Caribbean Fever - Your ONLY destination to all things Caribbean and more
It’s precisely why Wednesday’s news that the 54-year-old borough resident is facing dozens of criminal charges after allegedly videotaping boys showering at one school in the county seat — Immaculata High School in Somerville, where he has served as a dedicated volunteer for years — is generating so many unanswered questions from local parents, schools officials and past and present students alike.
Lott is facing more than 50 charges in all, including multiple counts of second-, third- and fourth-degree endangering the welfare of a child, plus fourth-degree invasion of privacy, according to court filings obtained Wednesday by the Courier News. The allegations are connected to activity taking place between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 13 of this year.
Members of the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit on Dec. 13 and Dec. 16 executed state Superior Court search warrants at Lott’s home on Eastern Avenue in Somerville, reviewing and seizing video recordings of nude boys showering together, the court filings indicated. Detectives subsequently located an area in the high school where a video camera had been installed surreptitiously for recording, according to the filings.
Named in the court filings are a total of 15 alleged victims, all identified only by their initials and dates of birth. Nine of the alleged victims are currently under the age of 16, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Lott, currently an assistant principal at Bernardsville Middle School, said little during a Wednesday afternoon arraignment, when an assistant prosecutor outlined the charges against him and presiding Judge Angela Borkowski explained that he did not have to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty just yet. Dressed in a yellow prison jumpsuit with a thin mustache and goatee and uncombed gray hair, Lott was ordered not to have any contact with the alleged victims, any Immaculata staff or faculty member, or any child younger than 16.
Bail was continued at $500,000, cash or bond, and a handcuffed Lott was led out of the courtroom by a court officer following the brief appearance. A woman who answered the phone at Lott’s home Wednesday morning referred questions to Lott’s lawyer, prominent Somerville-based attorney James Wronko.
Wronko said he was “generally familiar” with the allegations against his client, but added that he had yet to engage in any “specific, detailed discussions” about them with Lott.
“The amount of the bail appears excessive, at first glance,” Wronko said. “Bail like that is usually tied to my murder defendants.”
Wronko added that he may petition the court to have his client’s bail reduced.
The matter first was brought to the attention of law enforcement by Immaculata High School officials, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by the Diocese of Metuchen, which was described as “greatly disturbed” by the news.
When Immaculata officials received allegations of inappropriate conduct by Lott, they contacted Somerville police and, “following standing protocol,” the diocese reached out to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, the statement indicated. Subsequently, Lott was “removed from all involvement” at the high school, diocese officials said.
Diocese spokeswoman Joanne Ward referred questions about how the allegations of inappropriate conduct first surfaced to the Prosecutor’s Office, which declined to comment on the matter due to the pending nature of the investigation.
“The Diocese of Metuchen and Immaculata High School are continuing to cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies … (and) the Diocese of Metuchen has also begun to assist Immaculata High School in re-examining its policies and procedures for protecting children,” the diocese’s statement read. “Immaculata High School is blessed with educators who exemplify Catholic values and educational professionalism. We pray that this situation will not undermine the confidence and trust students, families and community place in these individuals. We offer, in all sincerity, our prayers for all who are affected in this matter.”
Immaculata High School Principal Regina Havens reiterated some of those sentiments in a letter sent to Immaculata parents Tuesday.
“Immaculata High School has been informed that Pat Lott, a longtime volunteer and coach at our school, was arrested on Friday, Dec. 23, by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office,” the letter reads. “The allegations include filming IHS students in the boys’ locker room in school. The students thought to be involved in the investigation and their parents met with the prosecutor on Tuesday night, Dec. 27, and he related to them facts leading up to the arrest and as much information about the case as possible.”
Upon their return to school on Jan. 3, 2012, administrators and guidance counselors will be available to students “all day,” the letter indicates. Havens in the letter also asks that “in the event we are approached by the press, all inquiries will be directed to” the diocese or the Prosecutor’s Office.
As such, multiple Immaculata officials and coaches, including longtime football coach Pierce Frauenheim and his son, boys basketball coach Michael Frauenheim, either declined to comment or did not return phone calls seeking comment on Wednesday. Several neighbors of Lott also declined comment for this story.
The scope of Lott’s volunteer work at the school wasn’t entirely clear Wednesday, but his involvement with Immaculata and its affiliate church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, is listed on websites: Lott is listed as vice president of the Spartan Club, a student support group at the high school, and president of the Advisory Council at nearby Immaculate Conception School, which serves students in grades prekindergarten through eight.
Monsignor Seamus F. Brennan, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, also declined comment Wednesday, saying it was “too early” to talk.
Rutgers University football coach Greg Schiano, whose oldest son, Joey, is a freshman on Immaculata’s boys’ basketball team, said he didn’t know Lott personally but first learned about the charges against him Tuesday night.
“If it’s true, it’s a tragic event,” Schiano said. “I don’t think (Lott) is any team’s coach. He’s affiliated with the programs.”
The charges against Lott were filed just weeks after Pam Balogh, a former girls’ basketball and girls’ lacrosse coach at Immaculata, was paroled after serving about 3½ years in state prison on sexual assault charges connected to a relationship she once had with one of her players. Balogh, who pleaded guilty in the case in 2007, worked at Immaculata from 1991 until she resigned in September 2005. Balogh, in pleading guilty, said that the relationship with the student, who was 15 at the time, progressed to include sexual activity after the student made the varsity girls’ basketball team during her sophomore year in fall 2004.
As for Lott’s post at Bernardsville Middle School, Somerset Hills School District attorney Philip Stern said Wednesday that a reporter’s inquiries marked the first he had heard of the charges. On Dec. 12 Lott informed district officials that he would not be at work for a week or more, according to a Friday report in The Bernardsville News. The report listed Lott as an assistant principal at Bernardsville Middle School since July 2009, when he switched positions after serving in the same capacity at Bernards High School since 2003.
Stern said Somerset Hills officials will continue to cooperate with the county’s investigation and will “take all necessary actions as developments occur,” noting that none of the allegations are known to involve Bernardsville students or any of Lott’s actions in his capacity as assistant principal there. The board is not taking any immediate action regarding Lott’s employment with the district, Stern added, but it plans to meet soon and review its options.
Speaking generally, Stern said a tenured district employee such as Lott can be suspended without pay for one of three reasons: an employee’s indictment on criminal charges, tenure charges being filed by a local board of education or mutual agreement. If Lott posts bail and is freed pending the case against him being presented to a grand jury for a possible indictment, he still would be barred from coming to work due to the court’s ruling that he avoid contact with anyone younger than 16, Stern said.
Lott earned a base salary of slightly more than $118,000 in 2010, according to an online database of New Jersey public employees.