ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – More former paperboys are coming forward, saying they were molested by their supervisor when they worked for the Democrat and Chronicle in the 1980s.
They shared their stories after WXXI News’ and CITY’s reports last month about a lawsuit filed by Rick Bates, another former paperboy, under New York’s Child Victims Act.
Five men contacted WXXI in the days after our story first aired on Oct. 15. Three of them are either joining Bates’ lawsuit or filing separate legal claims against the newspaper.
They said they believe Bates’ allegations of sexual abuse, because they experienced something similar when they delivered newspapers for the Democrat and Chronicle in the early 1980s.
“I’m 51 years old,” said Francis Goodsell, “and it still …when I think about that, it still makes me shake.”
“It’s a little scary to kind of bring up your own past and relive things,” added another former paperboy, Paul Tracy.
Goodsell and Tracy said they were forcibly touched by Jack Lazeroff, the same D&C district manager accused of sexually assaulting Bates for nearly a year when Bates was 11 and 12 years old.
Goodsell, Tracy, and Bates, who said they don’t know each other, delivered newspapers to different Brighton neighborhoods around 1982 and 1983.
Goodsell was 14 at the time. He said he remembers Lazeroff stalking him in his car in the early mornings when he was out on his route.
“Sometimes he said, ‘Get in and I’ll drive you over to the next street,’ ” Goodsell recalled, “and then he would put his hand over on me and I was completely … you just freeze in those moments.”
Then, he said, Lazeroff became bolder. Goodsell described one incident that he said took place in his own house.
“I remember how he did it,” Goodsell explained. “He brought a pair of pants that he said were his son’s that he thought would fit me, so he was, like, giving me a gift or something. My mother was in the kitchen, and we were just in the next room, the dining room. He held the pants up to me but then put his hand on my crotch and, of course, I was shocked.”
Goodsell’s high school classmate and fellow swim team member, Randy Penberg, lived nearby and delivered newspapers for the Democrat and Chronicle in 1982. Penberg recalled hiding behind houses and trees when he saw Lazeroff’s car slowly coming down the road in the early mornings when Penberg was delivering newspapers on his route.
Penberg described several times when he said Lazeroff groped or fondled him. One incident, he said, took place on the front porch of a home where Penberg was collecting payment from a customer. Another episode was in Lazeroff’s car, which was parked behind a doughnut shop at 12 Corners in Brighton.
“When I put an end to it, it was the winter of ’83,” Penberg said. “It was another typical cold, Rochester morning. He was driving around and found me and asked if I wanted help with my route. He had unzipped his pants and asked me if I wanted to warm up my hands. I completely lost it and yelled, ‘No!’ and darted out of the car. That was the last time anything happened.”
Bates’ lawsuit, which was filed on Oct. 15, claims the Democrat and Chronicle knew or should have known that Lazeroff was grooming and sexually abusing paperboys, but concealed this to protect its reputation.
Lawyers for the D&C and its parent company, Gannett, denied the allegations in court papers, and a spokesperson for the companies did not reply to an email asking for a response to this story.
But two of the alleged victims told WXXI News that they complained to the D&C about Lazeroff.
“I called the office and let them know that he had messed with my son, so they knew something about it,” said John Tracy, 89.
Tracy’s son, Paul, delivered newspapers to the Clintwood Court apartments in Brighton. Paul said he was 15 or 16 years old when he met Jack Lazeroff in 1982 or 1983.
He said Lazeroff fondled him four or five times, but one day, he made a bold move in the Tracy family room.
“Jack had walked over and just laid down next to me,” he said. “I was laying on the ground, playing video games with my Atari against the old TV set, and he put his hand around my body without any pause to even say, ‘How’re doing?’ and he just started rubbing my genital area.
“I was shocked and I stood up and I just went over and told my dad. What I guess I said to my dad was ‘I don’t want him around me,’ and I said, ‘Get him out, please,’ and he did.”
After Lazeroff left, Paul Tracy said he told his father the man had fondled him.
