Paul Tracy was 13 years old in 1980 when he decided he wanted to be a paperboy. The job represented the chance to earn his own money and having the corresponding freedom that comes with it.
The Democrat and Chronicle morning route he soon got encompassed about 300 customers in the Suburban Court and Clintwood Court apartment complexes located in Brighton. All went well for the first few years.
Then, sometime around 1983, a new district manager was assigned to Tracy. His name was Jack Lazeroff.
Back in the 1980s, newspapers were often delivered by adolescents, who would walk or ride their bicycles from home to home. In Rochester, Gannett (owner of the Democrat and Chronicle) assigned district sales managers—adult employees—to oversee the paperboys and papergirls. As indicated in the Carrier Reference Manual that Tracy received in 1980, his district sales manager was “the link” between Tracy and Gannett, and was there to provide whatever guidance and help Tracy would need.
The district sales manager also was responsible for making sure that paper routes were completed when a paperboy called in sick. That is how Lazeroff first began to spend time alone with Tracy. Lazeroff would ask Tracy to ride along with him to help complete these other paper routes.
Being selected for this special duty—which also paid an additional sum—made Tracy feel special and valued by Gannett. And for the first five or so times that Tracy helped Lazeroff to complete these routes, nothing out of the ordinary occurred. But then on the next trip, something did.
It took place near a residential area close to the Mt. Hope Diner, Tracy recalls. As usual, Lazeroff had sheets of paper containing the addresses where newspapers needed to be delivered that day. But on this occasion, Tracy says, Lazeroff placed the sheets of paper on Tracy’s leg, and then proceeded to move his hand up Tracy’s thigh until he was fondling his genitals. Tracy was not sure what to do and asked Lazeroff to take him home, which Lazeroff did. When he got home, Tracy decided not to tell his parents about what happened.
Some days later, Lazeroff unexpectedly showed up at Tracy’s house. Tracy was in a room alone, where he was sitting on the floor playing video games. Tracy says Lazeroff sat down next to him and almost immediately began touching and rubbing Tracy’s genital area. After some moments, Tracy jumped up and ran to another room to tell his father to have Lazeroff leave.
After Lazeroff exited the house, Tracy finally told his father what happened both the previous time and that day at the house. Tracy remembers his father calling Gannett to complain about Lazeroff. After that, they never saw Lazeroff again and Tracy was assigned a new district sales manager. It was never made clear to Tracy or his father what Gannett may have done relative to Lazeroff.
A familiar pattern
While these details were described to me by Tracy last week, it was not the first time he recounted his interactions with Lazeroff to me. In August, Tracy and I were discussing another topic (Tracy has been a professional acquaintance for several years), when he mentioned that he had worked at the D&C as a newspaper boy and had been abused during that time. As the Rochester Beacon had previously received an anonymous email asking if we might be interested in investigating a story about the sexual abuse of paperboys in the 1980s, I asked Tracy to tell me more. That is when he first told me about what had happened to him, and when he first mentioned the name Jack Lazeroff.
I briefly looked into the matter on behalf of the Beacon, but that effort quickly went nowhere and I didn’t think about it again.
Then on Oct. 15, a lawsuit was filed by Richard Bates against Gannett and the Democrat and Chronicle. Bates, 48, alleges that when he was a D&C paperboy in approximately 1983—when he was 11 or 12 years old—he was sexually abused by his district sales manager, Jack Lazeroff. The same day, City Newspaper published a lengthy article based on Bates’ allegations.
Bates was able to file his lawsuit pursuant to the recently passed Child Victims Act, which provides a one-year window during which most sexual abuse victims can file a civil suit, even if that suit would have been barred under the previous statute of limitations rules.
Reading through the lawsuit paperwork from Bates’ case, I was immediately struck by a similarity. Bates alleges that “(d)uring these work meetings, Lazeroff would place on Rick’s (Richard Bates) lap printed papers which contained subscriber information as they reviewed Rick’s accounts on his couch. While Lazeroff was shuffling these papers, he would fondle Rick’s groin area outside of his clothing.” The complaint goes on to allege that the “fondling quickly evolved” and that after some weeks “Lazeroff escalated the abuse to include oral sex.”
After seeing Bates’ lawsuit, I contacted Tracy, who agreed to tell his story for publication.
In the past week I have also spoken to another person who was a D&C paperboy in Brighton in the early 1980s, when he was a teenager. While he did not want his real name used in this article (I will refer to him as “Steve”), he indicated that he would be willing to provide assistance to Bates or other alleged victims of Lazeroff by cooperating with their efforts to seek justice.
Steve’s interactions with Lazeroff—who was his district sales manager—started off in a very similar fashion. Lazeroff had asked Steve for help completing the route of another paperboy that had called in sick. After several uneventful trips, Lazeroff placed some sheets of paper containing subscriber addresses on Steve’s lap and proceeded to grope and rub the boy’s genitals.
Steve recounts being stunned and not being sure what to do. Some days later, a nearly identical situation occurred and Lazeroff again used pieces of paper as a pretext to touch Steve’s genitalia.
Since Bates filed his lawsuit, the D&C has done its own journalistic investigation into Lazeroff. It reported that Lazeroff had been arrested in Penfield in 1988 in connection with his interactions with a teenage boy. Lazeroff was charged with second-degree sexual abuse, though he later was allowed to plead guilty to a lower charge of disorderly conduct. The D&C’s reporter also found a 1987 incident in the town of Greece, where police were called because Lazeroff was allegedly rubbing the thighs of three teenage boys.
Tracy indicates that the abuse he experienced at the hands of Lazeroff had a lasting effect on him, specifically trust and boundary challenges.
Lazeroff died in 2003, never having to face justice for what he allegedly did to Bates, Tracy and potentially others.
Bates’ lawsuit against Gannett and the D&C may be just getting started.
Alex Zapesochny is Rochester Beacon publisher.