Five adults who participated in a United Airlines mentoring program in the 1990s as children claim in court papers they suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of a mentor they thought would help them obtain college scholarships.
The men are planning a lawsuit against United Airlines, and they claim the airline did not do enough to protect their personal safety.
"By coming forward in this it's their hope they can have some healing," said attorney Lyndsay Markley.
United Airlines chose James Weldon Johnson Elementary for its "Believers" program in 1994. According to a recent court motion filed by the men, the goal of the "Believers" program was to assist inner-city, high-risk youths to achieve higher education through college scholarships. Participants would receive college scholarships in return for attending after school activities and staying out of trouble.
Marvin Lovett ran the "Believers" program. He 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.
However, the court motion claims United Airlines "did not conduct any investigation into Lovett before it placed him in control of the minor participants."
According to the court filing, Lovett engaged in acts of sexual abuse with all of the movants for years.
Lovett was shot to death in his apartment in 2000. During the investigation, police found 140 videotapes showing Lovett sexually abusing minors, including the movants.
The court motion says the abused participants never knew they were being recorded until police showed them tapes.
"He debased them in every way possible for years starting when they were nine years old for some of them up until they were 17," Markley said.
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 men are seeking US Bankruptcy Court's permission to file a lawsuit against United Airlines in the Cook County court system.
"The Believers program sought to provide often-inaccessible opportunities to Chicago youth with great potential," wrote a United Airlines spokesperson. "We disagree that our donations to this great program constitute endorsement of the reprehensible acts of one individual involved."