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U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, ex-cadet settle over classmate abuse allegations

Final approval of the settlement was given by

Final approval of the settlement was given by Attorney General William Barr, said Thomas Grasso, the attorney for the former U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadet. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The U.S. Department of Transportation has paid a $1.4 million settlement to a former cadet at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point who alleged he was sexually assaulted by fellow members of the school’s soccer team, according to his attorney and federal maritime officials.

Seven seniors on the academy’s soccer team sexually abused the freshman team member and bullied him for a month afterward, a federal attorney said during a related court hearing in 2017.

The "physical abuse" and "unreasonable verbal taunting" happened twice in September 2016 on the soccer team bus as it traveled to games at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, according to Eastern District U.S. Attorney James Knapp.

Knapp said the seniors also "hazed by humiliation and physical act by squirting water and/or urine and by covering with food several individuals" on the bus.

A spokesman for the Maritime Administration said in a brief statement that the administration agreed to a $1.4 million settlement "in mediation that was paid to the plaintiff… ."

Thomas Grasso, the attorney for the former cadet, who has been identified only as John Doe in legal papers, said Thursday his client resigned from the academy after the incident.

"He’s moving on with his life … happy to move on with life," Grasso said of his client. In addition to declining to identify his client, Grasso would not say what his current work was, except that it was not related to any maritime activity.

"The settlement payment ends a grueling four-year journey for my client," Grasso said in a statement. "He has shown exceptional courage and perseverance to see the matter through."

Grasso said that the case eventually was not settled in federal court, but administratively in March between his client and U.S. Maritime Administration, which is the branch of the Department of Transportation that oversees the academy.

Final approval of the settlement was made this month by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Grasso said.

The Justice Department has to approve all financial settlements by U.S. agencies over $1 million.

The West Virginia congressional delegation helped expedite the settlement, according to sources familiar with the case. The victim is a resident of West Virginia, sources said.

"The case is a watershed moment for the Academy," Grasso said in a news release, referring to changes at the academy. "We hope that the Academy will continue to make positive, substantive changes necessary to improve Academy culture and ensure that its Midshipmen are safe and trained in the best environment possible."

John Marzulli, a spokesman for Eastern District prosecutors, declined to comment. A spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington could not be reached for comment.

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