Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Jeff, pictured on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, has come forward as a victim of alleged sex abuse that occurred when he was a teenager.

PROVO — Spurred in part by allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men across the country, three former teenage employees of a youth symphony orchestra in Utah County say one of its longtime leaders either sexually abused them or inappropriately touched them years apart.

The accusers, now men in their 30s and 40s, gave detailed accounts of repeated sexual behavior that they say occurred with Brent E. Taylor at his home, in his car and across state lines between roughly 1985 and 2003, starting by the time they were no older than 14, 15 and 16.

A fourth man, a former neighbor, also recalled sexual interactions with Taylor as a young teen and said the man provided him with alcohol and marijuana. Another accuser filed a police report in 2011 alleging that his brother-in-law had been abused by Taylor as a youth. A sixth man, also a former orchestra employee, described lewd activities at Taylor's home when he spoke to police in 2011.

As adults, two of the former employees also told authorities of grooming and misconduct that they say spanned much of their teenage years, police reports show, including during the time they sorted music and hauled equipment for the former executive director of the Utah Valley Youth Symphony who retired in 2017 after 44 years with the group.

In separate interviews, they said he provided pornography and liquor.

“I wish I would have had courage when I was 14 to stand and say no, but then who was going to buy me cigarettes?” said one of the men, Jeff, who asked to be identified only by his first name.

Taylor's attorney, Richard Casper, said he was not aware of such allegations against Taylor, including those detailed in reports filed by Sandy police, Orem police and Provo police.

"I don't have any information that any of that is true. I don't know how I can deny or admit an anonymous allegation. I have no information that any of those allegations ever occurred," Casper said last week.

“He has never been summoned before any court on account of his conduct with any person. He has never been charged with a crime against another person,” Casper said. "I can tell you for certain that no police agency in Utah has ever contacted Mr. Taylor about an investigation."

Taylor, also a former schoolteacher, led the group at times as executive director but also as a business manager who occasionally stepped in as conductor, Casper said. The group began with up to 45 young performers but grew to as many as 120, with some 3,000 to 5,000 students participating over the course of Taylor's career, Casper said, before his retirement June 30.

The 70-year-old Taylor, reached by phone, asked for the names of the accusers and deferred comment to his attorney. Court records hold no indication that he has ever been criminally charged in these or any other cases.

Daniel Christensen, a youth symphony board member, said in an email that symphony directors and staff "have no firsthand knowledge of any misconduct within the organization, either by or against any student participant, officer or director. If anyone knows of any such misconduct, we strongly encourage those persons, including students, to immediately pass those allegations on to the appropriate legal authorities.

"We also suggest that parents listen to their children. If any student feels uncomfortable or unsafe, we would like to know. We condemn and do not tolerate any sexual misconduct."

He said the group is committed to ensuring a safe learning environment for students and staff. Another board member, Blanka Bednarz, declined to comment.

After inquiries from the Deseret News, Sandy police in February reopened one of the investigations, more than a decade after officers there concluded and documented in a 2005 report — perhaps incorrectly — that the statute of limitations in the case had run out.

The cases spotlight the time limits embedded in Utah's criminal code, which block prosecutors from charging suspects after certain amounts of time have passed. The length of time available depends on the type of case.

John Myers, a law professor at California’s University of the Pacific who specializes in child sex abuse cases and reviewed three old police reports for the Deseret News, said he believes police had compiled enough evidence to arrest Taylor, if not for the statutes that they believed had expired. “This was not a probable-cause issue, or a lack-of-evidence issue. That is a straightforward statute-of-limitations issue,” he said.

The three men said they are speaking up now because they don’t want the same things to happen to anyone else.

***

Jeff, whose case was just reopened in Sandy, said he was moved to come forward one night when he saw news coverage of the sexual abuse of scores of victims at the hands of youth gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in what some have termed the largest sex abuse scandal in sports history.

“The memories are always there," Jeff said.

He now recognizes that the constant incentives he says Taylor offered him, first as a neighbor boy and later as an employee, were grooming tactics. He told Sandy police he "had sexual relations with (Taylor) from the time he was 12 until he turned 19," a 2005 police report states.

Another man, Eric Bartlett, said he contemplated suicide as he grappled with guilt and shame.

“Even as I was beating myself up for it for years, I still was wanting to protect the guy. That's the kind of power he has over people,” Bartlett said. “I just am sleepless at night wondering how many kids are going through what I went through.”

