Officials confirmed today that supervisors at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit day camp failed to alert senior management last summer after an employee expressed concerns about the same camp counselor who was accused by authorities earlier this month of abusing young children.
Michael Layne, a spokesman for the Jewish Community Center, said in a statement that they uncovered the disturbing information last Friday. Layne said the JCC is conducting its own internal investigation.
“In the summer of 2014, JCC camp supervisory personnel received a communication from a camp counselor which raised inappropriate conduct by the counselor who ultimately was charged with criminal wrongdoing,” Layne said. “The information reported was not passed on to senior JCC management. Supervisory personnel who did not act on this communication have been terminated. We have shared this information with licensing officials in Lansing and with the West Bloomfield police department.”
West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton said his department is looking into the allegations.
“We’re looking at a number or things over there,” Patton said. “There were some allegations that something was reported to some of the staff last year. Whether that has something to do with the current investigation, we’re looking at everything. We’re not saying that there’s no substance to it. Someone raised a red flag… Our concern is, is this something that has evidentiary evidence?”
Patton said investigators are still trying to determine if there are more potential victims.
The new details come shortly after two sources told the Free Press that the JCC fired three employees on Wednesday over their mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse by Matthew David Kuppe, who was a counselor at the JCC day camp.
The West Bloomfield-based organization fired the 21-year-old Kuppe earlier this month after administrators found out he was being investigated for suspected abuse.
“We are heartsick that this matter has occurred,” Layne said. “Consistent with our long history of delivering positive experiences in our camp and early development programs, the safety of children in our care will continue to be our highest priority. We pledge to continue all efforts to be transparent and proactive in communicating with our camper families and the community.”
Patton said JCC officials have been cooperative with the investigation and have been in daily communication with police. Patton said he was aware of the firings, but he could not say whether they were related to ongoing investigation into Kuppe.
“Our investigation is still continuing into the allegations of what has occurred over there,” Patton said. “We’re looking at many different things. Mostly, the government’s concern and our concern right now is if there are more victims.”
Patton said it’s possible Kuppe can face charges on a state or local level, but it’s unclear at this point.
Kuppe appeared in federal court today for a preliminary examination. Kuppe spoke briefly, only to answer the judge’s questions. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.
A mother of a 7-year-old boy who participated in the camp and had direct contact with Kuppe, attended the hearing.
The mother, who asked not be named, said after the hearing that her special needs son cannot communicate well and it’s not yet known if he was abused..
“We don’t know,” the mother said. “It’s just very stressful. We’re living in the unknown.”
She said Kuppe taught her son “Minionese,” the fictional language used in the popular children’s movie, “The Minions.”
The woman said Kuppe was assigned to older children and was not supposed to be around small children.
“He was not supposed to be with my son,” she said. “He was granted permission when they were short-staffed… I am very concerned.”
She said she was informed recently that another counselor had reported “obscure, inappropriate behavior” by Kuppe last year but that he was hired back again this summer.
During today’s court hearing, the judge did not address a motion filed by Kruppe’s attorney, Walter Piszczatowski, asking that Kuppe be released on bond to the custody of his parents on specified conditions.
“Matthew Kuppe is a 21-year-old college student with no criminal history, strong family ties and a meritorious defense to the most serious charge, production of child pornography,” Piszczatowski wrote. “He remains incarcerated despite the fact there are numerous conditions that can be ordered as part of pretrial release to assure the safety of the community.”
Piszczatowski asked that the court schedule a hearing to address Kuppe’s detention.
Kuppe of West Bloomfield was charged this month with production, distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography and is in federal custody. Federal authorities say he abused several children and talked about them in graphic ways with others over the Internet, sharing photos he took of them while they were naked.
West Bloomfield Deputy Police Chief Curt Lawson said the department is in the process of interviewing additional victims.
“We’ve interviewed at least five different children,” Lawson said. “We’re going to interview more children down the road.”
Patton said police are continuing to interview parents, children and employees.
“The alleged victims here are small children and not always able to clearly articulate that they’re a victim of a crime,” he said. “…Some of the kids are aware of the allegations. They heard about this… they’re not totally isolated.”
Kuppe’s parents, Richard and Linda Kuppe, submitted sworn affidavits to the court, stating that they are willing to serve as third-party custodians of their son.
“We have lived in the same home since Matthew was four years old,” Richard Kuppe wrote. “Other than the three years he has lived in a dormitory at MSU, he has lived with us his entire life. My wife and I run our business out of our home. One of us can be physically present in the home at virtually all hours of the day and night.”
Richard Kuppe said he was willing to sign a bond and pledge their home as security for his son’s release.
“I am fully convinced that he will abide by any and all terms of his release and appear in court when and as required,” Richard Kuppe wrote.
Last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said investigators believe that some of the photos taken by Kuppe were of three 5-year-old boys earlier this month during an overnight camp stay. Woodward said Kuppe posted them on a image-sharing website based in Russia that is known to be “frequented by individuals with a sexual interest in children.”
Kuppe posted the boys’ photos in an online folder he titled “Jewish boys,” she said.
“These photos were taken and shared online and we can never get that back,” Woodward said. “… After he was arrested, there was an outcry in the community. This is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
By The Detroit Free Press