In July 2018, a 10-year-old boy who was enrolled at Brant Lake Camp, in the Adirondacks, testified before a grand jury that he had been molested by his counselor Dylan Stolz in the camp’s Sophs’ shower house in 2015 when he was 7, and then again the following summer: “In the shower house … they basically check that you wash, usually only your arms but [Stolz] would open the curtain without warning and he touched my leg and then went across my penis and onto my other leg.”
Another boy testified that back in 2017, when he was eight, Stolz “would take off my robe and then he would like touch my butt he would put his hands on it.” Meanwhile, another 10-year-old testified that, less than one month earlier, “when I put soap on my legs I step out of the shower and showed [Stolz], he saw it, he rubbed me … and touched my private part.” A nine-year-old testified that he, too, had been molested by Stolz just weeks earlier, “when I was going into the shower after I handed [Stolz] my robe because some people can’t reach the hooks.”
As a result of the grand-jury testimony of these boys, plus that of five additional campers, Stolz was indicted on a total of 27 counts that included three different charges: sexual abuse in the first degree, course of sexual conduct against a child in the second degree, and endangering the welfare of a child.
After Stolz’s firing, on June 28, 2018, and before his arrest, on July 4, Brant Lake had provided night watch for the bunk of the boy whose letter home had triggered the investigation. But now that a group of boys had testified against him, parents feared that, should Stolz be released on bail, he might return to camp to intimidate the boys, or perhaps even try to exact some kind of revenge.
After a long phone call with Annemiek “Mieks” Gersten, who is an associate director at Brant Lake Camp, about just what these new security protocols might be, one boy’s parents then received an e-mail from Mieks’s husband, camp executive director Richie Gersten. While assuring them that, “should Dylan be out,” full night watch “of the boys bunk” would resume, he asked them for “a bit of time to respond” to their concerns. “On a simpler note,” Gersten concluded the e-mail, “saw [your son] win the long distance run for his group at the Olympic track meet today.”
Parents feared that, should Stolz be released on bail, he might return to camp to intimidate the boys, or perhaps even try to exact some kind of revenge.
But a little more than an hour later, the boy’s parents received another e-mail, this one sent to them in error by Robert Minion, a partner at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler: “Richie: Better, but still too much detail. You, Mieks and others should not be discussing the specific procedures of camp security at any level of detail with anyone. Armed guards, guns, etc.... that is all crazy!! (If you did that, just imagine the next story… ‘Gunfire and murder at Brant Lake Camp!’ … it is pure insanity and the best recipe for going out of business.) (Just because a few parents are crazy doesn’t mean that you should also be.) In short, just let any parents concerned about safety and security regarding Dylan know that camp is fully safe and secure, with 24 hour protection and intensely close supervision of your grounds and all camp personnel (including, most importantly, the campers.) But certainly do not have a conversation about every specific measure you are using.”
Gersten immediately called the boy’s parents to apologize, and also got a night watchman for the camp’s gate for the rest of the summer. Additionally, Gersten re-started night watch of the boys’ bunk once Stolz was released from jail, on July 16, and assured the parents that this would continue as long as Stolz was free. Although the boy’s parents hadn’t yet made the connection, Robert Minion wasn’t just advising Richie Gersten about camp security; he was also the father of Alexa Minion, a twentysomething elementary-school teacher and longtime Brant Lake counselor, who was in charge of the Soph B boys, the group that included their son as well as the majority of the boys who had testified against Stolz.
Meanwhile, Stolz’s friend and colleague of 24 years, Emmanuel “Mani” Cadet, a Florida-based actor and, according to his Brant Lake bio, a “performer at Disneyworld,” who had originally come to Brant Lake as a dishwasher, had now become, in the wake of Stolz’s firing, the head of the whole Sophs division.
