Special Olympics Maine founder accused in lawsuit of grooming, sexually abusing boy

Mar 29, 2024, 10:06 AM | Updated: 10:38 am

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The founder of Special Olympics Maine groomed a 9-year-old boy for sexual abuse that spanned two decades in which he encouraged the victim to accompany him on business trips and provided him with employment — and threatened him to keep it quiet, according to a lawsuit.

The plaintiff, who was not a Special Olympics athlete, says the organization knew about Melvin “Mickey” Boutilier’s history of abuse after he helped create Special Olympics Maine and should have stopped him.

Special Olympics International and Special Olympics Maine said officials were “shocked and saddened” by the claims and that a violation of trust by anyone involved in the organization “tears at the fabric of the movement.”

“We are taking these claims very seriously and are currently investigating the allegations. The passage of time does not lessen the severity of the allegations,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

Boutilier died in 2012 at age 83, and his sister died in 2022. A granddaughter of Boutilier who worked for Special Olympics didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on his behalf.

Mark Frank, 65, of Augusta, Maine, was allowed to bring the lawsuit after the Maine Legislature loosened the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse. The law allowed dozens of new lawsuits to be filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, summer camps and other organizations.

In the lawsuit filed last month, Frank says he met Boutilier in 1967 — at age 9 — when Boutilier coached a basketball team called “Boot’s Bombers” in Gorham, Maine. That was two years before the special education teacher held the first Special Olympics Maine event and seven years before he was honored as “Maine Teacher of the Year.”

Frank says in the lawsuit that Boutilier held pizza parties for team members before gradually singling out Frank, then introducing the boy to pornography and alcohol and sexually abusing him at age 11. Frank says in the lawsuit that the abuse continued after Special Olympics Maine was formally incorporated in 1973, with Frank routinely accompanying Boutilier on business trips.

The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they were sexually assaulted unless they consent to being identified, as Frank did. Frank was not available for comment on Friday.

Attorney Michael Bigos said Frank was abused “dozens if not hundreds” of times by Boutilier. Frank says in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, that he suffered debilitating emotional injury and permanent psychological damage.

“During that era, organizations with access to and control of children, especially those with vulnerabilities, were well aware of the risk of perpetrators of sexual abuse. We believe that The Special Olympics failed to warn, failed to adequately train, and failed to prevent against the known risks of child sexual abuse,” Bigos said.

Bigos encouraged others who may have been abused to come forward. But he said Friday that he was unaware of any other victims.

Boutilier was an Army veteran who served in Korea before returning to Maine to teach in Bridgton and Gorham, in Maine, and Groveton, New Hampshire, according to his obituary. He spent summers working at Camp Waban, a day camp for children with intellectual disabilities, putting him on a career path as a special education teacher.

While teaching in Gorham, Boutilier took a group of special education students to compete in the inaugural Special Olympics founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The experience at Soldiers Field in Chicago inspired Boutilier to start the first Special Olympics Maine. After that, he held the nation’s first winter Special Olympics in Maine.

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Special Olympics Maine founder accused in lawsuit of grooming, sexually abusing boy