Editor Recalls Biggest Chicago Schools Sex Scandal

Editor Recalls Biggest Chicago Schools Sex Scandal

Last week we reviewed the book Filthy Rich about billionaire pedophile Jeff Epstein and how he only served 18 months in a minimum security prison even though evidence showed he sexually abused many girls that should have put him away for good. The case brought back memories of one of the most powerful pedophile cases in the Chicago Public Schools when Principal James Moffat was convicted of 30 counts of sex crimes against the students at his high school in the late 80s. Chicago News spoke with Substance News Editor George Schmidt who first broke the story about the former deputy superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools who was convicted of raping both boys and girls despite having connections to the city’s ruling class.  

Chicago News: So how did this story about James Moffat raping students first begin?

George Schmidt: I was sitting around the phone and I get a call with someone on the line who said I need your help and I was told to call you because you can help. So I took out my notepad and started to write. I could tell she was scared. She said I’m the social worker and one of my cases told me that the principal propositioned her. I said who was the principal. She said it was James Moffat at Kelvyn Park which I wrote in big letters. He was the deputy superintendent of the schools and then demoted to principal in 1980 after the financial crisis. Marsha Niazmand (social worker) said she wanted to tell her story to the TV stations. I told her you’ll have to build your case first. I gave her the name of the union attorney Mike Radzilowsky who could probably help her.

CN: How did you determine he was a pedophile?

GS: The girl’s mother who was propositioned was a teacher aid at Kelvyn Park and her father was in prison. They pick their prey with a fragile biography. They’re predators. So the attorney helped track down another three or four victims, which included two boys who wrote letters about how they were sexually abused. Not one of the victims had a father in the home. He preyed on at-risk minority kids. There was one white victim and the others mixed or black. One girl’s parents were going through a rough divorce and Moffat tells her he can help her. She later told the court, ‘Then he made me sit on his face.’

CN: Who was Moffat? How powerful was he?

GS: We say he was among the five most powerful men in the city when he was the dep. superintendent in 1979. He was in charge of all the CPS contracts and before that was in charge of night security for Marshall Fields. He also had a reputation as a ladies man. They would say when the light was on he was in his office screwing someone. I knew the CPS Superintendent Manford Byrd at the time when we worked on desegregation together and he told me he owed me one.  So I handed him three copies of the letters from the children, and he looks up and says, ‘Boys too?’ So the board did internal hearings and the States Attorney’s office was supposed to investigate the sex crimes.  Moffat was then transferred to the district office and they put an interim principal in charge while they investigated.

CN: So you were the first reporter to break the story?

GS: My first story for Substance was, sources allege that James Moffat, once second in command of the school system, had improper relations with students. I immediately got calls that Moffat was going to sue me. Things from there started moving pretty fast. They would tell me Moffat has all kinds of friends everywhere. I had a lot of sources, including a history teacher at his school who confirmed Moffat was propositioning the boys.  I was building the story each month. We were getting more names of victims. So I was able to piece it together. I wrote 66 stories about it.

CN: What did Chicago Public Schools find in its internal investigation?

GS: The officer doing the hearing for CPS said the charges were unfounded. A week later the States Attorney’s office indicted Moffat on 30 counts. Alan Barinholtz was a lawyer who represented one of the abused kids. He had earlier won a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America for hiring pedophiles as boy scouts.

CN: How did Moffat respond to the charges?

GS: Moffat knew the statute of limitations was short so he was confident he couldn’t be indicted for sex crimes. He was a powerful player who knew the mayor. He probably had six or eight lawyers working for him, including Anne Burke, an Illinois Supreme Court justice today. He then goes to trial at 26th and California and I had former students reporting for Substance who helped cover the trial. A few of them had been abused as children so they had a personal interest. I told them to take good notes and I’ll type them up each night. There were four male victims and one female victim. Becky Edwards was 14 with whom he had a threesome with her boyfriend. His lawyers were really vicious, playing the rape victim. I then get a call from the States Attorney’s office saying they heard I had taken complete notes and they needed them because the stenographer’s notes just got lost. If the prosecution doesn’t have those notes they can’t properly prepare their case. Moffat went for a bench trial and not a jury trial. His defense was he was a strong principal who stopped the gangs and those accusing him were simply those gangbangers. This was the persecution of a strong leader of our city. The gangs were trying to take over the city. I remember when he was told to stand he had his family next to him and he put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder, and I saw her wince and move away. Then the verdict was read and he was guilty of 30 of 36 counts for official misconduct and indecent liberties with a child, and we published each one in Substance. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of 15 years for the indecent liberties counts and 5 years for the official misconduct counts.

CN: Were you ever contacted by Moffat’s lawyers?

GS: Moffat had subpoenaed me to reveal my sources that we published in Substance. But the judge ruled that since I had taught ten days at Kelvyn Park, I only had to reveal what I knew during those ten days, which was nothing. I remember when I worked there that he had these crazy rules where you had to make home phone calls. He was a real dictator and he immediately got me out.

CN: Are you in touch with any of his victims today?

GS:-Becky Edwards was awarded $500,000 by the board for not protecting her in the late 80s, which was a sizeable sum then. She calls me and tells me how much she wanted to thank me and how the film (Deceived by Trust which aired on NBC in 1995 based on the Moffat story) was so dishonest. In this case, justice was served.

CN: Do you think the charter schools that pride themselves on less regulation than the public schools are susceptible to pedophiles?

GS: We documented the sexual misconduct issues at the Perspectives charter school in Calumet HS. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone in a profession that has power over weaker people (in our case, children) has to be policed strongly, because those who say they “love children” can mean some very different (and in some cases some very sick) things.

By Jim Vail

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