Edward Happle filed a lawsuit claiming that he was sexually abused while attending the Boys & Girls Club of Paterson, NJ when he was a 10-year-old boy. The filing claimed the abuse occurred over a four-year period in the 1970s by a now-deceased program director.
Happle filed the suit on Aug. 19 in Superior Court of Bergen County. In it, Edward Happle alleged that the program director, Ed Rizzi, preyed on him because he had a traumatic home life and looked up to Rizzi. Happle admitted that all the boys in the program saw Rizzi as a role model because he was “a macho, cool guy” who drove a Camaro.
Edward Happle, who is now 62 years old, said that he joined the Boys & Girls Club with his older brother to escape an abusive home life but was instead introduced to a different kind of abuse. He claimed that the then 20-year-old Ed Rizzi, who was married at the time, started to touch Happle in his groin. Rizzi would allegedly tell the young boy “I’m the boss,” while performing the wicked act.
The lawsuit alleged that over the course of four years, Rizzi would sexually assault him in the storage room, which had a wall of candy bars blocking the crude acts. Happle admitted that the abuse occurred in other locations, too, such as Rizzi’s home when his wife was giving birth in the hospital.
Happle outlined in the filing that Rizzi coerced him into staying quiet. “This is between you and me,” Rizzi allegedly said to Happle when he was just a child. “You cannot tell anyone about this.” The lawsuit alleges that Rizzi sexually assaults a young Edward Happle twice a week until 1974 when he reportedly lost interest in the boy because he turned 15.
Edward Happle has reason to suspect that the program director was sexually abusing other children at the Boys & Girls Club but no other participants of the program have come forward. Ed Rizzi has since passed away. He reportedly died at the age of 66 in 2007. His estate and the Boys & Girls Club were listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
The Boys & Girls Club of Paterson is a nonprofit organization with the mission “to inspire and enable all young people” and “to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens,” according to its website. Officials from the club made a statement to reporters.
Executives are well-aware of the lawsuit and said that “the Boys & Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic will never stop working to keep kids safe, and we take any allegation that might impact the well-being of the young people entrusted to our care very seriously.”
They said that “we fully recognize that although these incidents allegedly occurred many years ago, time does not erase pain experienced by survivors and their families. We continue to support legislation that grants survivors access to justice, and respects those who have courageously brought forward these particularly important concerns.”
The officials admitted that they would “work diligently to have this matter resolved in a supportive, empathetic, and ethical manner.” According to reports, state law previously prevented Edward Happle from filing a lawsuit. He would have had to make the claim within two years of turning 18. However, New Jersey has recently extended the statute of limitations on sexual abuse filings.
According to his lawyer, John Baldante, Happle recently retired from his business career. Baldante said that the retirement played a role in his decision to file the lawsuit because “he found himself alone with his thoughts” and “couldn’t escape the recurring memories of what happened.”
The lawsuit accused the Boys & Girls Club of negligence, claiming that its officials should have been more aware of the program director’s alleged actions. John Baldante said that “you had to have your head stuck in the sand not to be aware of what was going on.”
Edward Happle said that at one point, Rizzi wanted him to perform oral sex on another boy. He said he refused. Baldante said that “what typically happens in these cases is that there’s a culture that turns a blind eye to these things.”
Baldante said that Happle was unable to make a formal complaint when he was a child because it was difficult at that time to make allegations against people in power. The lawsuit claimed that “during the time period the sexual abuse was happening, Ed Happle was afraid to tell anyone and also felt that Ed Rizzi was his friend and cared about him,” said the lawsuit. “This experience caused Ed Happle to equate and conflate the sexual abuse with love.”
The lawsuit is seeking reparations for the damages to Happle’s psyche. According to the filing, Edward Happle suffered mental health and emotional problems. He allegedly suffered from anxiety, depression, and trauma. He required extensive therapy in his adulthood. He is seeking $50 million.