View Full Version : Romney, Torture, and Teens

07-01-2007, 10:09 AM
The former governor's connections to abusive "tough love" camps

Maia Szalavitz | June 27, 2007

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he’d support doubling the size of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, he was trying to show voters that he’d be tough on terror. Two of his top fundraisers, however, have long supported using tactics that have been likened to torture for troubled teenagers.

As The Hill noted last week, 133 plaintiffs filed a civil suit against Romney’s Utah finance co-chair, Robert Lichfield, and his various business entities involved in residential treatment programs for adolescents. The umbrella group for his organization is the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS, sometimes known as WWASP) and Lichfield is its founder and is on its board of directors.

The suit alleges that teens were locked in outdoor dog cages, exercised to exhaustion, deprived of food and sleep, exposed to extreme temperatures without adequate clothing or water, severely beaten, emotionally brutalized, and sexually abused and humiliated. Some were even made to eat their own vomit.

But the link to teen abuse goes far higher up in the Romney campaign. Romney’s national finance co-chair is a man named Mel Sembler. A long time friend of the Bushes, Sembler was campaign finance chair for the Republican party during the first election of George W. Bush, and a major fundraiser for his father.

Like Lichfield, Sembler also founded a nationwide network of treatment programs for troubled youth. Known as Straight Inc., from 1976 to 1993, it variously operated nine programs in seven states. At all of Straight’s facilities, state investigators and/or civil lawsuits documented scores of abuses including teens being beaten, deprived of food and sleep for days, restrained by fellow youth for hours, bound, sexually humiliated, abused and spat upon.

According to the L.A. Times, California investigators said that at Straight teens were “subjected to unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse… and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting.”

Through a spokesperson, Lichfield has dismissed the similar charges against WWASPS to The Hill as “ludicrous,” claiming that the teens who sued “have a long history of lying, fabricating and twisting the story around to their own benefit.”

Straight would use virtually identical language in its denials: In the 1990 L.A. Times article cited above, a Straight counselor downplayed the California investigators’ report by saying, “Some kids get very upset and lie and some parents believe them.” Both Straight and WWASPS have repeatedly called their teen participants “liars” and “manipulators” who oppose the programs because they want to continue taking drugs or engage in other bad behavior.

Curiously, however, both programs regularly admitted teens who did not actually have serious problems. In 1982, 18-year-old Fred Collins, a Virginia Tech student with excellent grades, went to visit his brother, who was in treatment for a drug problem at Straight in Orlando, Florida.

A counselor determined that he was high on marijuana because his eyes were red (this would later turn out to have been due to swimming in a pool with contacts on). He did admit to occasional marijuana use, but insisted he was not high at the time, nor was he an addict. Nonetheless, he was barraged with hours of humiliating questions, strip-searched, and held against his will for months until he managed to escape.

He won $220,000 in a lawsuit he filed against the program for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery. Ultimately, Straight would pay out millions in settlements before it finally closed. However, to this day, there are at least eight programs operating that use Straight’s methods, often in former Straight buildings operated by former Straight staff. They include: Alberta Adolescent Recovery Center (Canada), Pathway Family Center (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio), Growing Together (Florida), Possibilities Unlimited (Kentucky), SAFE (Florida), and Phoenix Institute for Adolescents (Georgia).

Sembler has never admitted to the problems with Straight's methods. In fact, when he recently served as Ambassador to Italy, he listed it among his accomplishments on his official State Department profile. Although all of the programs with the Straight name are closed, the nonprofit Straight Foundation that funded them still exists, though under a different name. It's now called the Drug Free America Foundation, and it lobbies for drug testing and in support of tougher policies in the war on drugs.

One of the plaintiffs in the current case against WWASPS, 21-year-old Chelsea Filer, spoke to me when I was researching a TV segment on the industry. She told me that she was forced to walk for miles on a track in scorching desert heat with a 35-pound sandbag on her back. “You were not allowed to scratch your face, move your fingers, lick your lips, move your eyes from the ground,” she said. When she asked for a chapstick, “They put a piece of wood in my mouth and I had to hold it there for two weeks. I was bleeding on my tongue.”

