Moose director resigns; move follows Ohio lawsuit

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The top official at the Loyal Order of Moose and the Moose International fraternal organizations has resigned one week after a lawsuit alleged he molested a boy more than 30 years ago in Ohio and Louisiana.

William Airey, the groups' chief executive officer and director general, announced his decision to the Moose board Thursday, Moose spokesman Kurt Wehrmeister said Friday.

Airey's decision was voluntary and was not forced by the board because of the lawsuit, Wehrmeister said. He promised a later statement but said it would not address the lawsuit or its allegations.

The Loyal Order of Moose is a unit of Moose International. Both are based in Aurora, Ill.

Airey, 71, has not commented on the lawsuit. A message left at his home Friday was not immediately returned.

The Dec. 13 lawsuit filed in Franklin County court in Columbus by Jason Peck of South Carolina, a psychiatrist who practices in North Carolina, alleges that Airey began grooming him in 1980 to abuse him sexually. The abuse began that year in Ohio, when Peck was 12, and continued elsewhere, including New Orleans, the suit said. Airey was a member of a Moose lodge in Whitehall in suburban Columbus, where he took Peck to Moose-related functions, the suit said.

The Associated Press generally doesn't identify people who claim to be victims of sexual abuse, but Peck has agreed to go public with his allegations and allow his name to be used.

Moose International investigated Airey "for sexual misconduct with children" in 1996 and again in 2007 but took no action, Peck's lawsuit also said.

Moose International said last week that the organization was shocked by the allegation. "This is not the Bill Airey we know," the group said. The organization said Airey was not to be in contact with residential students at Mooseheart Child City & School in Aurora until further notice. The school serves needy children and teens.

Peck's attorney, Konrad Kircher, criticized the Moose organization Friday for not addressing the allegations against Airey, including its alleged previous investigations of him.

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages plus financial damages above $25,000. It claims Peck "has suffered extreme emotional and psychological injuries and will continue to suffer," and has incurred treatment expenses and lost wages and earning capacity.

Scott Hart is the organizations' new director general and chief executive officer. Hart has served as executive director of Mooseheart Child City & School.

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Online: http://www.mooseintl.org/public/Default.asp