The Deseret News generally does not identify victims of sexual crimes, but Bartlett agreed to be identified. Jeff asked that only his first name be used. A third former symphony crew worker, a French horn player, requested not to be named.

"As soon as (you called) me, I knew exactly what it was about and why," the third man told the Deseret News. "It wasn't expected, but it also wasn't surprising."

Interviews with the accusers, employees, former employees and former youth symphony musicians cast Taylor as gregarious, likable and easy to confide in. Some said they were unaware of any alleged misconduct in the extracurricular organization. The symphony has performed in Carnegie Hall and in Europe, giving teens a chance to play in a more professional setting than their schools generally afford.

***

Before joining the work crew, Jeff recalled being roughly 12 years old and eager to turn a profit from mowing lawns when Taylor moved in across the street from him in his Sandy neighborhood, joining his LDS ward and becoming a “go-to client” for yard work.

Jeff and a neighbor boy began riding ATVs. “When you're 14, you just don't go out and buy a four-wheeler. He capitalized on that and he said that he would finance — he would buy me a four-wheeler in exchange for oral sex,” Jeff said of Taylor.

The new ATV never materialized, but Jeff said he now views the alleged promise as one of several incentives that tethered him to the man for most of his adolescence.

Taylor “would have him come over to his house” and would “perform oral sex on Jeffrey and Jeffrey would perform oral sex” on him, according to a Sandy police report filed in 2005. At the time, Jeff told a Sandy officer that he went to police because he was worried that Taylor “is doing the same things to little boys that he did to him. He wants to help put a stop to this,” the report states.

***

Neither Jeff’s nor Bartlett’s police reports were sent to Salt Lake or Utah county prosecutors, who have no record of the cases.

After he was presented with Jeff’s initial report to police, Blake Nakamura, who oversees prosecution of child sex crimes in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, said his staff has reviewed the reports and the state code “very, very carefully” and believes the statute of limitations may not have expired yet. It’s a different conclusion than the one Sandy police reached in 2005.

"Therefore, we’re asking the agency to investigate this matter completely, which it has not done," Nakamura said. Sandy police have begun investigating again, said Sgt. Jason Nielsen, but he declined to make available a detective who closed Jeff's case almost 13 years ago.

Nakamura wants to review results of the investigation before making a decision, he added.

In Utah, there is no time limit for prosecutors to charge suspects with some of the most severe felonies, including sodomy on a child. But under Utah law, alleged victims are only considered children if they are 13 or younger.

When Jeff was awarded his Eagle Scout medal at age 14, “I was so ashamed of everything else that was going on in my life that I couldn't even look up” during the ceremony, he said. “I stared at my feet the whole flippin' time.” But he said he can't pinpoint the date the alleged abuse began. ­­

Deputy attorney general Craig Barlow said the difference is key.

"If I were screening this as a prosecutor and I couldn't narrow it down, and I wasn’t really, really confident that this stuff occurred when he was under 14, then you don't have the advantage of any of these extended statutes of limitations," Barlow said.

And the statutes exist for good reason, Myers added.

“After a lengthy period of time goes by, it becomes difficult for a defendant to properly prepare a defense. Witnesses have died. Witnesses have moved away. Documents are lost. Witnesses can’t remember," he said. "It’s not fair to expect defendants to defend themselves when the evidence is so old, lost or lost to memory.”

***

Jeff said the abuse continued when he was 15 and his family moved to Phoenix. Taylor "would visit Jeffrey and the same acts would be performed," a Sandy police report states.

Jeff turned to alcohol and methamphetamines to cope with the abuse, he said. By his senior year of high school, addiction took hold.

Taylor had moved to Chicago, where Taylor's attorney said he lived from 1989 to 1997, when he worked for a music company there. Taylor offered to Jeff's parents that he detox at Taylor's home, Jeff said, where the sexual behavior continued until he left to serve an LDS mission in the Southern states in 1992. Taylor visited occasionally, taking Jeff and his mission companion to dinners.

After his mission, Jeff broke his pelvis while snowboarding, took on debt from the medical bills and eventually moved into Taylor's basement apartment after Taylor returned from Illinois to Provo.

Teenage crew members would come to the house and Jeff recalls trying "to run them out," fearing they would be abused as he had been, though he said he never saw any misconduct.