Why was Filer subject to such punishment? “I had less interest in school and more interest in boys and my mom was worried about me,” she says, explaining that her mother believed that the program was nothing more than a strict boarding school.

Because she has attention deficit disorder, Filer was unable to consistently follow the exacting rules, and repeated small violations were seen as ongoing defiance. “It broke my heart that my mom had no belief in me,” she says, describing how, because WWASPS had told her mother to dismiss complaints as “manipulation,” her mother ignored her pleas to come home.

“I’m not a bad kid,” she continued, “I never used drugs, I was never in trouble, I have no criminal record. I know my mom was worried about me—but so many times I told her that this is too much. I would gladly have gone to prison instead.”

WWASPS is linked with facilities Academy at Ivy Ridge (New York), Carolina Springs Academy (South Carolina), Cross Creek Programs (Utah), Darrington Academy (Georgia), Horizon Academy (Nevada), Majestic Ranch Academy (Utah), MidWest Academy (Iowa), Respect Camp (Mississippi), Royal Gorge Academy (Colorado), Spring Creek Lodge (Montana), and Tranquility Bay (Jamaica).

Although it has settled several lawsuits out of court, the organization has never publicly admitted wrong-doing. However, the U.S. State Department spurred Samoa to investigate its Paradise Cove program in 1998 after receiving “credible allegations of physical abuse,” including “beatings, isolation, food and water deprivation, choke-holds, kicking, punching, bondage, spraying with chemical agents, forced medication, verbal abuse and threats of further physical abuse.” Paradise Cove closed shortly thereafter. That same year, the Czech Republic forced the closure of WWASP-linked Morava Academy following employees’ allegations that teens were being abused.

The former director of the Dundee Ranch Academy Program in Costa Rica went to local authorities after seeing medical neglect and other severe abuse, although human rights abuse charges were ultimately dropped against the owner, Robert Lichfield’s brother Narvin. That program closed in 2003.

Police in Mexico have shut down three WWASP-linked facilities: Sunrise Beach (1996), Casa By The Sea (2004) and High Impact (where police videotaped the teens chained in dog cages).

In 2005, New York’s Eliot Spitzer forced WWASP to return over $1 million to the parents of Academy at Ivy Ridge students, because the school had fraudulently claimed to provide legitimate New York high school diplomas. He fined Ivy Ridge $250,000, plus $2000 in court costs. A civil suit has been filed for educational fraud in New York as well, by a different law firm.

Straight's Sembler currently heads the Scooter Libby Defense Fund, in addition to his work for Romney, and has worked tirelessly to keep the Vice President's former Chief of Staff out of prison, even after his conviction on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. After all, if running programs that impose these kinds of "treatments" on American teenagers is not a prison-worthy offense, why should lying to a court be?

The Romney campaign is aware of the WWASP suits, and should be familiar with the Straight suits. If not, it's worth asking: Does Romney support these types of tactics for at-risk youth? Or does he take the line the organizations founded by his fundraisers take—that these dozens of lawsuits are merely from bad kids who make up lies?

Coming from the man who wants to double the size of Guantanamo, these aren't insignificant questions. If Romney doesn't believe the aggressive tactics he supports for use against enemy combatants ought to be used against troubled teens and youth drug users, he should say so, and show he means it by removing these men from his campaign.

link (http://www.reason.com/news/show/121088.html)

:crybaby: :whip:

07-01-2007, 10:27 AM
Something tells me to take some of these descriptions of the "torture" in question with a grain of salt.

I also think it's worth understanding whether abuses within these systems were isolated instances or policy.

Finally, the connection between Romney and whatever happened in these camps seems pretty tenuous to me. He may find reason, to disassociate himself from these two guys, but I'd have to know more about the situtation to have much of an opinion on whether or not that's warranted.

07-01-2007, 12:22 PM
Something tells me to take some of these descriptions of the "torture" in question with a grain of salt.

I also think it's worth understanding whether abuses within these systems were isolated instances or policy.

