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‘I lost my childhood to Bob Oliva.’

Coach pleads guilty to sexual abuse of teen boy

Robert Oliva (center), in court yesterday with attorney Michael Doolin, will serve five years’ probation. Robert Oliva (center), in court yesterday with attorney Michael Doolin, will serve five years’ probation. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Michael Rezendes
Globe Staff / April 5, 2011

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A legendary former New York City basketball coach yesterday pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy during a trip to Fenway Park in summer 1976, after negotiating an agreement with prosecutors that will allow him to avoid prison time.

Robert Oliva, who resigned as basketball coach at Christ the King Regional High School in 2009, after the abuse allegations surfaced, would have faced two life sentences if convicted on charges that he molested the teenager while showing him pornography at the Boston Sheraton Hotel.

Instead, Oliva will serve five years of probation in South Carolina under the agreement reached with Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. Oliva, 66, also will be barred from coaching or having unsupervised contact with minors. In addition, he will register as a sex offender and wear a GPS tracking device.

“I lost my childhood to Bob Oliva,’’ said James Carlino, Oliva’s victim, who has said he was abused on more than 100 occasions by Oliva, including two instances while visiting Boston to see a Red Sox double-header. “We did many great, normal things together, but all of that is overshadowed and destroyed by the dirty secret that I buried inside me for all those years.’’

A high school dropout, Oliva amassed a record of 549 wins during 27 seasons at Christ the King, a Queens basketball powerhouse with a roster of players who went on to professional careers with the NBA.

Yesterday, after pleading guilty to the charges against him, Oliva stared intently at Carlino, as Carlino read from a victim impact statement. Now a 49-year-old Florida resident, Carlino frequently returned Oliva’s gaze and wept openly while recounting the trust he placed in a man he said he regarded not only as a coach but as a family friend and mentor.

In addition, Leora Joseph, an assistant district attorney and head of the Child Protection Unit, read a statement by an alleged New York victim who testified before the Suffolk grand jury but did not wish to be identified in open court.

Although Carlino expressed satisfaction with the plea agreement negotiated with Suffolk prosecutors, one of the friends and supporters who accompanied him yesterday said he was disappointed that Oliva was not required to serve at least a token prison sentence.

“Shame on the judicial system,’’ said Sam Albano, a television sports producer who initially supported Oliva’s claim of innocence but later testified against him. “My faith in the judicial system is at an all-time low after seeing [Oliva] walk out of here virtually unscathed.’’

A week ago, Albano wrote to Superior Court Judge Carol S. Ball, urging her to reject the agreement.

Meanwhile, Carlino’s Boston attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, said Carlino has filed a $20 million New York civil suit against Oliva, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, Christ the King Regional High School, and other Catholic-affiliated organizations. The lawsuit accuses Oliva’s employers of failing to adequately supervise him.

Garabedian said the suit was filed in part to determine whether Oliva’s employers were ever told that he was molesting school athletes. “An important question is whether the supervisors were notified in the past about Mr. Oliva’s molesting children,’’ said Garabedian. “Through litigation, we will try to find the answer.’’

The lawsuit also adds new, graphic details about Oliva’s abuse of Carlino, which Carlino said occurred during trips to a half-dozen states and the province of Quebec. Specifically, the lawsuit accuses Oliva of raping Carlino.

Michael Doolin, Oliva’s Boston attorney, would not comment on accusations in Carlino’s civil suit.

Oliva has escaped criminal prosecution in New York, in part because the statute of limitations — the period after a crime during which prosecutors may file charges — expired long ago. But Boston prosecutors were able to indict him on child rape charges because the clock on the Massachusetts statute stops when an alleged perpetrator leaves the state.

Jake Wark, Conley’s spokesman, said prosecutors overcame high hurdles in bringing a case more than 30 years old without eye-witnesses or physical evidence.

“We heard today about abuse in five jurisdictions,’’ Wark said. “Only one took it to a grand jury and secured felony convictions.’’

Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com.