Jeff acknowledges he "kept showing up" years later, and expects some may question that.

"That's the part I need to be prepared for … (people) saying, 'Well why is it wrong now … because it wasn't wrong 10 years after it happened?' … But the reality is that it was wrong. I was a kid. Regardless of what happened when I was an adult, I was still a kid when it happened. So it was wrong, and it shouldn't have happened.

"It shouldn't have happened to anybody. And I wish it hadn't happened to me. But it did and I've compartmentalized it," he said. "I've dealt with it the way I've dealt with it. It's been a long process, but I'm willing to stop anything else that might happen tomorrow or tonight."

***

Jeff's childhood friend Scott, who also grew up in the neighborhood, separately gave a similar account of his own experiences with Taylor, starting when he was 13.

Jeff and Scott said they spent a significant amount of time together with Taylor, but were never aware of the other's alleged sexual interactions.

Scott, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said Taylor was the boys' Sunday School teacher, and he often ended up at Taylor's home, where musicians would gather to play.

Once the band left, Scott said Taylor would play pornography and those encounters progressed into mutual masturbation and oral sex. He also described similar activities with Taylor in multiple hotel rooms.

Taylor provided alcohol and marijuana, he added, recalling that he got drunk and high in his adult neighbor's presence.

But Scott said he has no ill will toward Taylor and did not come to see the behavior as inappropriate until recently. He credits his former neighbor with sparking his love of classical music and art.

"Part of me still likes him. For a long time I didn’t think of it as him molesting me," Scott said. "I look back and see that obviously it wasn’t right. I see things clearer now that I’m older."

***

Bartlett was roughly 15 years old and a trombone player in the youth symphony when he began working in the logistics crew in 1997 to offset orchestra tuition, he said, recalling Taylor at that point “as the guy you could swear around and make sex jokes around.”

As part of the job, the crew of about a half-dozen teens went out to eat and cleaned their boss’ house once a week, said Bartlett and the third former employee who asked his name be withheld.

The music teacher referred to those closest to him as “wayward boys,” Bartlett said. He said Taylor often showed pornography, sharing the password to a porn subscription service, during the time when Jeff was living downstairs.

He said he received back rubs and shoulder rubs from Taylor that “sometimes included rubbing feet, legs, thighs, hands. I never knew how far it was meant to go until it was over; I felt paralyzed and helpless, like he was showing me that he had total control over every inch of my body.”

And when he drove Bartlett to symphony rehearsals, Bartlett recalled, Taylor reached his hand up the boy's shorts, stopping just short of his genitals on more than one occasion. Taylor then would release a throaty “fake pervert” laugh, Bartlett said, and joke about molesting him.

"He said Brent stopped when he told him to and there was never any more physical contact with (Bartlett), but (he) knows there was sexual contact with other boys," an Orem police report from March 2011 states.

He said Taylor "had told them once that he was accused by one of the boys of abuse and he was really hurt by the accusation," the report states. "(Bartlett) believes he was using this to discourage the boys from telling anyone."

During another interview with Orem police in April 2011, Bartlett was asked if Taylor had ever warned him or threatened him about telling others. He said Taylor "would often tell a story of a teacher who was friends with a boy. The boy told his mother the teacher had done something to him and he lost his job," the police report states. "(Bartlett) believed Taylor was referring to himself as the teacher and it might be a true story."

After joining the symphony work crew, Bartlett said he and another boy went on road trips to Las Vegas with Taylor to see the musical "Les Miserables" and the Blue Man Group. Their boss provided screwdrivers — Absolut Mandarin vodka and orange juice — to the group, he said.

At 22 years old, Bartlett said he cut ties with Taylor. About five years later, he was working at a Provo hotel when the youth symphony reserved an event room. It jolted him, and he confided in his LDS bishop, who reported allegations of misconduct to Orem police in March 2011.

In January 2012, Orem police sent the Bartlett case to officers in neighboring Provo, where they determined that most of the misconduct was alleged to have occurred.

Provo police eventually closed the case. One officer wrote he tried to reach other possible witnesses but was unsuccessful. The statute in that case had expired, officers noted.

***

Casper said Taylor, his client, has health issues that have required major surgery and he now lives in Denver to take care of his mother, who recently had a stroke. He commutes to Utah as a musical consultant, Casper said — work that is winding down as he eases into retirement and focuses on caring for his mother. Casper would not elaborate on Taylor's consulting.

