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Former Pace Students Claim Ex-Dean Sexually Abused Them

MIAMI (CBSMiami/The Miami Herald) – A former Catholic high school wrestler and other former students have accused an ex-dean of sexual abuse.

CBS4 news partner, The Miami Herald, spoke with the former wrestler listed as a victim in the case.  He is now 27-years-old and the abuse happened when he was a senior at Monsignor Edward Pace High School.

The man known as "John Doe D"  was once a said to be a high school wrestling star with a real shot at winning the state wrestling championships in his weight class.

However, during his senior year, the paper reported he quit the team, began flunking classes and skipping school.

He said he did it to avoid one man: Marist Brother Ken Ward, the Miami Gardens school's dean of students, the paper reported.

"I would drive from Aventura to Pace, but I couldn't be there because of him, so I would turn around," said the former student to the paper. "I was so embarrassed inside because I let him touch me."

Ward, who was in charge of discipline at the Archdiocese of Miami school, would regularly summon him on the P.A. system to his office and instruct him to undress, according to the former Pace student's lawsuit filed this month against Ward and the archdiocese.

During those visits, the man stated the dean accused him of using steroids so he could inspect his body with the office blinds closed.

"The worst thing that happened to me was, he came up behind me and grabbed my body and grabbed my genitals," the man, identified as "John Doe D" in his suit, told the Miami Herald. "Afterward, I told him I would call 911. I was more scared it would get out to the rest of the school. I went to my car and cried."

The man said the incidents took place more than a decade ago and he managed to graduate with his class in 2004.

His school was reportedly paid for by a concerned aunt.

The man said he attended community colleges and was a sports radio journalist for several years even spending time in Costa Rica.

But an addiction to drugs eventually overwhelmed his life, leading to an arrest for cocaine possession last year. "The drugs helped me forget all those bad memories," he said to the paper.

A Broward County drug court program is what the man claims helped him get clean.

However, what he can't erase is the memory of what happened to him in high school, he told the paper.  "I would just like some justice, so I could smile again," he said.

Reached by a Miami Herald reporter, the 56-year-old Ward hung up his cell phone when asked about the sex-abuse allegations. His defense attorney, William Norris, did not return emails and phone calls to his Miami office.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Mary Ross Agosta, declined to comment because she had not seen the lawsuit. But she noted in response to a previous suit filed against Ward that he was not an ordained priest and was assigned to the archdiocese-owned Pace by the Marist Brothers, a New Jersey-based religious order that provides faculty to Catholic schools around the country the paper reported.

Ward, who took his vows as a Marist Brother in 1984 and taught for years at Catholic schools in the Northeast, later worked as the dean of students at the coed Pace high school from 2000 to 2006.

That final year, he transferred as an assistant principal/academic dean to the all-boys Christopher Columbus Catholic High School, which is owned by the Marist Brothers.

It was a "routine transfer," Marist Brother Roy George told the Herald.

Further, the paper learned Ward left Columbus, as well as the Marist Brothers, in 2008, of "his own accord," George said told the paper.

Ward changed careers and studied to become a registered nurse, obtaining his state license in 2012. He now works at a psychiatric hospital for adults and adolescents in Fort Lauderdale.

Last month, three other Pace students ("John Does A, B and M"), now all in their mid-20s, filed a similar suit in Miami-Dade circuit court against Ward and the Miami archdiocese, alleging liability, negligence and a cover-up. Two of them played on Pace's baseball team.

One of the three men listed in the lawsuit claimed Pace's supervisory principal, the Rev. Gustavo Miyares, had sexually abused him in the late 1990s while was an altar boy at Immaculate Conception Catholic School.

Miyares, who had been the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah, resigned from the Miami archdiocese in 2006 after another former altar boy accused him of abusing him sexually in the early 1980s, the paper reported. That former altar boy sued the diocese. At least two alleged victims have also filed similar claims.

Miyares, 66, could not be reached for comment.

What sets the four former Pace students' claims apart from dozens of other clergy sex-abuse cases filed against the archdiocese over the past decade is the lengthy period of the alleged abuse and its relatively recent history.

"Nobody called him on it," said one of the three alleged victims to the paper, "John Doe M," referring to Ward. "Nobody had the guts. ... The only way we could cope with it was to joke about it."

According to the four men's lawsuits, Ward was in charge of discipline at Pace and repeatedly brought the minor boys into his office, first in groups, then individually — "locking the door, snapping the blinds closed, and forcing them to take their clothes off and participate in sexual conduct, while Ward masturbated both himself and the young boys."

Said the four men's Miami lawyer to The Miami Herald, Ira Leesfield: "He picked out the sweetest, nicest, most vulnerable kids and betrayed them. ... I want a fair settlement that will take care of them for a lifetime."

According to the paper, Ward's past caught up to him and Pace over the summer. High school principal Ana Garcia sent emails and letters to Pace alumni to alert them to the initial three men's allegations against Ward and to urge them to contact the archdiocese with similar concerns.

A copy of Garcia's correspondence was provided to the Miami Herald.

"It is with sadness that I write to you to report that Monsignor Edward Pace High School was recently made aware of allegations of sexual misconduct involving Brother Kenneth Ward, a former dean of students," Garcia wrote to one alumnus. "We take these allegations very seriously and have notified legal authorities so that appropriate investigations and notifications can be undertaken."

Garcia, whose husband, Edward, is the former principal of Immaculate Conception Catholic School, did not return the paper's call seeking comment. According to public records, a Pace teacher reported alleged sexual misconduct by Ward to the Miami-Dade Police Department in 2006 and to Ana Garcia, the principal, the previous year, raising questions about whether the school only recently learned of the allegations.

The teacher was "not sure exactly what Ms. Garcia did with the information he provided," stated an October 2006 police report the paper obtained. "He heard a rumor that Ms. Garcia attempted to solicit information from the students. However, none of the students came forward." The report shows that a sexual crimes detective interviewed the teacher and five students believed to be targets of Ward's alleged sexual abuse, but concluded no crime was committed.

One of the men who later filed suit against Ward was a potential victim interviewed. According to the report and the paper, the man told the detective that he had never had any problems with Ward.

"I would second-guess anyone who made any type of allegations against Mr. Ward," the man told the detective in 2006, adding that Ward was "one of the better teachers" at Pace and that he viewed him as his "mentor."

Asked why he made those complimentary statements about Ward, "John Doe D" told the Herald: "I still feared him. I just didn't want to open up those memories again." He said Ward even called him after he spoke to the detective, intimidating him not to say anything bad about him.

Although John Doe M told the paper he doesn't know the others because he graduated a few years before them, the one-time wrestler's story was strikingly similar.

He told the paper that Ward made him feel dirty and shameful, and stole his youth and his dreams: "I wish I could do high school over again."

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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