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Bergen Catholic High School Accused of Covering Up Sexual Abuse by Wrestling Coaches

Omid Haji Noroozi of Islamic Republic of Iran (L) competes with Revaz Lashkhi of Georgia in their Men's Greco-Roman 60 kg Gold Medal bout on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 6, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey, is under fire this week after reports were published detailing alleged sexual abuse in the school’s wrestling program.

Several reports published this week allege that officials at Bergen Catholic High School conspired to cover up sexual and verbal abuse in the school’s celebrated wrestling program. The abuse included the sharing of pornographic images, coaches watching wrestles strip naked and intimate text messages sent from coaches to students.

A 12-count lawsuit filed in Bergen County, which alleges that the high school worked to shield their wrestling coaches from criminal charges, details a pattern of concerning behavior from more than one wrestling coach. The complaint alleges that Bergen Catholic head wrestling coach Dave Bell “texted and emailed Plaintiff that he loved him, as well as other highly inappropriate and sexually predatory behavior on a minor child.”

The complaint also alleges that assistant coach Dominick “Donnie” Spataro showed “pornographic and nude photographs of himself and others on his mobile photo to Plaintiff and other minor wrestlers.

The school’s president, Brother Brian Walsh, claimed in a statement that the school has zero tolerance for the alleged conduct that took place in the wrestling program. However, Walsh stated that the administration believes that the allegations are untrue.

“Let’s be very clear that the administration has zero tolerance for the actions alleged in this complaint — and consistent with our zero tolerance policy and protocols, despite not having been served the complaint until today, the administration reported these allegations to the Archdiocese of Newark and the Bergen County prosecutor’s office when it first learned of them,” Walsh wrote in the statement.

“With that said, the administration believes that this lawsuit is based on allegations that are unfounded, frivolous and untrue,” Walsh added. “The administration will vigorously defend against these false and baseless allegations.”

Bell’s attorney, Sean Pena, said in a statement that the allegations against his client are “demonstrably false.”

“This is not the first time Coach Bell has been baselessly attacked and regrettably it’s unlikely to be the last,” Pena wrote. “When you have reached the pinnacle of your profession people will do anything to try to tear you and what you build down. These allegations are demonstrably false and Coach Bell eagerly awaits the opportunity to be exonerated.”

This wouldn’t be the first child sexual abuse case at Bergen Catholic. In 2016, the high school paid a $1.9 million settlement to former students who claimed that they had been sexually abused at the school by clergymen in the 60s and 70s when they were between 13 and 17 years old.

“These are Christ’s representatives on Earth,” former student Peter Alrutz said. “You’re taught to do whatever they tell you. And then all of a sudden the people who are supposed to be protecting you are abusing you.”

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