PORTLAND (AP) – Cheverus High School alumni have contributed enough money to pay the legal bills of a dozen men who say they were sexually abused by a former longtime teacher and track coach.

Tom Kane, a 1964 graduate, said more than 150 former Cheverus students donated more than was needed to pay the $8,100 in legal fees that accrued when the men brought their stories of abuse at the hands of Charles Malia to school officials in 1997.

Cheverus administrators and trustees refused to pay the legal bill. But using an alumni list dating back to 1921, a group of alumni last summer mailed 3,200 letters to Cheverus graduates across the country asking for donations to the Cheverus Alumni Defense Fund.

Kane said he felt a moral obligation to help the men, even if the school did not.

“To me, it’s just a show of solidarity for people who were subject of an injustice,” Kane said. “They were victimized by Charlie Malia, and they were victimized again when they came forward.”

The allegations against Malia were brought forth in 1997, when Cheverus alumnus Michael Sweatt told the school that he did not want Malia to have any contact with his son, an incoming freshman. Sweatt said he had been molested by Malia when he was a student in the 1960s.

Sweatt did not threaten to sue the school or make any criminal charge. But he said Cheverus officials treated his allegations as a legal issue.

“Every time we talked to Cheverus they had lawyers,” Sweatt said. “It’s ridiculous to have any kind of dialogue when the other party is being advised by an attorney.”

Sweatt hired Portland lawyer Nicholas Nadzo and began telling his story to other former Cheverus students. He found other people who said that Malia had abused them when they were at Cheverus and the group met with Nadzo.

The charges were too old for court action, but the men still wanted to meet with the Cheverus trustees.

After two meetings in Nadzo’s office, the school agreed to pay for the men’s counseling, take Malia’s name off a new track facility and hold a Mass of healing for the victims. Malia resigned from the school in 1998.

The school has spent $29,000 for counseling of victims, but school officials didn’t think the legal bills were the school’s responsibility.

“There was never a legal claim or any kind of legal case,” said the Rev. John Keegan, Cheverus’ headmaster. “It was the choice of one of the people to hire a lawyer. If he wants the advice of a lawyer, that is his choice.”

AP-ES-12-16-03 0216EST

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