“This Ritual Needs to Stop”
On June 30, 2018, Gersten wrote to inform “Camp Families” that as a result of allegations of inappropriate touching, Stolz had been “immediately terminated.” Yet two months before the first camper wrote home to his parents about Stolz’s sexual abuse, Richie Gersten had received a written warning of his own.
The April 24, 2018, e-mail began: “Hi Richie. I’m writing to you because I recently met up in Scotland with some of your former counselors who worked at BLC for multiple years and a number of them raised concerns about Dylan.”
According to these former counselors, Dylan “frequently takes kids from the Sophs (usually Bs) down after dark to his office/home to watch tv as a ‘reward’ for good behavior.” (In a mocking video made for the 2017 “Green and Gray” competition, a roomful of teenage boys are hanging out in their bunk when one of them says, “Remember when Dylan invited us into his house to watch movies and stuff?” The other campers nod and say yes.)
Although the writer of the e-mail noted that she had never witnessed this “after-dark ritual” herself, she reported that “multiple other counselors said they had seen this. Apparently, there are no other adults present in Dylan’s quarters during this time, and Dylan takes one kid down at a time, then returns to get another. So while there are usually multiple kids in the office, the first kid is alone with him.
“One counselor said that he went down one night to ask Dylan a question, and Dylan was lying down on the couch ‘cuddling’ with two campers (and the door closed), and jumped up when the counselor entered the room.... A few of [the counselors] said they approached Mani [Cadet, then head of the Soph A boys and assistant to Stolz] about this during their first year at BLC and were told basically, ‘Dylan does that, don’t worry. It’s not your concern.’
“All of us who discussed this believe strongly that this ritual needs to stop. I understand that there’s no concrete proof of anything bad happening, and I hope that nothing has, but BLC has a responsibility to actively ensure a safe environment for its children, and allowing this practice to continue would be a failure to fulfill that responsibility. No adult, no matter how long they’ve worked at BLC, should be so blindly trusted that they’re allowed to be alone with kids at night in a closed space with no other adults present. In light of recent news about Larry Nassar, I want to urge you to please, please err on the side of caution and take action here. The mentality that ‘if anything were going on we would have known by now’ has proved to be disastrously misguided.”
“Dylan was lying down on the couch ‘cuddling’ with two campers (and the door closed), and jumped up when the counselor entered the room.”
Under Section 413 of the New York Social Services Law, Gersten, as “the director of a children’s overnight camp,” is a “mandated reporter,” meaning that he is legally required to report “cases of suspected child abuse or maltreatment”—in this case, to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, which has a 24-hour hotline just for this purpose—when he has “reasonable cause” to suspect that a child has been abused or maltreated.
According to sex-abuse attorney Adam Horowitz, this e-mail met Section 413’s “reasonable cause” threshold. “The notion that there has to be certainty or an eyewitness to trigger the reporting obligations is one hundred percent false,” says Horowitz. “The reason mandatory reporting is so important is that these [camp directors], while they might be well-intentioned, they’re not trained investigators, so it shouldn’t fall upon [them] to determine whether the hearsay evidence is sufficient. That’s what you have trained staff for.... He has to go to the state and let them investigate.” Or, as civil-rights attorney Ilann M. Maazel, who has litigated many sex-abuse cases, puts it, “When in doubt, report. We’re talking about the safety of kids.”
Gersten’s reply to the lengthy e-mail was brief: “Thank you for passing on the information that you did. It is important and much appreciated. I will address with Dylan (and Mani as well). I agree we have to remain vigilant and aware. We surely want no one’s life ruined while here at Brant Lake Camp.”
Just three months later, Dylan Stolz would be in jail. And just seven months after that, Gersten himself would be in court, testifying as a witness at Stolz’s criminal trial.
These allegations were shared with Richie Gersten, who declined to comment. They were also shared with Mani Cadet, who did not return to Brant Lake for the 2019 season, and with Stolz’s lawyer, James Knox. Neither has responded.
The third part of this story will appear in the May 23 issue of AIR MAIL
Johanna Berkman is a writer based in New York