Abuse claim hits HS hoops coach

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The coach of Christ the King's powerhouse high school basketball team is battling allegations that he sexually abused a teenager more than 30 years ago.

Bob Oliva, who has coached the boys' basketball team at the Middle Village Catholic school for 27 years, notified school officials two months ago after receiving a letter from a Florida-based law firm asking him to pay James Carlino, a former family friend, for alleged indiscretions decades ago.

"Mr. Carlino would accept a monetary amount of $750,000 and your resignation from Christ the King High School at the close of the 2008 school year as a unilateral offer to settle this matter," attorney David Ristoff wrote May 1 in a letter to Oliva. In return, Ristoff wrote, Carlino would sign a confidentiality agreement.

"As you can imagine, Mr. Carlino has suffered significant psychological damage that has effected [sic] every aspect of his life and career," the letter reads.

Oliva declined to comment on the situation. He did say he has no plans to resign from his job at Christ the King and his annual basketball camp, one of the most popular in the area, will begin next week.

"I'll be back," Oliva said. "Camp is starting up next Monday. Everything stays the same."

His attorney, Lloyd Thompson, said he has sent letters to Ristoff's firm, Williams, Ristoff & Proper in New Port Richey, Fla., warning that Oliva may seek sanctions against the firm for unethical behavior.

"They sent a letter demanding money without any sort of backing information," Thompson said. "Nothing at all. Just a letter sent out. We just felt that that was unethical behavior."

John Klawikofsky, a Williams, Ristoff & Proper attorney, declined to specifically address Thompson's letters.

"This is a very ethical firm," he said.

Oliva and Carlino met 35 years ago when Oliva was co-owner of an Ozone Park bar on Liberty Avenue called the Short Porch, Thompson said. Carlino was one of the bartenders' sons, and Oliva took him under his wing.

"He became a sponsor for him for his confirmation, was very friendly with the family and took care of James, kind of like a mentor when he was growing up," Thompson said, noting Oliva would take Carlino along on basketball road trips when he later became coach at Christ the King.

Two of the school's board of directors expressed their support for Oliva.

Former Councilman Thomas Ognibene, a member of Christ the King's board of directors, said Oliva began looking after Carlino when the boy was 8. More recently, Oliva took Carlino out of his will because the younger man would not stop gambling and using drugs, Ognibene said.

"That's what this is — an extortion plot," Ognibene said. "The only leverage they had is that they could go public. Now they've lost their leverage. That's the end of it."

State Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), chair of the board, said he has known Oliva for 25 years and doubted the claims.

"It's a terrible allegation to make and I don't think there's any truth to it," he said.

It was unclear whether Carlino has grounds for a lawsuit since the statute of limitations may apply. Thompson said Carlino's attorneys had not provided any specific allegations by press time Tuesday.

Oliva was offered the Christ the King freshman coaching job Oct. 2, 1978, as he was on his way to one of the most famous baseball games in history: light-hitting Yankees infielder Bucky Dent hit a game-winning home run over the Green Monster at Boston's Fenway Park in a division playoff game against the Red Sox.

The Rev. John Savage, Christ the King's athletic director at the time, called Oliva, who had been coaching St. Theresa's CYO in Richmond Hill since he was 15, with the good news.

"He said, 'I can't offer you much,' but what he offered me was the world," Oliva said in a 2005 interview with TimesLedger. "I didn't realize it."

Three years later Oliva became the varsity coach when then-head man Don Kent, who now coaches at Monsignor McClancy, refused to cross the picket line during the 1981 teachers strike. In his almost three decades as head coach, Oliva has become one of the most successful and well-known high-school coaches in the country. He has sent more than CK SE 60 players to Division I colleges and eight of his former players have played in the NBA, including Lamar Odom, who played in this year's NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Christ the King has won four Catholic High School Athletic Association city championships in Oliva's tenure and the Royals won their first since 1995 in 2007.

Klawikofsky said Carlino was looking forward to telling his side of the story.

"My client is willing to make a statement at the appropriate time," he said, declining to name a date. "We're still pursuing legal remedies in multiple jurisdicti­ons."

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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