Forget the Romney aspect, I think any private institution like this should be illegal by federal law OR there should be mandatory governmental oversight, such as social workers/DHS, DYC, that observe on a daily basis what goes on. I mean for gawds sake this is sicko. I might have a hard time restraining myself if I saw someone treat a child like this

07-01-2007, 12:31 PM
Just FYI the school in Colorado mentioned in the article Royal Gorge Academy.

Canon City private school director arrested

A man who runs a school for troubled kids in Canon City is accused of assaulting some students there and police say it's not the first time he's faced these kinds of allegations.

32 year-old Randall Hinton was arrested on charges of assault in the third degree, false imprisonment and reckless endangerment.

Employees say Hinton is the Director of the Royal Gorge Academy.

An employee says Hinton forced a teenage girl to lie face down on a floor for six hours on December 30, 2006.

Hinton is also accused of injuring the girl's wrists and not allowing her to receive medical attention.

"And the allegation was that Mr. Hinton physically restrained a female student at the academy and that that student did suffer physical injuries from that restraint," says Captain Allen Cooper, Canon City Police Department.

Hinton's attorney tells News First the girl was violent and was hitting herself in the head with a stapler and tried to staple her own hand. He says her parents support the school, saying "her parents have been supportive of the Academy. The parents have notified the Academy that they're not surprised by her actions, that this young lady does have some problems."
According to the arrest report, a school employee says there's a policy of

"no physical contact" between staff and students. But at least one staff member told police he saw Hinton grab a male student by the back of the head and smacked the student's face against the floor a couple of times, causing the student to bleed.

Canon City Police also searched the internet and found similar allegations against Hinton at other private schools, including one called Tranquility Bay in Jamaica.

Some students told Canon City Police that they were told they'd be sent to Tranquility Bay if they don't shape up. They also claim they were told that American laws don't apply to kids in Tranquility Bay and that pepper spray is used there.

Hinton's attorney says the allegation's are not true.


07-01-2007, 01:04 PM
The Cutting Edge: Tranquility Bay

By Clare Morgan
March 13, 2006

Talk about tough love gone mad. Here's a disturbing look at the murky world of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP), America's leading provider of so-called behaviour modification programs for wayward teens.

Don't be fooled by exotic names such as Tranquility Bay and Paradise Cove in locations including Jamaica, Fiji and Western Samoa. The methods used by these camp schools to "help change wayward adolescents' inappropriate attitudes and behaviour" amount to abuse, physical and psychological. Some foreign governments have been concerned enough to shut the camps down. Some of the claims are shocking and the interviews with clearly damaged teens suggest that something terribly wrong has been going on. One mother's attempt to rescue her daughter is heart-breaking.

With the tough-love industry in the US booming (what is wrong with these people?) WWASP founder Robert Browning Lichfield has done extremely well, with buckets of money going to Mormon ministries and the Republican Party. It's a one-sided account, but makes for scary viewing.

07-01-2007, 01:21 PM
Key to His Schools' Success? It's God, Founder Says

Robert Lichfield founded one small facility and built it into a business empire. In an interview, he makes frequent reference to his Mormon faith.

July 13, 2003

By John-Thor Dahlburg, Times Staff Writer

ST. GEORGE, Utah -- Robert Browning Lichfield opened his first "tough-love" academy at a time when he was so financially strapped that he, his wife and four children lived crowded together in a one-room apartment.

In the ensuing 16 years, Lichfield had three more children, added 10 schools to his investment portfolio and founded a business empire whose holdings include everything from restaurants to radio stations.

At 49, Lichfield cuts an unmistakable swath through this fast-growing southwestern Utah city. In achieving material success, he has also become something of a civic and political figure — and a major contributor to the state's Republican Party.

When asked about his success, and about the criticism surrounding the school network that he created, he makes reference to his fervent Mormon faith.

God is the key to his accomplishments, he says, and Satan is stirring up his foes.

"We're here getting kids off drugs (*caffeine) and other evils," Lichfield said during a rare interview at the headquarters of the World Wide Assn. of Specialty Programs and Schools. "We're here connecting kids with their families. We're here getting kids in touch with their higher source.

