A key witness has emerged after several former participants of a United Airlines After School program called "Believers" came forward with claims of sexual abuse at the hands of the program director, Marvin Lovett while they were students at James Weldon Johnson Elementary in the 1990s.
The program's assistant coordinator and a mother of one participant said United Airlines "dropped the ball" after she complained about Lovett's behavior around the children. Linda Jones said United Airlines ignored the concerns she raised in 1996 about Marvin Lovett, years before details of Lovett's sexual abuse of program participants were made public.
"If they would have looked in to it, maybe they would have seen that he was not a good role model for the program," said Jones, who plans to act as a witness should the case go to trial.
Jones said she worked as an assistant coordinator on the program for one school year, and that early-on she was concerned by Lovett's actions, including, what she saw as Lovett favoring the boy participants over the girls. She said Lovett showed the participants R-rated movies and spent time with the boys at his home.
"By me working so close to him, I start seeing things that I didn't like," Jones, who says her child was not a victim of abuse, said.
Lovett was shot to death in 2000. During the investigation, police found 140 videotapes showing Lovett sexually abusing minors, including "Believers" participants. Police charged then 17-year-old Sylvester Jamison with Lovett's murder. Investigators said the two met while Jamison was a student at Johnson Elementary.
United Airlines closed down the mentorship program following Lovett's murder. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and later reorganized. The plaintiffs are seeking US Bankruptcy Court's permission to file a lawsuit against United Airlines in the Cook County court system.
"By coming forward in this it's their hope they can have some healing," said attorney Lyndsay Markley.
United Airlines wrote in a recently-filed court response that the group's efforts to blame United Airlines for Lovett's abuse were "weak".
A United Airlines spokesperson wrote in a statement to NBC 5 Investigates, "The Believers program sought to provide often-inaccessible opportunities to Chicago youth with great potential. We disagree that our donations to this great program constitute endorsement of the reprehensible acts of one individual involved."
Lovett supervised and interacted with the boy participants on a daily basis.
"They were required by the program to participate with Mr. Lovett in order to be eligible for scholarships," Markley said.