A federal lawsuit claims a 7-year-old boy was able to repeatedly rape the 8-year-old son of his foster parents because county child-welfare authorities purposely concealed the alleged attacker's sexual past.

The negligence and equal-protection suit filed Monday in Scranton claims Luzerne County child-welfare authorities and the previous foster parents knew the 7-year-old "was a sexual predator, and had previously forced other children to engage in sexual activity."

"The defendants conspired among themselves and others not to disclose ... that (he) was a sexual predator," it said.

A couple in Hudson County, N.J., with two sons agreed to take in the 7-year-old and his sister because they are related to the children's mother, according to their lawyer, Barry H. Dyller.

The parents are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Neither they nor any of the children are identified by name in the lawsuit. The 7-year-old boy and his sister have been removed from the home.

For two months ending in January 2001, the 7-year-old raped the 8-year-old at least 10 times and told the alleged victim that he was removed from his biological father because his father had sexually abused him, according to the lawsuit.

The Hudson County couple accused Luzerne County of "a policy or custom of doing whatever it takes, including nondisclosure of information to prospective adoptive parents, to promote adoption of children in their custody."

They allege that the 7-year-old's previous foster parents, Donald and Mary Pranzoni of Berwick, also participated in a conspiracy to hide the boy's problems. The Pranzonis are defendants in the lawsuit.

In a brief phone interview Wednesday, Mary Pranzoni denied the allegations.

"We had nothing to do with it. We had no idea he was a predator. And it wasn't our responsibility to tell those people anyway," she said.

Luzerne County Children and Youth Services director Gene Caprio told the Times-Leader newspaper of Wilkes-Barre for Wednesday's editions that the lawsuit is "ludicrous and absurd and not based on fact."

"The public should be aware that our policy ... is committed to providing people with all the information we have," Caprio told the newspaper. His agency, the county and four case workers also are named as defendants.

Dyller said conversations with the psychologist of the 8-year-old victim convinced him the boy had been abused. His investigation led him to conclude a 7-year-old child is capable of rape, he said.