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Child, mother testify in camp counselor sex abuse trial

QUEENSBURY — The Warren County jury that will decide whether a former camp counselor sexually abused campers heard Wednesday from the first child who accused the counselor, starting an investigation that led to dozens of charges on behalf of nine alleged victims.

The fourth-grader told the jury that Dylan T. Stolz fondled his genitalia last June 23, on the first night of summer camp at Brant Lake Camp in Horicon. He revealed the alleged abuse in a letter to his parents days later, starting a massive State Police investigation that has led to 27 charges against Stolz related to nine alleged victims. His trial started this week, with opening statements and testimony beginning Wednesday morning.

The boy said that he was laying in his bunk, having trouble falling asleep, the night that Stolz approached him, rubbed his belly and then moved his hand to his crotch. He said he “felt a little nervous and worried” afterward.

He wrote a letter to his mother the next day that said “Dylan touched my penis,” starting the police investigation. The boy’s mother also testified about the letter, the weeks that followed and how and why her son remained at camp once Stolz was fired last June 28, the day she contacted the camp about the letter.

Stolz’s defense team questioned that decision, but the mother said it was the opinion of a counselor that the boy should remain at camp if he wanted to and would be safe, as taking him home would “victimize” him again because he “loved” it there. She called the revelation that her son was abused “devastating.”

Testimony began after opening statements that saw Stolz’s defense lawyer, James Knox, tell the jury that the first child to allege he was abused did so because he was homesick and wanted to go home, and then the other children repeated the allegations as they underwent “suggestive” questioning by police.

Knox said the physical contact Stolz had with children was “innocent” and misconstrued. He said there were no witnesses to the alleged incidents, and that it was curious that no previous accusations had been made in the three-plus decades Stolz had worked at the camp. Many of the children know each other from outside the camp.

“I submit to you, the allegations strain credibility,” he said.

The Post-Star has learned, though, that at least one other counselor had raised questions to camp administration about Stolz before last summer, and State Police have interviewed young men who they believe were molested by Stolz at the camp dating back nearly 15 years. No charges for those older allegations have been filed, but the investigation was continuing.

The indictment for which Stolz is standing trial pertains to allegations from nine boys dating back to 2015. Charges related to a tenth boy’s accusations were dismissed last month because of a technicality before trial, and could be re-filed.

The panel first heard Wednesday morning from Warren County Assistant District Attorney Ben Smith, lead prosecutor in the case, who told the jury that Stolz fondled boys in their bunks, his bedroom at camp and in camp showers when he claimed to be assisting them in washing themselves. He had “complete control” of his section of the camp and “abused” their trust.

“He went from boy to boy to boy over years,” Smith said.

Camp co-owner Richard Gersten testified Stolz oversaw the “sophomore” group of 8- and 9-year-olds for years, and he never heard any concerns from children about Stolz or witnessed any interaction with campers that gave him concern. He said counselors are not supposed to be in closed rooms by themselves with campers, though.

He did, though, tell the jury he was not aware that Stolz was physically involved with the washing of boys in the shower, as that violated camp policy, and he said the camp’s policy has further changed since Stolz was arrested. He was not permitted to testify as to what the change was, though.

Camp counselors can show affection to campers such as giving hugs in open areas with other adults present, he added.

Stolz, 51, of Little Neck, Long Island, has pleaded not guilty to 14 felony counts of sexual abuse and course of sexual conduct against a child and 13 misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child. He sat next to his defense lawyers, staring straight ahead throughout the day’s testimony.

He works as an elementary school teacher on Long Island, but has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the trial.

Testimony is to continue Thursday morning.

Stefanik: Trump sent strong message in State of the Union address

PLATTSBURGH — Rep. Elise Stefanik came away from Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by President Donald Trump feeling that a strong message was sent.

“I thought it was a very strong speech, and the president really called upon Congress to come together and work together on a bipartisan basis,” Stefanik said in a telephone interview shortly after the speech.

Areas of agreement

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said the president touched on many issues that both parties should agree on.

Better health care, more affordable prescription drugs, national security, better immigration policies and border security were all issues Stefanik mentioned as areas where agreements need to be reached.

The president talked at length during his speech about the need for a wall or some kind of barrier on the southern border with Mexico. The wall has become a major sticking point between the president and Congress, and led to a recent federal government shut down for more than a month.

Stefanik said when the issue is covered by the media, too often the focus is only on the wall, while the president has also talked about other barriers of some kind, increased border personnel and better technology.

“I support those principles,” she said.

Abortion position

Stefanik also said she hopes the president’s position on border security can lead to more discussions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I feel it was an olive branch to Speaker Pelosi to negotiate in good faith, which she has failed to do,” Stefanik said.

The president also said that he would ask Congress to prohibit late-term abortions, a reaction many feel to new laws in New York and Virginia that allow for such procedures in certain cases.

Stefanik, who is pro-life, said she does not support late-term abortions and certainly does not support being allowed to abort babies after birth.

“I don’t support late term abortion... I think the vast majority of the American public understands that it is not a policy that respects human life,” she said.

Korea policy

Trump also claimed that if he had not been elected president in 2016, America would be at war with North Korea.

Stefanik said the president’s approach with North Korea is better than what happened under President Barack Obama.

“I think the previous administration’s policies towards North Korea clearly didn’t work,” Stefanik said.

