Still Evil after All These Years: The Franklin Scandal and Pedophilia in High Places
I have known Nick Bryant since 1995. He was new to New York from Minnesota then, and looking to make a jump from reporting for a science news service to writing for a mass audience. I noticed that he was persistent and ethically motivated and I thought, “He might be a good reporter.” We got to be friends, and had many long discussions about the nature of evil, which was his preferred subject matter as he tried to make a move into general circulation magazines. When he wasn’t chasing doctors at AIDS conferences, he was chasing outlaw bikers and Satanists.
On one such foray in 2002, he stumbled on a scandal that I had never heard of. The scandal centered around the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union, which was created to serve a poor black neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. During the 70s and 80s, its manager, a man named Larry King (not the talk show host), ran the Franklin as a Ponzi scheme and looted over $40 million, which he spent on an opulent lifestyle and Republican fundraising. King sang the National Anthem at the Republican convention in 1984 and served on several committees of the National Black Republican Council. He had a townhouse in Washington, DC, where he threw parties with many prominent guests. In August 1988, he threw a $100,000 party at the Republican convention, and appeared in a video in which he and Jack Kemp urged blacks to vote for George H. W. Bush. In November 1988, his Ponzi scheme crashed and the Franklin was shut down by the National Credit Union Association and the FBI.
All run-of-the-mill scandal stuff, and uncontroversial in the basic facts, except that as King was climbing into the upper levels of the national Republican hierarchy, Omaha was boiling over with rumors that he was also running a pedophile ring, pandering children out to rich and powerful men in Omaha, even flying the children to Washington, Los Angeles and New York for orgiastic, abusive parties with even richer and more powerful men.
The late 80s and 90s were rough years for people to make accusations of pedophilia. Media of the left and right alike were debunking an array of scandals involving nursery schools around the country (most notoriously the McMartin Preschool in California). The charges of child abuse were often bizarre as well as horrifying, and were ultimately dismissed in court as Salem witch trial hysteria and the accused exonerated. “False memory syndrome” entered the language as a new psychological disorder and proved useful for understanding odd claims of “recovered memory” in many areas.
It was not until 2002, when the Boston Globe ran a courageous series on pedophiliac abuse by Catholic priests, that the national climate started to change. As more and more stories appeared in other outlets, it became clear and widely accepted that the Catholic church had been harboring thousands of pedophile priests around the world for decades, if not centuries. It was ghastly, and it wasn’t a witch hunt, and the revelations keep coming to this day (do a search on “Catholic priest” and “abuse”). It’s barely news anymore, but the stories are relentless. There was little or no “false memory syndrome” among the claims.