinstripes on basketball courts around the region, one of a number of ex-convicts who are listed by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association as qualified basketball officials, eligible to judge right from wrong for student-athletes in contests across the Commonwealth.
A limited review of state court records by the Globe found at least seven other referees who have been convicted of serious crimes — offenses ranging from distributing cocaine in a school zone and illegally possessing handguns on the streets of Boston to larceny, embezzlement, and gambling.
But most of their crimes have been a secret to the public because almost no one responsible for ensuring the safety of the state’s student-athletes, including the MIAA, is checking the criminal records of the 7,600 referees who are eligible to officiate in Massachusetts schools.
The MIAA lags behind a national movement of state high school athletic associations launching screening programs for officials. Consequently, no one knows how many current or former offenders are calling fouls on the state’s student-athletes.
“It’s a head-scratcher,” said Steve Ray, a longtime high school basketball coach and referee in Pittsfield, where Darryell Drumgoole was convicted in 1999 of distributing cocaine in a school zone.
Drumgoole is now a certified basketball official who referees school games in Berkshire County.
“You see guys with drug convictions and you wonder how they got through the system,’’ Ray said.
Like other ex-offenders identified by the Globe, Drumgoole said he has turned around his life in the many years since his conviction. Drumgoole said he has paid his debt to society in prison time and should be allowed to officiate. Paul declined to comment.
At least 20 states require criminal background checks for athletic officials in schools, and Tom Lopes, executive director of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials, said he expects every state one day to screen referees for criminal records.
But there has been little action in Massachusetts. The vast majority of sports associations that train and certify referees listed by the MIAA do not conduct criminal background checks. Nor do school districts.
State law requires school employees and volunteers who may have unmonitored, direct access to students to be screened for a criminal record. Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said the superintendents believe the referee checks are necessary and have asked the MIAA to conduct them, to no avail.
On Friday, the MIAA’s associate executive director, Richard Pearson, said his organization is taking the matter “very seriously.’’ He said the MIAA’s board of directors is scheduled to receive a final report on the issue in February and will decide no sooner than next fall whether to begin screening referees for criminal records.
Scott said school superintendents consider the issue urgent enough that they may ask the Massachusetts Legislature to require the MIAA to administer the checks.
“We need to make sure we are doing our due diligence,’’ he said.
The Globe screened the state’s 2,500 certified basketball officials by reviewing the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry and criminal dockets at the state’s 20 superior courts. Basketball officials represent the largest group of certified referees who work inside school buildings.
The review did not cover offenses tried in the state’s 70 district courts because no central database is publicly available for records in those jurisdictions. District courts handle most of the state’s criminal cases: felonies punishable by up to five years in jail, all misdemeanors, as well as violations of city and town laws. Nor did the Globe review cover out-of-state jurisdictions and federal courts.
Still, even the limited sampling yielded at least eight cases that could disqualify the former offenders from officiating in some states that conduct background screening. Some of their offenses occurred long ago, and several of the referees are officiating college or recreational games rather than school contests.
In Paul’s case, the MIAA has taken no action despite knowing about the worst of his criminal record for nearly a decade. He had been officiating school games for nearly 10 years when he was charged in Peabody in 2003 with failing to register as a sex offender in Massachusetts. The MIAA was made aware of his Peabody arrest and New Hampshire convictions by newspaper reports on the North Shore in 2005.
Those reports did not cite Paul’s arrest at Moakley Park in South Boston in 2002 on a charge of indecent exposure. Police officers allegedly witnessed him engaging in sex there with an adult male. The charge was dismissed on the condition that Paul pay $300 in court costs.
Nor did those news reports cite Paul’s conviction for sexually assaulting a minor in Fairfield, Conn., in 1977, a year after he graduated from the University of Bridgeport. He received a 30-day suspended sentence in that case and a one-year conditional discharge.
The news coverage effectively cost Paul his Massachusetts license as an independent clinical social worker. State records show he received the license in 1996 and lost it in 2005 after the Board of Registration of Social Workers convened a disciplinary hearing on his criminal record.
But his officiating career continued, thanks both to the MIAA’s inaction and his support from leaders of an International Association of Approved Basketball Officials chapter on the North Shore, which trains and certifies referees.
Paul Halloran, a member of the chapter’s executive board, said in a recent interview that the organization was not aware of any convictions on Paul’s record other than his guilty pleas in 1986. He said the chapter has maintained Paul’s certification because it has found no evidence of any wrongdoing by him as an official in the many years since those convictions and because his colleagues consider him a productive citizen of good character.