“The president has approached this in a different perspective, and I believe we need to try something new. But I still believe we need to verify, verify, verify to make sure they are not producing nuclear capability, and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will continue to ask those questions.”

Gillibrand responds

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York who has eyes on the presidency in 2020, disagreed with Stefanik’s take on the speech.

“President Trump has had years to bring this country together, but instead he has chosen to divide the country across every single line he can imagine,” Gillibrand said in a statement.

“If President Trump wants to convince the country that he actually cares about bringing us together, then he can start by no longer using government workers as political pawns, reuniting the families that his administration ripped apart at the border, and stopping with political wedge issues like telling women they can’t make their own health decisions in consultation with their doctor.”

Bowman guest

Stefanik was impressed with the president’s guests at the speech, who were honored for a variety of heroics.

“They were just extraordinary stories,” she said.

“Incredibly inspiring, regardless of what your political ideology is.”

Stefanik’s guest was Clinton County Veterans Services Administrator Steve Bowman.

Bowman sat in the box next to the president’s box and had a first hand view of the action.

“I was excited to have Steve Bowman there, and it was amazing for me to honor him, his service to the community and his service to our country,” she said.

“It was amazing to watch.”

White outfit

Dozens of Democratic women members of Congress wore white to the address in honor of 100 years of women’s suffrage.

Stefanik, who at 30 was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she first won the 21st District seat in 2014, wore a white jacket to the address.

But she said it was not planned and she did not find out about the others wearing white until after she had decided her wardrobe.

“I did not coordinate it, but I support women’s suffrage and was proud to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.”

As Moreau readies for growth, officials seek direction from residents

MOREAU — The town may be heading toward a significant transition from a bedroom community to a town with a booming commercial area. The Town Board wants to know what residents actually want in such a change.

The board is mailing a two-page economic development survey to all property owners, at a cost of $4,800. But it’s worth it, board members said.

They hope to learn how they should guide the town’s evolution. While boards usually just hold a public hearing at which few people attend, board members are hoping to get hundreds of responses.

“It’s important to include them because it is their community,” said board member Gina Leclair, who added that her experience as a resident is that no one feels empowered.

“I feel nobody ever reaches out to me about anything,” she said.

Supervisor Todd Kusnierz added that he wants to know how the town should grow as sewer is added along Route 9. That development has been a matter of great concern for residents, with some saying they don’t want the additional traffic and construction.

Three years ago, Gardner Congdon won election as supervisor partly by campaigning to keep the town as a “bedroom community.” He argued that most residents wanted Moreau to stay a quiet, residential place.

But other politicians have said the town needs to grow a commercial tax base to avoid overtaxing its residents. And some residents have said growth could be welcome if it brings them convenient stores or youth enrichment programs like dance classes.

Thus far, the proposals for Route 9 have not gone in that direction: they are for an office park, a distribution warehouse and a family health center.

So the board is asking all property owners to name their top five economic/community development priorities. There are 20 choices, ranging from attracting and retaining young families to developing retail stores.

Other questions include rating the community’s business climate and the availability of infrastructure like parks or sewer.

“This is critically important as we map the future of our town,” Kusnierz said. “So I think it’s well worth the expenditure.”

The survey is anonymous.

“We won’t be tracking where it comes from,” Kusnierz said. “We have no way to do that. We have no interest in doing that.”

The survey is due back by Feb. 28.

Cuomo defends abortion law after criticism from Trump

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended New York’s new abortion law Wednesday after it was criticized by President Donald Trump during the State of the Union address, saying Trump and his conservative allies are lying about the law as part of a broader assault on abortion rights.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times on Wednesday, the Democrat also pushed back on Trump’s call for a ban on late-term abortion, saying he wants to roll back decades-old court rulings protecting access to the procedure.

“As part of their attack on women’s rights, Mr. Trump and his allies are intentionally spreading lies about New York’s Reproductive Health Act,” Cuomo wrote. “Their goal is to end all legal abortion in our nation.”

Enacted last month, the act codifies rights laid out in Roe v. Wade and other abortion rulings. It states that a woman may abort a viable fetus after 24 weeks of pregnancy only if her life or health is at risk, restrictions on late-term abortions based on Supreme Court decisions including Roe v. Wade and subsequent rulings.

Trump did not mention those stipulations when he criticized the law in Tuesday night’s speech before Congress.

“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth,” Trump said, referencing Cuomo’s signing of the bill last month on the anniversary of the Roe decision. “These are living, feeling, beautiful, babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world.”

Trump said he wants Congress to pass a ban on late-term abortion of fetuses that “can feel pain in the mother’s womb” — an unlikely proposition given Democratic control of the U.S. House.

Supporters of the act said its passage was necessary in the event that today’s more conservative Supreme Court overturns Roe and subsequent abortion rulings. Several spoke out against Trump’s proposed restrictions Wednesday.

“Reducing access to reproductive health care does not protect women — it puts the health and lives of women at risk,” said Robin Chappelle Golston, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, the organization representing Planned Parenthood in New York.

Polls show a majority of Americans back the Roe decision, but public support for late-term abortion is much more complicated. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 81 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the last three months of pregnancy. But the same poll found that 75 percent of respondents said third-trimester abortions should be legal when a woman’s life is endangered.

Nearly 90 percent of all abortions in the U.S. are performed within the first 12 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Trump also accused Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician, of saying that he would “execute a baby after birth,” following a radio interview last month in which Northam described a hypothetical situation where a severely deformed or non-viable infant could be left to die.