Ex-Lake Bluff teacher faces sexual misconduct investigation

An ABC7 I-Team Exclusive
LAKE BLUFF, Ill. (WLS) -- The I-Team has uncovered what some former suburban students say is a dark secret they've kept for 30 years involving sexual exploitation of students by a popular teacher.

The alleged betrayal of trust began in the 1980s, according to some of Charles Ritz's former students at Lake Bluff Junior High. Now three decades later the I-Team has learned that Ritz is the subject of a current police investigation in Lake County, Ill., for what the students said was sexual misconduct; sordid memories they said they are just now willing to talk about.

When the I-Team showed up at the home of Charles "Chuck" Ritz, the former teacher opened the door on his past from three decades ago.

"The cool kids get to go out with Chuck Ritz," said former Lake Bluff student Jason Suciu.

"This is the thing you really wanted to go to on Friday nights," said former student Joey Lombardi.

"It was part of wanting please him and wanting to gain his respect," said former student John Bollman.

When asked if he thought it was also an opportunity for Ritz, Bollman replied, "Without a doubt."

These men, now in their 40s, said when they were growing up Charles Ritz was more than a math teacher and athletic coach at what was Lake Bluff Junior High, now the middle school. They said he'd take groups of his favorite students on Friday night pizza parties at an arcade in Waukegan.

"After we were done he said, 'Do you mind if we stop at my parents' house?'" Suciu said.

"There was a videotape in the living room, he said put it in. We start watching a pornographic film," Lombardi said.

"Wow, now we're watching porn with our math teacher, and it got almost immediately uncomfortable," said Suciu.

"He asked permission if it would be all right for him to masturbate while we watched," said Lombardi.

"I just remember being panicked and I remember mustering the courage to say, 'We need to go,'" Suciu said.

"And I remember him saying we all know that you can't discuss this with anybody," said Lombardi.

The next Monday in school they told their friends what happened, and the story made it back to their parents who alerted District 65 officials.

A flurry of memos followed about the allegations of "highly questionable sexual behavior of Mr. Ritz."

In records obtained by the I-Team, Ritz was told that the board wanted to meet to determine whether he'd be fired, outlining what they called "unacceptable behavior." Instead, he was allowed to resign and even paid more than $22,000 on the way out of the door.

After the allegations in Lake Bluff, Charles Ritz left Illinois for Southern California. For more than 30 years he worked as a teacher in suburban Los Angeles.

Ritz became a prominent teacher in California, appearing as an expert in videos and serving on state commissions and at the teacher's union, where he was chief negotiator. Ritz most recently taught math at upscale La Habra High School in suburban Orange County.

All this despite what students said happened in suburban Chicago. The records the students obtained and showed to the I-Team do not reveal any contact between Lake Bluff school administrators and police, or with school officials in California.

"I can't look back and see the way they dealt with this, it just doesn't make any sense," said Bollman.

Bollman has started a Facebook page about what allegedly happened in Lake Bluff, including Ritz's sexual exploitation and providing underage students with alcohol. That page has attracted hundreds of followers.

"I'm really disappointed with the school district in Lake Bluff. They didn't really do anything for the kids and I find that to be a big mistake on their part," Bollman said.

At the Ritz family home near Los Angeles, the I-Team showed up with a lot of questions, but the career school teacher didn't want to talk about Lake Bluff or anything else we were there to discuss.

Jason Suciu hopes authorities now take action instead of how he said school administrators handled things all those years ago.

"I remember him saying, 'Jason, do you want to press charges,' it was almost like bullying me out. It was almost like they allowed a 13-year-old kid to make the decision and it never should have been my decision to make," Suciu said.

"I think it's very common with victims to think that you're the only one impacted. He should be held accountable for what he did," Bollman said.

The school superintendent from the 80s told the I-Team there was no need for him to contact police or prosecutors at the time. In a statement, current District 65 officials said they are cooperating in an ongoing investigation by local police. Lake Bluff police told the I-Team they are investigating "several allegations of inappropriate illegal sexual conduct" and have already interviewed possible victims.

Click here to read a news release from the Lake Bluff Police Department.

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