By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Back in 1997 police arrested a man named Ronald Taylor, who worked as an assistant public school principal in Harlem. Taylor, 50 years old at the time, easily ranked as a parent's worst nightmare. His arrest came after the mother of a student walked into a local police precinct and reported that Taylor had lured her 15-year-old son to his apartment with an offer to play with his video game collection. He then proceeded to sexually molest him. When cops went to investigate they found Taylor had tricked up his West Harlem apartment as a kids' game room. They also found some 400 X-rated videos.
Unlike a score of school-personnel sex-abuse cases from that era, Taylor's arrest got little news play. The Times ran a short item on an inside page and the Daily News carried one as well, on page 79. The lack of attention was partly because the arrest did not emanate from the efficient publicity machine of Edward Stancik, the late special commissioner for investigation for city schools.
For 12 years until his death in 2002, Stancik's gaunt features were a staple on TV newscasts as he told of corrupt bureaucrats and twisted sex abusers nailed by his office. Such cases made Stancik wildly unpopular in the teachers' union offices and the old Board of Education headquarters on Livingston Street in Brooklyn, where he was viewed as a merciless inquisitor, a publicity hound whose investigations were measured mainly for their TV and news-ink potential.
On the other hand, many politicians, journalists, prosecutors, and parents adored him, viewing Stancik as a valiant warrior against an intractable bureaucracy. So what if he knew how to use the media? What better way to send a message to the public and bad guys alike that wrongdoing won't be tolerated? When Stancik died at age 47 of heart failure in March 2002, there were some misgivings expressed about his occasional overzealousness. But the editorial call was to make sure the watchdog office he'd led didn't lose its fangs.
But a few months after Stancik's death, something unusual in the world of law enforcement happened. A former top investigator in his office, an ex-detective who had been a supervisor there for five years, sat down and wrote two lengthy letters to city officials alleging that a top Stancik deputy named Regina Loughran had dropped the ball in several important cases, either delaying arrests or letting the bad guys get away altogether. In some instances, it was alleged, Loughran had changed cases from being "substantiated" to "unsubstantiated."
The complaints were investigated by city attorneys, and several were confirmed. Yet Loughran today remains as powerful as ever, serving as the $151,000 number two official in the special investigators' office. Former and current investigators, both men and women, who spoke under condition of anonymity, told the Voice they were puzzled by the inaction. "If we had caught someone in the education system behaving this way, they'd be long gone," said one former investigator.
Among the cases the investigators cited was that of Ronald Taylor.
According to the former detective and others familiar with the case, nearly a year before Taylor's arrest by police, investigators in Stancik's office had asked permission to launch a probe of the school official. The request was made after a prison social worker contacted the investigations office to say that an inmate was claiming to have been sexually abused by Taylor, his former teacher. Investigators initially dismissed the charge as one more prisoner trying to reduce his sentence. But the details of the story were disturbingly precise: Taylor had asked the student, then 15 years old, to carry a crate of milk up to his apartment. Once he got him inside, Taylor had sexually assaulted him. The inmate described the apartment in detail.
Investigators drove to upstate Green Haven Correctional Facility to interview the inmate, who convinced them that a sexual predator was loose in the schools. The statute of limitations had expired on the earlier assault, but the inmate said he was willing to wear a recording device to a meeting with Taylor to see if he could get him talking about other victims. The investigators relayed that offer to Loughran, then the attorney-in-charge of the child sexual-abuse unit and a key figure in the office. Loughran refused.
"The issue for her seemed to be, 'Why spend the time and money to get this kid out of jail and wire him up for a case that's too old,' " a former investigator told the Voice. "We argued that if we have this one person there are probably others out there at risk."
Loughran was adamant. But the investigators, most of them retired NYPD detectives who lived by chain of command, declined to appeal the decision over her head. The case was closed. Nine months later, the outraged mother of another victim filed her complaint with police. Taylor was immediately arrested and later sentenced to serve up to three years in prison. Under questioning, he said something that chilled both cops and school investigators. He said he was HIV-positive.
Ed Stancik's public posture was of a manager with a stern "the buck stops here" policy. But according to the former detective and others, the often ailing commissioner ceded wide authority to Loughran, a hardworking former sex-crimes prosecutor whose ability to turn out clearly written reports was highly prized by Stancik and his successor.