Lawsuit accuses ex-counselor of grooming boys for abuse

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A lawsuit accuses a former counselor at a North Carolina YMCA sexually abused a group of young boys at a branch, which failed to properly supervise him.

The 20-page lawsuit filed on behalf of seven men in February in Forsyth Superior Court names as defendants former YMCA counselor Michael Todd Pegram, the Kernersville Family YMCA and its parent organizations; the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina; and the Chicago-based YMCA of USA, news sources report.

The plaintiffs, described in the lawsuit as Pegram’s victims, seek a jury trial as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The boys were between 10 and 14 at the time of the abuse, which followed a similar pattern, according to the lawsuit.

“Pegram was very charismatic with a larger than life personality,” the lawsuit says. “He also befriended the parents of these young boys and used the YMCA of (Northwest North Carolina) to facilitate his agenda. He manipulated these boys and their families, gained their trust and then took advantage of them.”

The YMCA of Northwest North Carolina issued a statement on Wednesday regarding the lawsuit.

“We are saddened to hear and learn more about what these victims and their families experienced more than 25 years ago, but we are unable to comment on pending legal matters,” the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina said.

The YMCA of USA couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.

At the time of his November 2017 arrest in Florida, Pegram, 48, was employed at Walt Disney World as a cast member and was taken into custody in front of one of Walt Disney World’s All-Star resorts.

Pegram pleaded guilty to first-degree sex offense and indecent liberties with a child last year. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence at Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

Pegram “handpicked” his favorite boys for his counseling group and made sure they were “revered” by others, according to the lawsuit. He also reportedly owned a DJ company and often hired them to work for him.

The YMCA gave him access to their facilities and vans after hours, and he hosted sleepovers, took the boys camping and to the beach, and — on one occasion — picked up male strippers, attorneys for the men said in the lawsuit.

“Parents of some of the young boys complained to administrators and employees of the YMCA of NWNC about defendant Pegram’s inappropriate behavior, but nothing was done,” the lawsuit says.

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