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Saturday, July 13, 2024

My thoughts

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I cannot help but think of my great state of North Carolina when reading about J. Dennis Hastert — the longest serving Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and now convicted felon and in the judges’ own words, serial child molester — being sentenced in a bank fraud case related to allegations that he sexually abused teenagers on the wrestling team he coached in Illinois.

Yet again a man of great authority is brought to justice after decades of getting away with sexual exploitation of children. Why did it take so long?

Reading about the outing of Hastert’s heinous acts committed so long ago, the innocent victims who have suffered all this time, the shock to his family, friends, the nation and those in the wrestling world, is numbing. Hastert was once the third-highest public official in our land.

When cases surface like those of Hastert and former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012, plus the not infrequent allegations against clergy, my thoughts and prayers go again and again to the young men of Tabor City and the serious accusations of sexual exploitation of young teens by former North Carolina State Senator R.C. Soles Jr. that have lain dormant for years.

Explosive charges were made by at least three men, alleging that the prominent attorney abused them when they were teenagers. Such accusations have plagued the town of Tabor City for decades. There are stories of cash payments in exchange for sex and/or silence, and gifts of homes and flashy cars that climaxed with the shooting of one young man at Soles’ 4,000-square-foot home, on two acres just outside the city limits.

A Columbus County grand jury indicted the then 75-year-old Soles in 2009 for felony assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting serious injury on Kyle Blackburn, then 22. Soles claimed he was acting in self-defense, saying Blackburn, a former legal client, and B.J. Wright, then 23, tried to kick in the front door to his house and would not leave the premises. A plea agreement dropped the charge to a misdemeanor and after payment of a mere $1,000 in court costs, Soles went back to his law practice and his seat in the North Carolina Senate.

Soles, a Democrat who represented the 8th district from 1977 to 2011 and served in the N.C. House from 1969 to 1976, did not run again when re-election time came.

In 2011 in a Tabor City police incident report, a 19-year-old complained that Soles had bitten him on the left bicep. No charges were filed.

Following a federal corruption investigation known as ColCor in 1983, Soles was indicted along with 34 other government officials for conspiracy, vote buying, perjury, extortion and bribery but acquitted in a jury trial. Those charged included the then Brunswick County sheriff, the Shallotte and the Lake Waccamaw police chiefs, a former Columbus County commissioner, a District Court judge, a state representative, Lt. Governor Jimmy Green and Soles. Several went to prison.

A small, non-urban town is a challenging place to point a finger at a “great and powerful” man such as R.C. Soles Jr. — or a Jerry Sandusky or a Dennis Hastert — and make a claim of child molestation or even corruption.

In Tabor City, it has not been helpful to their credibility that many of the young men who made the accusations have not lived as model citizens themselves. The stories of their lives and how they intertwined, often violently, with Soles are nothing short of bizarre.

Even so, at least some have said the allegations are believable. Investigative reporting by WWAY, the Wilmington StarNews (“R.C.’s Boys,” June 2011) and the Carolina Journal cited experts who reviewed the testimonies of one or more of the young men and said they found them credible. There is a Facebook page called Victims of RC Soles.

Whenever another dormant tale of serial molestation, rape and broken lives comes to light, I wonder what would have become of my life if there but for the grace of God, were I such a victim? I suspect I’d be pretty messed up, too.

Shame, guilt, humiliation, depression, bitterness, even hatred would surely have tried to take root to destroy my life. Alcohol and drugs are pain avoidance substances, one legal the other not. Life might become totally surreal, one great pretense.

If we are to believe that Soles is the philanthropist he has claimed to be, just trying to help out troubled teens, I cannot help but wonder why there has never been a story of a young woman   legal client to whom Soles gave money and material goods. Why has it just been young men?

If the charges are true, as they were with Sandusky and Hastert, and a host of priests and bishops despite years of covering up the truth, what must life be like for the victims, left growing up in the hero’s home town, all the while knowing the dark truth, painfully cognizant of the extreme hypocrisy of it all?

When the accused is a highly regarded football coach, member of the clergy or influential politician, they all too often can be provided the benefit of the doubt. I have always wondered, in places like Tabor City, Yorkville, Illinois, and State College, Pennsylvania, how strong a relationship with the police chief, the county sheriff, the district attorney, the governor and the judiciary did one need to stay below the radar — and what, if any, role those relationships played in delaying justice for the victims?

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