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Tom Mashberg on the Fells Acres insurance settlement

The following article is
Copyright 1997 by Tom Mashberg and the "Boston Herald"
Posted here with permission of Tom Mashberg

Reprinted from the "Boston Herald," 22 April 1997:

16 Fells Acres families settled for $20M


Although 10 children testified against Violet, Cheryl, and Gerald "Tooky" Amirault during their two criminal trials in the 1980s, a total of 16 families received financial settlements related to the Fells Acres Day School abuse case, documents obtained by the "Herald" show.

Those 16 settlements, totaling $20 million, were negotiated by independent civil litigators representing the plaintiffs and their parents. The awards were all approved by the Amiraults' insurers, Worcester Insurance Co., in a series of out-of-court agreements completed in 1991.

Violet Amirault, 74, and her daughter, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, 41, are likely to be sent back to prison soon. Four weeks ago yesterday, the Supreme Judicial Court reinstated their convictions in the much-disputed 1984 Fells Acres abuse case.

Although the SJC's ruling was to have taken effect yesterday, it has been delayed until the seven justices can consider a motion for a rehearing submitted by the family's lawyers two weeks ago. In the event that the justices dismiss that motion -- perhaps as early as Monday -- Middlesex County prosecutors will be free to ask a judge to order the women back to jail.

The cash settlements with the families vary greatly, and in some cases children who did not testify in court received bigger awards than those who did so. Some of the children, who were 4 and 5 years old when the school closed, will be turning 18 this year and receiving lump sums of about $50,000.

For some, there will be lump sums again at 21 and 25, and then monthly payments for life. Eight of the 10 children who testified at the Amiraults' 1985 and 1986 trials received financial settlements, the documents show. The other eight who were awarded cash did not testify but attended the Malden day school.

None of the lawyers for the children or for the Amiraults would comment on the awards, which were kept confidential as a condition of the settlements.

But Patricia Amirault, Gerald's wife, said: "For some of the people, I think the money was a clear-cut motive. And for others, I absolutely think they believe in the State's insistence that these kids were sexually abused, and money came later."

The mother of one child who did testify told the "Herald" in 1995: "I've said it before. I'd give up all the money if it meant this never happened."

In one settlement, a young girl who attended the school for less than two months and did not testify received $70,000 up front, and will receive lump sums of $35,000 at ages 18, 21, and 25. At 25, she will recieve $378 per month for life, starting in 2011. Her parents were also granted $70,000. Another girl who did not testify received $85,000 up front and will receive $2,385 per month for life, starting in 2011.

The young boy whose allegations prompted the initial investigations of the school received $75,000 up front and $35,000 at age 18. He will receive $45,000 at age 21, $65,000 at age 25, and $110,000 at age 30.

Monetary awards have been granted by insurers representing other day-care providers convicted of sex abuse in the 1980s, including cases in New Jersey and North Carolina that were subsequently overturned.

In those two cases, insurers continue to make payments and have declined to sue the authorities despite the fact the defendants were later vindicated.

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