COLUMBIA — Two brothers suing the former top prosecutor in a four-county region of South Carolina say he sexually abused them while he was their Scoutmaster in the 1970s, allegations he vehemently denies.
One of the brothers, a computer technician, claims he had repressed the memories until recently, when he found images of young boys on the official’s machine in a review requested by the current prosecutor, according to the brothers’ lawsuit.
The brothers contend the abuse happened when Jay Hodge, 63, was the leader of a Boy Scout troop that met in Cheraw, about 90 miles northeast of Columbia. That was decades before Hodge was elected as solicitor for South Carolina’s 4th Judicial Circuit, a job he held for a dozen years until he opted not to run again in 2008.
In that role, Hodge was the chief prosecutor in four counties – Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon and Marlboro – and oversaw hundreds of cases.
The lawsuit was filed Friday. Hodge denied the allegations, which he said represented a vendetta by the now-adult men because of previous embezzlement allegations concerning Mercy Ministries, a nonprofit shelter for battered women that Hodge led.
“The allegations are a lie,” Hodge said this week. “People who know me and who have entrusted their children to me for 35 years know the truth.”
The lawsuit does not identify the men, who are now in their 40s. The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
According to a report from a psychologist who examined the older brother, the man says Hodge first touched him inappropriately at the church where the troop had its meetings, when the man was in his early teens. The man says Hodge later molested him on a Boy Scouts camping trip, as well during a visit to Hodge’s home, according to the report, which was filed alongside the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also names as defendants the church and a previous Scoutmaster, who has since died.
The older brother quit the Boy Scouts and says repressed the abuse memories until 2010, when he was hired to do work at the prosecutor’s office. By this time, Hodge had left his elected post but was working in the office part-time with the circuit’s drug treatment courts.
According to the report, the older brother found child pornography on another employee’s computer and reported that to the current solicitor, Will Rogers, who told him to look at other employees’ machines. On Hodge’s computer, according to the report, the man found “images of young boys swimming, horseback riding, at camp,” images the psychologist said triggered the man’s repressed memories of his alleged abuse.
Although the man reported the images to the FBI, neither investigators nor the brothers, in their lawsuit, suggest the images on Hodge’s computer were pornographic or otherwise illegal.
South Carolina has no statute of limitations on criminal offenses. Rogers said Tuesday that, since he and Hodge had worked together, he was asking state prosecutors to handle any case in the future.
“If there is one, I won’t be making that decision,” Rogers said.
Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office said the matter had been referred to state police, who do not discuss pending investigations.
Hodge contends the brothers concocted the molestation story because one of them was upset about being named as a co-defendant alongside Hodge in a lawsuit involving the shelter. According to Hodge, the shelter’s former executive director accused Hodge of stealing money from the organization, but an FBI probe cleared him.
The shelter subsequently sued all of its employees – including Hodge and one of his current accusers – alleging mismanagement of funds. Hodge said that he was named only as an employee and was not the target of that case, which is still pending.
Hodge says he was a Scoutmaster for 17 years. As solicitor, he focused on ways to keep juvenile offenders from becoming adult criminals. His office sponsored weeklong camps that employed recreational activities and motivational training to help at-risk youths get their lives on track.
“No one ever said anything to me about any abuse of children,” Hodge said. “I’ve spent a lot of years looking out for children and taking care of children, and that’s what makes this even more hurtful.”
Hodge now runs a private law practice in Cheraw. Previously the president of Mercy Ministries, he said he is now involved in the shelter’s expansion plans.
Officials with the local Boy Scouts organization referred comment to national officials. In an email, Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said the organization was saddened by the allegations.
“We extend our sympathies to all such victims,” Smith said. “Youth protection has always been of paramount importance to the BSA and in the more than 30 years since these alleged incidents took place the BSA has continued to enhance its youth protection programs to ensure Scouting is as safe as possible for all of our members.”