According to Casper, someone raised allegations against his client in an email to the symphony in 2011, falsely claiming Taylor had been convicted of unspecified crimes when Taylor was teaching school in Cache Valley.

The attorney declined to provide a copy of the email or say who sent it, calling the allegation “false and defamatory.”

Casper responded to the accuser in an email dated March 23, 2011, which he provided to the Deseret News. He sought specifics and warned that such accusations, if false, are potentially libelous. Casper said he received no response.

Days before Casper replied roughly seven years ago, a man told Orem police that when Taylor taught school in Logan in the 1970s, he "convinced" a student — the man's brother-in-law — to strip to his underwear "and was touching him inappropriately," according to the 2011 Orem report obtained through a public records request. The names of the alleged victim and his brother-in-law were redacted.

No charges were filed in the case, court records show, and police in Logan did not receive such a report. Taylor taught at Logan Junior High School in 1976 and 1977, according to the Utah State Board of Education.

In that Orem police report, an officer wrote that the man filing the complaint had contacted "a director of the symphony and was told some parents had expressed similar concerns in the past, but no proof could verify the claims and nothing happened."

The director, whose name was redacted from the report, told the man "he tried to keep an eye on Brent and feels he has not been able to do anything inappropriate."

In 2012, Provo police spoke with Britton Davis, a conductor who also had other leadership roles with the youth symphony program over four decades before his death in 2014. He “was aware of a report made against Brent some 35 years ago but has not directly seen any activity as I have described,” the officer wrote in the report.

Taylor's teaching career began at Orem Junior High School in 1973, where he taught for three years, before transferring to Logan Junior High School, according to the state board. He most recently taught at Lone Peak High School in Highland from 2003 to 2007, working part time for three years before teaching orchestra full time his last year, a spokeswoman for the Alpine School District said. He resigned after that, citing "other professional opportunities,” according to the district.

Kameron Conley, the youth symphony's executive director who took over when Taylor retired, said Taylor’s departure did not stem from any allegations of wrongdoing.

“He worked as an educator for years, so there was never a worry in my mind and as a student, there was nothing that ever occurred like that,” said Conley, adding that Taylor was his own high school orchestra teacher in Las Vegas from 2007 to 2010. “Anything like that would be something that I would not believe happened.”

“He was a wonderful educator, a wonderful leader, a great person in the area,” he said, adding that he has seen his mentor around young people since he was 15.

***

The sixth man who Bartlett said accompanied him as a teen on symphony road trips, who was also a symphony work crew member at the time, told Orem officers investigating that case in May 2011 that he had seen Taylor naked “on several occasions and it usually had to do with being in a hot tub” either on the road or at the Provo home, and that the man would play pornography and then conduct a session “in which they would all masturbate,” according to an Orem police report that redacted his name.

During that interview, police asked the man for more detailed information about their relationship. He said "Taylor always injected what Taylor named 'plausible deniability' to create a way for him to avoid getting into trouble," a police report states. "I asked (him) how that related to him and he did not want to talk about it. … I asked him if he felt he had been victimized by Taylor and he again advised he didn't want to talk about it."

***

The third member of the work crew, a man who asked not to be identified, played French horn in the music organization and began working for the crew at age 15, he said, once traveling to Carnegie Hall with the group.

On Saturday mornings, after cleaning Taylor's house, some of the boys stayed to watch "The Lord of the Rings" and relax in Taylor's hot tub. Orange-flavored vodka was available there, he recalled.

Taylor began encouraging the boys to get in his hot tub naked, and also removed his clothing before joining them, the man and Bartlett said in separate interviews.

The man remembers sharing a few sexual exchanges with Taylor.

“I know that there was fondling involved. I know that there was oral sex involved. There was obviously making out and body contact,” he said.

He was wrestling with feelings of attraction for both men and women at that time, he said, and believed the other boys in the tight-knit group also felt out of place in the broader community.

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“We all felt like outcasts,” he said. “The fact that we had someone that not only understood us but we had a connection to, was extremely important in our growing lives.”

At the time, the relationship "didn't feel like a predator. It felt like a mother bear," he said. "All of this felt perfectly normal. He was very, very good at making it seem like this was our exploration as young adults growing up in the world."

Those who have experienced sexual abuse or assault can be connected to trained advocates through Utah's statewide 24-hour Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.