Thomas Flanagan fulfilled a lifelong dream when he became a firefighter in Atlantic City last year.
But it became a nightmare when a local activist group started naming him as one of the men involved in alleged sexual misconduct at Fire Station 2.
There was a major flaw to the National Action Network's claims, his attorney said Wednesday: Flanagan was nowhere near the firehouse at Baltic and Indiana avenues May 16, when the alleged incident took place.
"He was never even stationed there," Steven Scheffer said of the firehouse in question.
Four females - two of them 16 years old - were allegedly invited into Station 2 for pizza at about 8:30 May 16. Firefighter Richard Williams Jr. is accused of asking at least one of the girls to disrobe, city Solicitor Robert Tarver said last week. One or more of the girls was then asked to perform sexual acts, he added. The 16-year-olds filed lawsuits against Williams, the city and several unnamed firefighters last week.
An investigation led by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office resulted in no criminal charges. But Williams was suspended last week in an ongoing administrative investigation. Undisclosed disciplinary action was also taken against the two captains and the man on watch that night.
Flanagan was not among those in the firehouse that night, the criminal investigation found. But he was one of four men the National Action Network named in an Aug. 10 letter to the state Attorney General's Office. Steve Young - the group's chapter president and a council aide - then read their names on a radio show and at last week's City Council meeting.
The Press of Atlantic City has not previously named any of the firefighters because no action had been taken against them. Flanagan is being named because he wants his name cleared.
"The fact that you have repeatedly suggested Mr. Flanagan was involved in the incident which occurred at Station 2 has caused Mr. Flanagan and his entire family a great deal of stress, embarrassment and duress," Scheffler wrote in a letter sent to Young, asking him to retract his statements.
"Alleged and accused," Young said when reached by phone Wednesday evening. "We've always said alleged and accused from day one. We have people in jail who are alleged and accused."
"So now it's you're guilty until proven innocent?" Scheffler asked when told of Young's remarks. "You're putting someone's name over the airwaves and on television, but as long as you qualify it with 'alleged' and 'accused,' it's OK? That's absurd."
When told that a source familiar with the criminal investigation confirmed Flanagan was not in the firehouse at the time, Young replied: "That's your investigation."
He then said that if someone knew about what went on and didn't report it, they are responsible.
"If someone said, 'I just had a good time with a girl,'" Young explained, "that should have been reported."
"That's a 10-year-old's way of thinking," Scheffler said. "That's rabble-rousing at its best."
City Council President William "Speedy" Marsh distanced the city from the council aide's statements.
"Steve very clearly identified himself as Steve Young for the National Action Network," Marsh said Wednesday night. "(Neither) Council nor anybody else had anything to do with what he said."
Marsh said he did not know what Young would say until the names were out of his mouth. When asked if the televised version of the meeting could have been edited to omit the names, he said he saw the negative publicity the Pleasantville Board of Education received when its president recently chose to omit a verbal fight from the tape of a meeting and would not put Atlantic City through that.
He did, however, say naming anyone was "irresponsible."
Young's city boss, Councilman Steven Moore, said he had no comment about Young's allegations and did not recall his aide mentioning the names during the meeting, even though he was there.
"The purpose of this correspondence is to respectfully request that you immediately retract your allegations against Mr. Flanagan," Scheffler wrote in his letter, which he copied to various city officials, including Mayor Lorenzo Langford and solicitor Tarver. "The allegations made against our client are not true and in fact they are, in our opinion, defamatory."
Scheffler also asked that broadcast of the taped meeting be stopped.
Neither Langford nor Tarver could be reached for comment Wednesday.
"It's hard to overcome things like this when they're so publicly made," Scheffler said.
The letter says the names were also broadcast on Harry Hurley's radio show, but the host said in a telephone interview Wednesday that only Williams has been named on his show. And, like The Press, he only allowed that after Williams was disciplined.
Young said he read the names on the Don Williams Show.
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