“I understand the severity of his crime and the ramifications it may have had for the victim,’’ Halloran said. “But many years have passed, and I have come to know Phil very well. I consider him a friend and a decent guy, and nothing he has ever said or done in my company has made me hesitate about him refereeing a basketball game or being at the dinner table with my family.’’
Yet Paul’s criminal history requires him to remain a registered sex offender in Massachusetts for life.
‘Prudent thing to do’
Opponents of background checks note that crimes by school sports officials are rare. But they do occur.
In Colorado last year, the high school athletic association began requiring background screening after Stephen Amador, a basketball referee with a criminal history, was convicted of groping four girls who were competing in games he was officiating.
In Oregon in 2011, a high school basketball referee was charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Later that year, school referees in Arkansas and Kentucky were charged with drug trafficking. Those cases did not involve students, but they contributed to safety concerns among school officials.
Wisconsin and Washington began checking criminal records after basketball referees were charged with making bomb threats and drug trafficking, respectively.
The only New England state that requires background checks is Connecticut, according to a recent study by the National Federation of State High School Associations. A spokesman for the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association, the MIAA’s counterpart there, said the screening began three years ago after the agency’s leaders saw an increasing number of states require background checks and determined “it was the prudent thing to do.’’
The MIAA, however, has yet to conclude that school sports officials have direct, unmonitored access to students — the legal threshold for requiring background checks in Massachusetts.
“As best we can tell, officials have very little contact with players, except in public when the games are being played,’’ said Paul Wetzel, spokesman for the MIAA.
Many referees share that view.
“We’re basically hit-and-run people,’’ said attorney Alan Goldberger, a longtime basketball official in New Jersey and author of “Sports Officiating: A Legal Guide.’’
“We come into a venue and often have our own dressing room,’’ Goldberger said. “Sometimes we walk onto the court or the field in the company of a police officer, and then we go back to our cars. That’s it.’’
Many Massachusetts sports officials undergo criminal background checks in their additional roles as teachers, coaches, or referees in youth leagues. Dozens also officiate more than one sport and worry they could be subject to repeated, time-consuming checks through the state’s Criminal Offender Registry Information, or CORI, system.
“Between the schools and summer leagues, some officials could be CORI’d constantly,’’ said Tom Stagliano, president of the Eastern Massachusetts Soccer Officials Association, which does not conduct criminal background checks on its members.
The largest organization of MIAA-affiliated referees that requires background checks is the Eastern Massachusetts Lacrosse Officials Association, with more than 400 members. For six years, those officials have been subject to CORI inquiries.
The screening is “part of our primary responsibility as sports officials: to provide a safe environment for players,’’ said Darrell Benson, the association’s president.
Benson said at least four prospective lacrosse officials have been discouraged from completing the training program “because of the prospect of them failing a CORI check.’’
Wetzel said the MIAA approves of certifying organizations screening officials. But the MIAA’s failure so far to undertake background checks clashes with the policy of the National Federation of State High School Associations, of which the MIAA is a member. The federation believes all governing bodies such as the MIAA should launch screening programs.
“The world is very different now,’’ said Theresia Wynns, the federation’s director of sports and officials education. “If you have pedophiles, you are providing them an opportunity to stake out or lust after individuals, so it’s in our best interest to protect our young people. We do that with background checks.’’
The MIAA classifies athletic officials as independent contractors and recommends how much schools pay them — from $50 for a junior varsity softball game to $85 for a varsity football contest. During regular-season competition, the home schools hire and pay referees for interscholastic games. For postseason tournaments, the MIAA is responsible for staffing and paying officials.
The MIAA’s formal relationship with sports officials includes the agency assessing a $6 annual fee on each of the 7,600 referees listed on its website for all different sports.
When Wetzel was asked for this story why the MIAA took no action in Paul’s case after learning he was a registered sex offender, he described it as “a judgment call.’’
Despite the MIAA’s tacit approval, Paul’s high school officiating opportunities diminished as word of his convictions spread. He officiated his last MIAA tournament game in 2009 and has since refereed only a small number of high school games.
In recent years, Paul has mostly officiated men’s games for the Eastern College Athletic Conference. However, Larry Last, who assigns officials for ECAC men’s games, said Paul, at 60, has struggled to keep pace with high-speed collegiate competition and will referee his last ECAC game next month.
Degrees of disqualification
The Massachusetts law on criminal background checks permits school districts to determine which independent contractors should be screened and which offenses should disqualify them from jobs. But one rule seems generally accepted.
“If you’re a registered sex offender, that’s going to be a problem,’’ said Jacqueline Reis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which administers the law.
The National Alliance for Youth Sports advocates disqualifying any official who has been convicted of major crimes, including sex, gun, and drug offenses, no matter how long ago they occurred.
