Arts-school chief pleads not guilty to abusing boys
By Larry Lewis, Bonnie L. Cook and Keith Herbert, Philadelphia Inquirer

July 9, 2003

UPPER MORELAND - For 30 years, he has taught eager young students to write, star in, direct and produce their own television shows and full-length films.

The production-arts program he started in a Willow Grove industrial park has won awards, attracted show-business hopefuls from across the region, and fulfilled dreams. He named it Cinekyd, for children enthralled by cinema.

Yesterday Robert J. Clark Jr., 61, the executive director, sat in a Hatboro courtroom and pleaded not guilty to charges that he abused eight boys at the nonprofit school.

The boys, between ages 10 and 17, said Clark kissed them and spanked them, and sometimes had them remove their clothing.

The spankings usually started when the boys were around 10 and continued until age 16, First Assistant Montgomery County District Attorney Risa V. Ferman said. Last year, a student at the school complained to his mother of being spanked. She conducted her own investigation, and then contacted police.

"According to the boys, some of the spankings were called 'birthday spankings,' " Ferman said. "But the behavior was not limited to just their birthdays."

Clark, a retired Upper Moreland media-arts teacher was accompanied by his lawyer, William F. Mabom of Doylestown, when he surrendered to police yesterday.

He was arraigned before District Justice Paul N. Leo and charged with eight counts each of endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault, corruption of a minor, simple assault and harassment, and three counts of false imprisonment.

"He intends to strenuously defend himself against every allegation made against him in these papers," Mabom said.

Clark told the judge that he was living with his sister in the first block of Knock N Knoll Circle in Willow Grove.

Leo set Clark's preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. July 17 in the Willow Grove court of District Justice Elaine Berkoff.

A woman from Warrington, Bucks County, and a man from Richboro, Bucks County, whose children are named in the court document as having been spanked at the school, testified yesterday that they did not believe their children should be listed as victims in the case.

"Mr. Clark has been a highly respected member of the community," the woman said.

Clark was sent to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility because he could not post $100,000 cash bail. The judge ordered him to stay away from children who are not related to him.

A court document filed with the case said Clark sometimes took male students to a garage across the street from the media campus, which is at 2805 Terwood Rd., and administered spankings.

As many as 80 male and female students between 7 and 17 pay tuition, and attend classes and activities on the campus of the center, which has been in existence for 27 years.

The spankings were not "locker-room" high jinks, Ferman said. Prosecutors allege that the spanking, kissing and hugging were done for sexual gratification.

"This is absolutely not corporal punishment, and it's also not the typical jovial, locker-room patting," Ferman said.

One of the most eargerly awaited features of the center program is the summer movie project, in which students make a feature film in five weeks. This summer's offering is to be called Zodiac.

The center's motto is "each one, reach one," and it encourages students to be active in helping their communities and supporting charities.

The program's Web site says students pay about $80 a month to take part.

The charge of endangering the welfare of children stems from Clark's being in charge of the children while they were at the school.

"Whether it's during the school day or weekends, parents trusted him with the care of their children," Ferman said. "He had an obligation to protect them, not to violate them in any way."

The investigation continues, and police ask any parents who feel their children may have been abused to call them.

Upper Moreland police can be reached at 215-657-4700.

Cinekyd's campus showed few signs of activity yesterday.

Just before 3:30 p.m., a man who would not give his name emerged from the two-story cream-colored studio building and declined to answer questions, saying that reporters could not be on the premises "when the children are here."

The garage referred to in the affidavit as the alleged scene of some spankings is actually two buildings across Terwood Road that Clark rents, officials said.

Other spankings apparently occurred in an office in the studio building, according to the affidavit.


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