- Last Updated: 12:59 PM, June 1, 2010
- Posted: 3:17 AM, June 1, 2010
Two convicted sex offenders and scores of other felons and criminals were hired to referee city public high-school games without drawing notice for years, a never-made-public probe reveals
Remarkably, most of the rogue referees -- whose crimes included rape, sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl, selling PCP and other felonies -- had been flagged as unemployable by the Department of Education, but were still hired to officiate because their status wasn't communicated internally.
The agencies responsible for the stunning lapse in screening -- the DOE and its sports division, the Public Schools Athletic League -- to this day have never told parents or the general public that they had hired fearsome criminals to work among schoolchildren.
Even the city agency that uncovered the epic foul-up -- the office of Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon -- didn't include the report among the 12 it made available to the public last year.
Asked why, Condon declined comment. DOE officials did not respond when asked why they never felt obligated to inform investigators or the public about the PSAL's alarming hires.
The report is coming to light now only because it was obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information Act request to Condon's office.
It reveals that the PSAL didn't start fingerprinting or conducting background checks on its refs until the 2008-09 school year. The league started the screening only after an employee happened to recognize a high-school girls' basketball referee on the state's sex-offender registry.
That convicted felon, Andre Thomas, of Queens, had been busted for having sex with several girls as young as 14 in late 2006.
Nevertheless, Thomas was kept on the PSAL list of eligible referees for more than a year after his arrest, although the DOE had been told about it almost immediately.
The PSAL identified a second pervert on its rolls in January 2008 -- William C. Ventro of Staten Island, who in 1992 was convicted of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in the borough -- but only after he had worked more than 80 girls' varsity and JV basketball games over six years.
When the league finally began scrutinizing its refs later in 2008, it identified more than two dozen criminals -- including felons -- whom the city had rejected or tossed from teaching and custodial posts. At that point they were finally removed from the list of eligible refs.
Condon learned about the PSAL situation in late 2007, when, in a separate investigation, he began looking into a referee who had been accused of having inappropriate contact with several girls on Brooklyn's New Utrecht HS basketball team.
The probe, which found that ref Frank Gaetani had been working games despite being on the DOE's ineligible list, was widened after several PSAL employees spilled the beans.
The report laments that at the time the sex offenders were identified, "no one at the PSAL reported these discoveries to the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation."
It doesn't appear there was any legal obligation for the DOE to specifically fingerprint referees, although almost everyone who comes in contact with schoolchildren is required to undergo some scrutiny.
In 2000, state lawmakers mandated that school districts fingerprint sports officials as part of the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act.
New York City was exempted because it already had its own regulations governing background checks at the time, according to the state Education Department.
No one blew the whistle on these refs:
* Andre Thomas, 36, convicted of rape for having sex with girls as young as 14; worked for the PSAL even after DOE was notified of his arrest
* William C. Ventro, convicted of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl; later worked six years for the PSAL
* Teacher, 35, who exposed himself to a girl at school and resigned from DOE; later worked seven years for the PSAL
* Gym teacher, 49, who inappropriately touched several female students and resigned from DOE; later worked two years for the PSAL
Sources: Office of Special Commissioner of Investigation and court documents
Additional reporting by William J. Gorta and Ikimulisa Livingston