The parents of a Brant Lake camper who during the summer of 2018 wrote home to say “Dylan touched my penis” have filed a civil lawsuit against the camp and its former assistant director, Dylan Stolz, in New York State Supreme Court. Worse yet, this civil suit turns out to be only the latest of three sexual-abuse complaints lodged against Brant Lake Camp.
In May, AIR MAIL published an investigation detailing accusations of sexual abuse at Brant Lake, the 104-year-old boys’ camp in the southern Adirondack Mountains that has been a summer destination for the sons of Ralph Lauren, Jerry Seinfeld, and legions of wealthy Jewish New Yorkers.
The investigation focused on nine campers, aged 7 to 11 years old, who had testified about sexual molestation by Stolz before a grand jury in 2018. Stolz was ultimately indicted on 27 counts that included sexual abuse in the first degree. But after one of the boys recanted his original accusation, the judge declared a mistrial.
Before a second trial could take place, Stolz took a plea deal in which he was allowed to maintain his innocence, while acknowledging that the evidence against him was sufficient to persuade a jury he was guilty. A Long Island public-school teacher who had worked at the camp for 33 summers, Stolz is currently serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence in Otisville Correctional Facility, in Mount Hope, New York.
In the new civil suit, the letter writer’s parents allege that Brant Lake “received complaints that the defendant, Dylan Stolz, had been a sexual abuser of children” and that the camp “carelessly, negligently, and recklessly ignored and dismissed the aforesaid complaints.”
As a result, the parents claim, their son “sustained physical and psychological injuries,” including “severe emotional distress, humiliation, fright, dissociation, anger, depression, anxiety, and family turmoil.”
A lawyer for the boy’s family, Marijo Adimey, tells AIR MAIL, “Brant Lake knew. Period. They knew it was going on, and they did nothing about it.” (Richie Gersten, the executive director of the camp, did not respond to multiple phone calls and e-mails requesting comment about the three civil lawsuits. Attempts to reach Stolz via James Knox, the attorney who represented him in his criminal trial, were unsuccessful.)
The parents claim their son “sustained physical and psychological injuries.”
The boy’s parents are asking for “punitive and exemplary damages,” but the lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount, given that, since 2003, New York State personal-injury plaintiffs have been prohibited from asking for a specific dollar amount in the earliest stage of a lawsuit.
In seeking redress from Brant Lake Camp for sexual abuse, the boy’s parents are not alone. In June, a 48-year-old Brant Lake alumnus filed a civil suit in Kings County Supreme Court against Brant Lake under the Child Victims Act, which enables victims of childhood sex abuse to bring claims regarding abuse for which the statute of limitations has expired. (The deadline for bringing such claims is August 2021.)
According to the suit, the Brant Lake alumnus was sexually abused in the summer of 1982, when he was nine years old, by two counselors, referred to as “John Doe 1 and John Doe 2.”
The two counselors, the complaint reads, “told Plaintiff there was a ‘secret club’ that he could join. The counselors explained that this ‘secret club’ must remain clandestine and that campers were not to say anything about what happened in the ‘club’ to anyone.... One evening [the counselors] took a couple of the boys, including Plaintiff, into the bathroom where they lined up the boys and forced them to perform the act of masturbation on each other and on John Doe 1 and John Doe 2. That same evening, Plaintiff was taken into the showers by John Doe 1 and was forced to perform oral sex on him. Plaintiff coughed, choked and gagged on John Doe 1’s pubic hair. John Doe 2 repeated this behavior.”
The plaintiff, says his lawyer, Hillary Nappi, has “experienced a litany of hardships as a result of the abuse, but he works in the field of recovery and is trying to turn his experience into a positive, to help other people who have experienced trauma on all different levels.”
Brant Lake has yet to file a response to the lawsuit, and has been granted an extension until the beginning of January to do so.
The two counselors, the complaint reads, “told Plaintiff there was a ‘secret club’ that he could join.”
Back in November of 2019, another claim against Brant Lake was filed under the Child Victims Act, on behalf of a plaintiff referred to as “T.K.,” in Ulster County Supreme Court.
T.K.’s complaint alleges that during the summer of 1960, when he was approximately six years old, a counselor in training “engaged in sexually explicit behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct” with him on multiple occasions. “John Doe would take showers with T.K., and inappropriately touch his genitals.... John Doe repeatedly kissed T.K. on the mouth.”
According to the complaint, “T.K. contracted mononucleosis as a result of the inappropriate conduct of John Doe. As a result of the mononucleosis, T.K. was forced to miss approximately three months of school and undergo a regimen of powerful antibiotics that caused his teeth to become brittle and break.”
As a result of the alleged abuse, the complaint reads, “T.K. suffered physical, psychological, and emotional injury,” and, “developed life-long problems with authority, with sex, and with being touched.... He suffered from nightmares, panic attacks and flashbacks.”
This past October, in its motion to dismiss the suit, Brant Lake argued that T.K.’s complaint “does not allege any facts to support its conclusory allegations that defendant knew or should have known of the alleged abuser’s propensity to commit the type of acts alleged in the Amended Complaint.”
On December 2, Justice Michael Mackey denied Brant Lake’s bid to dismiss the case.
A man who first attended Brant Lake in the summer of 1977, and who says he was sexually abused by his counselor, told me that he believes Brant Lake “deserves to be out of business. Just like the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church, they claimed to be such a great institution. They talk about their rich history and tradition, meanwhile they were neglecting to protect their children and worried about their reputation.”
“There was this completely reckless environment at Brant Lake that allowed this abuse to occur,” says Nappi. “The lack of oversight and supervision and control from the people who own and operate it is what’s striking to me. That’s prevalent throughout the decades.”
“My kid still has nightmares about Dylan, and it’s all because Brant Lake didn’t protect him from this predator,” says the parent of one of Stolz’s alleged victims. “Dylan made a habit of touching little boys, and the camp gave him the opportunity to be alone with them. They were very, very young, and vulnerable.”
Among families whose children were allegedly molested by Stolz, and who participated in his criminal trial, there is a contingent who plan to enroll their sons in Brant Lake next summer.
“The guy’s in jail, and we feel the way we feel about the camp—which is that we’re never going to know definitively about what they knew, or should have known,” says one such parent. “All we can do is see how the camp has responded to the situation. We see all the protections they’ve put in place, all the changes they’ve made.... More importantly, most of our boys wanted to go back.... If my son wants to go to camp, notwithstanding what happened, I can’t think of a better, safer camp to go to than that one. It’s almost like lightning’s not going to strike twice in the same spot.”
In common with all New York State sleepaway camps, Brant Lake was prohibited from operating last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. On November 20, the same day the latest civil suit was filed, the camp sent an e-mail to its families: “We hope you are in good health and you sense a bit of optimism moving forward to 2021! We are more than optimistic, in fact, fully confident, that BLC year #104 will occur next summer and that it will be joyous on many, many levels.”
Johanna Berkman is a New York City–based writer