The former Staten Island Little League coach who allegedly molested at least four teenage boys back in the 1970s was accused Monday of preying on a young man who played on his New Jersey basketball team.
Tony Sagona, the founder and longtime coach of Jersey Shore Warriors of Morganville, N.J., allegedly began “grooming” the then-16-year-old in 2003 when he joined the Jersey Shore Warriors to build on his basketball skills and improve his chances of playing college basketball, according to a complaint filed in the Monmouth County Superior court.
What began as a “father-son” relationship soon became sexualized with Sagona insisting that the teenager, identified in the papers by the pseudonym Richard Roe, give him full-body massages or risk losing his place on the team, the court complaint states.
“Sagona also demanded that he watch Plaintiff shave his legs while Plaintiff was naked,” according to the court complaint. “With each massage or shave, Sagona would give Plaintiff between $200 and $500 in cash and sometimes would purchase for Plaintiff new basketball sneakers.”
If Roe refused, Sagona suggested he would “rethink whether Plaintiff deserved to be on the Warriors.”
“Sagona reminded Plaintiff that the players who listen to his rules were the ones that were the most successful,” the complaint alleges.
But when Roe rebuffed Sagona’s alleged attempt to rape him in 2005 while on a college recruiting trip, the angry coach allegedly demoted him to the “B” team and cut his playing time.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
“The AAU and the Jersey Shore Warriors welcomed Coach Sagona into their ranks where he had access to new generations of young men,” Roe’s attorney, Bradley Rice, told NBC News. “Coach Sagona abused his position within the AAU to sexually abuse the plaintiff. This recent case is consistent with the allegations in the current four cases filed against Coach Sagona in Staten Island and appears to demonstrate a pattern of alleged abuse that continued for decades.”
Sagona is named along with the team and Amateur Athletic Association (AAU) in the suit that was filed a day after New Jersey opened a two-year window during which accusers can file lawsuits against alleged abusers that had been previously barred by the state’s statute of limitations.
A similar window opened earlier this year in New York, called the Child Victims Act, allowing Rice to file lawsuits against Sagona on behalf of four former Little League players, three of whom recently recounted their wrenching stories to NBC News.
James Manfredonia, who played shortstop and catcher on Sagona’s teams in the Great Kills Baseball League and said he was 13-years-old when he was abused, told NBC News that he was moved to speak out after learning that Sagona was coaching basketball in New Jersey.
Sagona has denied abusing Manfredonia and the three other New Yorkers who have already sued him. He did not respond to several emails seeking comment about the latest lawsuit.
NBC News also reached out for comment about the latest legal developments to the AAU’s director of marketing, Rachel D’Orazio. She too did not respond.
In earlier comments D’Orazio insisted that Sagona had not been affiliated with the AAU since 2011 and that he had been blocked from obtaining AAU membership in the future. She did not explain why.
But the Jersey Shore Warriors, the team for high-school age players that Sagona founded in 1987 after leaving Staten Island, continues to identify itself as an AAU team on its Facebook page. And Sagona was listed on the Warriors roster as a coach as recently as this summer.
NBC News reached out to the team via its Facebook page.
Sagona was for many years a revered coach whose basketball teams were very successful. He is credited with helping incubate the careers of talented high school players like Troy Murphy, Matt Carroll, Aaron Gray and Darrun Hilliard who went on to play in the NBA. These players have not publicly accused Sagona of misconduct.
His reputation took a serious hit earlier this year when Manfredonia went public with his allegations and was joined by two other former little leaguers, Bruce Morrison, 60, and Timothy Morey, 58, who said in a lawsuit they too had been sexually abused and assaulted by Sagona.
“I loved Tony Sagona, he was my father figure,” Morrison told NBC News. “But he didn’t protect me. He abused me.”
The fourth former Little Leaguer suing Sagona is a Staten Island personal injury lawyer named Edward Pavia. He too is being represented by Rice.
Rice’s law firm, Nagel Rice LLP, has also used the “window” to file lawsuits on behalf of individuals making child sex abuse allegations against the Boy Scouts of America, the Newark Archdiocese, and other organizations. Those cases remain pending.