Nestled in a picturesque campus not far off the Verrazano Narrows in Dyker Heights lies the Upper School of Poly Prep Country Day School, one the first private boys’ schools founded in Brooklyn.
Established in 1854 in Downtown Brooklyn, Poly Prep offered the affluent families of Brooklyn an elite boarding-school-style of education. The institution still operates a Park Slope campus for its lower grades. The lush Dyker Heights facility was created in 1915 on 25 sprawling acres carved out from adjacent Dyker Beach Golf Course.
Since its founding, Poly Prep enjoyed a stellar reputation as a bastion of excellence in Brooklyn, known for both academic and athletic achievement.
Yet today when you plug “Poly Prep” into a search engine, the results returned are far more notorious.
Former football coach Philip Foglietta was an institution at the institution, from 1966 through 1991 building the Poly Prep program into a Brooklyn powerhouse.
Then he abruptly sailed off into the sunset.
When successful coaches retire, it’s usually a planned affair, thought out well in advance. Yet rather than taking his victory lap around the private school prep league, Foglietta’s sudden departure seemed strange. And even as the former coach was lauded for his contributions in a retirement dinner at the Manhattan Athletic Club, ugly rumors were in the air.
It was four years before the full truth emerged publicly. For decades Foglietta preyed upon the innocent boys at Poly Prep, a serial rapist and child molester, repeatedly accused of awful indiscretions dating as far back as 1966, the very first year he joined Poly Prep.
By 2002, Poly Prep’s administration was in full-on crisis mode, fending off accusations of covering up Foglietta crimes for years, allowing him to remain on staff with access to more potential victims. There were even rumors of members of the school’s administration threatened his accusers to muzzle them.
Did the administration of Brooklyn’s beloved Poly Prep protect child-rapist Foglietta to win football games and raise money? That was the question in the minds of many Brooklynites when the story broke and the parade of victims started stepping forward.
In 2002, the administration issued a letter to alumni that Poly Prep had “recently received credible allegations that sexual abuse had occurred at Poly Prep more than 20 years ago by a faculty member/coach …”
Foglietta was the prime suspect, though the notice didn’t identify him by name.
In 2004 the first victim stepped forward publicly. Former student-athlete John Paggioli filed a suit against the school, later dismissed due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. In New York State, a minor who is a victim of sexual assault must file a civil suit within five years of turning 18 years of age.
In 2009, a dozen former students banded together to mount a $20 million Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case against Poly Prep, a highly unusual use of the statute. The court documents allege the potential for hundreds of possible victims, facilitated by a pattern of corruption and cover-ups perpetrated by the institution spanning decades.
The damning accusations alleged Poly Prep’s administration turned a blind eye to Foglietta’s criminal activity, because he delivered a winning football program. That’s quite a recruitment asset for any private institution.
The breadth and depth of the crimes, the lurid nature of the sexual assaults, the sheer volume of victims, and the unusual application of RICO – normally used to attack organized crime – set the stage for a high-profile legal showdown. This had major implications beyond Brooklyn. Should the plaintiffs prevail, it would set a legal precedent other accusers could use, in lieu of statute-of-limitations obstacles.
In a stunning decision, in August 2012, Judge Frederic Block of the Brooklyn District Federal Court announced two of the 12 victims’ RICO claims could move forward. The decision drew national attention.
Poly Prep diffused the situation, settling out of court with the plaintiffs, while issuing a public apology to the victims. The institution continues to wrestle with legal actions that will never bring peace to the hundreds of victims, and its reputation is irreparably tarnished.
Unfortunately, Foglietta was never held accountable for his crimes.
He died in 1998, years before the allegations saw the light of day.
At the time of his death, the school established scholarship fund in his memory.
That scholarship has since been removed.