“I was very angry, as you can quite imagine,” John Tracy said. “If he had been here at the time, the best thing that could have happened to (Lazeroff) then would have been if he ended up in the hospital, because I wasn’t about to take any of that crap from him or anybody else.”
John Tracy doesn’t remember who he spoke to when he called the Democrat and Chronicle, but Paul said he was standing in the kitchen, listening to his father’s conversation.
“He did tell them over the phone, ‘My son tells me that Lazeroff just fondled him, or hurt him, or touched him,’ ” Paul said. “I think ‘touched him’ was the word, and ‘I don’t want him around my son anymore.’ I remember that, ‘I don’t want that guy around,’ and he was very vocal and very loud.”
Paul Tracy continued his paper route until 1984, but said he never saw Jack Lazeroff after that day. He assumed Lazeroff had been fired, but former D&C circulation manager Tony Mammano told CITY that Lazeroff was transferred from Brighton to another territory on the west side of Rochester and was then fired in the mid- to late 1980s.
Another former paperboy said he asked a Democrat and Chronicle employee, a young man who dropped off the newspapers to his house, about Lazeroff.
Kelby Ash, whose paper route covered the Eastview Terrace townhomes in Brighton in the early 1980s when he was 11 or 12, said Lazeroff brushed up against his genitals one time and fondled him on four or five different occasions.
He said he approached the newspaper delivery man, his only liaison at the newspaper other than Lazeroff, and told him something was wrong.
“The young man, whose name I can’t remember, but I’ll never forget the interaction we had, because he went white in the face,” Ash said. “The color drained out of his face and he looked at me and said that he had heard things about Jack with boys and I had to make sure that I was 100 percent that I stayed safe and was never alone with him.
“He said he had told Jack that, ‘People are talking about you and your interactions with boys.’ I remember he said, ‘It’s is a different day and age, you just can’t spend time like this,’ but Lazeroff didn’t change his ways.”
As WXXI previously reported, Lazeroff, who died at the age of 74 in 2003, was arrested two times — in Greece in 1987 and in Penfield in 1988 — for alleged incidents involving teenage boys.
Before he worked for the Democrat and Chronicle, Lazeroff was an assistant vice president at the former First Federal Savings and Loan at 320 E. Main St. in Rochester.
He was fired in the early 1970s, according to Ellen deBuono, who was the bank’s human resources manager at the time. She said Lazeroff was fired because young men who worked at the bank complained that he had fondled them at work.
Another woman who worked at First Federal said she witnessed numerous times Lazeroff sexually abusing high school-aged young men who had applied to the bank for student loans.
“He would molest them under his desk,” said Mrs. Howe, who asked that we not use her first name.
“This is difficult to talk about,” she continued, “but he would personally masturbate himself when he was doing the same thing to the applicant under the desk. It was very, very obvious what was going on and it was absolutely sickening. Nauseating, to be honest with you.”
Howe said she wasn’t the only bank employee who knew about it.
“A lot of people saw it happening,” she said, “because his office had a full-length window, floor to ceiling, and his office just off of the main lobby. This was happening all the time. I don’t think there was ever a male applicant that wasn’t subjected to this abuse.”
Howe said she was “young and naïve at the time and didn’t know what could be done,” but that she reported what she saw to her boss. She doesn’t know if anyone at the bank contacted police.
Media reports about the initial lawsuit filed against the Democrat and Chronicle by Rick Bates led her to call Bates’ attorney, James Marsh, she said.
“I just feel if something had been done 50 years ago, all of these boys after that could have been saved and their lives wouldn’t have been ruined,” Howe said.”That’s what bothers me the most.”
Marsh, who now represents three other paperboys who intend to take legal action, said Lazeroff’s alleged actions at the bank are “very significant,” and demonstrate that he had a reputation for engaging in this type of behavior a decade before he supervised paperboys.
Marsh questions whether the Democrat and Chronicle knew about this before hiring Lazeroff and if the company inquired about his reasons for leaving the bank.
CITY editor David Andreatta contributed to this report.