Sex crimes also are considered disqualifiers in the states that currently screen sports officials for criminal records. The rules otherwise vary by state on which crimes should bar a referee from working school games.
Some states disqualify anyone convicted of a felony in the past five years, while others bar anyone with felony convictions in the previous 10 years. Still others, such as Connecticut and North Carolina, have no time limits.
In those states, Paul, Drumgoole, and other ex-offenders identified in the Globe review could be barred from officiating despite the lengthy periods since their crimes — a policy that strikes some former convicts and their advocates as unfair.
Massachusetts has adopted policies aimed at making it easier for ex-offenders to become productive citizens. Under the CORI law, background checks cover only felonies committed in the past 10 years, which means Paul’s and Drumgoole’s CORI records are clean.
In Drumgoole’s case, a Berkshire County jury found him guilty in 1999 of two counts related to distributing crack cocaine in Pittsfield in 1997. He also had been convicted of intimidating witnesses and threatening to commit a crime after he allegedly clutched a handgun in a 1997 street confrontation with his wife’s ex-husband.
Drumgoole was sentenced to 43 days in jail for the intimidation incident and received a 5- to 8-year prison term for the drug convictions.
He now is a member of the Berkshire County chapter of certified basketball officials. He also is a substitute teacher in the Pittsfield public schools.
While Drumgoole might be barred in some states from refereeing school games, he said it would be unjust to terminate his officiating career. He said he has served his time and has not reoffended.
“I understand what the superintendents are saying,’’ Drumgoole said. “Criminal background checks make sense. But you don’t want to take jobs away from people who have paid their debts to society.
“I had one bad year,’’ he said. “I’ve battled long and hard to reinvent myself, so as I move forward all these years later I want to be able to walk into a job interview with the confidence I need, not sweating the fact that I have to talk about my CORI.’’
Leaders of the Berkshire County chapter of basketball officials who have certified and assigned Drumgoole to referee school games declined to comment.
Among the other certified officials in Massachusetts who could be barred from refereeing in some states because of their criminal records is Andrew Puglia, a former Somerville alderman. A disbarred lawyer, Puglia pleaded guilty in 2001 to embezzling more than $160,000 from his clients. He was ordered to serve six months in jail and repay the stolen money. He was on probation until 2012.
Now Puglia, like Paul, is a certified member of the North Shore chapter of basketball officials. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Executive board member Halloran said chapter officials were not aware of Puglia’s conviction until they were contacted by the Globe. He said Puglia has agreed to discuss the matter with them as they review his status.
Leaving trouble behind
American culture is rich with redemption stories. Good citizens in many walks of life have overcome criminal pasts. In Boston, Jahmahl Galloway’s supporters cite him as an example.
In 1992, Galloway had recently completed a promising basketball career at the former Mission High School in Roxbury, when he was charged with illegally possessing a .25-caliber handgun in a gang-menaced area of Humboldt Avenue. He was placed on two years of pretrial probation.
Before Galloway completed his probation, officers assigned to the Boston police antigang violence unit searched a car he was driving in Roxbury and discovered an unlicensed loaded handgun, ammunition, and marijuana. He then was sentenced to a year in jail.
Galloway was 19 when he was first arrested and 22 when he entered the house of corrections.
Twenty years later, he is considered one of the top high school basketball officials in Boston. His supporters say it would be a shame to strip him of his officiating job.
“A lot of us made mistakes when we were kids,’’ said Madison Park boys’ basketball coach Dennis Wilson, who has known Galloway since he was a child. “I believe everyone except murderers and rapists deserves a second chance, and certainly Jahmahl does. I have seen the changes in him.’’
Galloway, now 42, a foreman at Boston’s Fairview Cemetery, has officiated title games in the city high school playoffs as well as MIAA state tournament contests. He said he referees in part for his love of the game and his potential to help at-risk youths.
“A lot of players or their parents know about the experiences I went through and see the strides I’ve made,’’ Galloway said. “Refereeing has given me an opportunity to help some kids who are on the fence and maybe heading the wrong way. I can let them know about going the right way.’’
Galloway embodies the challenge some state athletic associations face in balancing student safety with the employment rights of school sports officials.
“We’re in the integrity business,’’ said Mark Uyl, assistant director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. “In the ideal situation, anybody with any conviction probably shouldn’t be an official. But you also have to look at the reality of life. People make mistakes, and sometimes we have to make judgment calls.’’
Background checks in Michigan have turned up convictions in about 6 percent — or more than 700 — of the 12,000 school sports officials who have been screened. Many of those offenses were minor, Uyl said, but others were serious enough to end officiating careers.
He said the risk of allowing those ex-convicts to work in the schools was too great to bear.
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.