"Do I believe, being a God-believing person, that the adversary to all good is going to sit back and let that happen without a major unleashing of dark forces? No, I don't."

Lichfield is a bearded man, with a burly physique and shy, congenial manner recalling John Candy, the late actor and comic. He wore an open-necked shirt and toyed with a business card during an interview with the Los Angeles Times — a meeting he agreed to only after months of negotiation.

He requested his photograph not be published in The Times because "some kids are a little deranged.... You never know what they might do."

Lichfield says his role in the for-profit schools is that of an investor and advisor, but his adversaries say he has a key role in managing them. Whatever the case, he usually leaves Ken Kay, the association's white-haired president, to answer questions about the schools' policies.

Lichfield's role in politics is easier to pin down. According to Federal Elections Commission records, Lichfield and his wife gave the Republican Party $175,000 in a recent 12-month period, and he was named Republican of the Year this year by the Washington County GOP.

"As a person, he is great," said county GOP Chairman Naghi Zeenati. "He is community-minded and always available to help."

Lichfield got his first job with problem teens in 1977 when he was a "dorm parent" at a private boys' school on a wooded lot north of Provo. At the fenced-in compound known as Provo Canyon School for Boys, students were subjected to tough treatment, including long periods of solitary confinement and forced lie-detector tests.

It was "baptism by fire," said Lichfield, who has no formal qualifications in education or child psychology and didn't graduate from college. On the job, he said, "you learn real fast, just as a [physician's assistant] learns doctoring skills by working with doctors."

However, not all of his charges from those days recall the fledgling educator with fondness. David Doran, 34, of Tarzana spent time in his youth at Provo Canyon and said he remembers Lichfield as a humorless, dictatorial figure who seemed to delight in taunting students.

About the same time, Lichfield founded the Cross Creek school, his first. In 1987, Lichfield signed a contract to run Brightway Adolescent Hospital in St. George, which health officials said quickly became a pipeline for enrolling students in tough-love schools.

State inspectors investigated the private psychiatric institution after receiving complaints of children being admitted without consent from both parents and a failure to report a suspected case of child abuse, Utah Department of Health spokeswoman Debra Wynkoop said. The hospital shut down in 1998 after being informed by state health officials that they were going to order its closure, Wynkoop said.

By the time WWASPS was created in 1998, Lichfield said he had let other people assume ownership and management of the schools. Ken Kay, president of WWASPS, declined a request from The Times to provide a list of the owners. But some affiliates are family members.

Lichfield's younger brother Narvin owns Carolina Springs Academy near Abbeville, S.C., and the Academy at Dundee Ranch in Costa Rica. Kay's son, Jay, runs the WWASPS school in Jamaica, called Tranquility Bay.

What Lichfield does own, he said, are many of the buildings and grounds that house the WWASPS schools. Title formally belongs to a legal entity with a name intentionally so long newspapers won't print it, he joked. That entity, the Robert Browning Lichfield Limited Family Partnership, has Lichfield and his wife, Patricia, as sole partners, according to documents filed with the Utah secretary of state's office in 1995. Lichfield said he co-owns other properties with business associates.

As for his role in WWASPS, on paper Lichfield is simply a trustee. Some adversaries contend that the limited designation is the way he protects himself from legal liability.

A thicket of interrelated, for-profit companies has grown up around the nonprofit WWASPS. They include Teen Help, the association's marketing arm; Teen Escort Service, which convoys children to and from member schools; and R&B Billing, which sends the monthly bills to parents and processes their payments.

Thomas Burton, an attorney in Pleasanton, Calif., who has sued WWASPS, its member schools and associated businesses at least seven times — though he has yet to win a case — contends that all of these entities function as a huge, single commercial venture with Lichfield at the heart.

"The corporations keep shifting and being reconstituted with different people in different places," Burton said. "It seems they want to keep this a moving target."

In March, the Northern California lawyer filed suit in federal court in Salt Lake City on behalf of a former student at Tranquility Bay, claiming the WWASPS school in Jamaica was a "steaming squalid jungle camp, infested with flies, mosquitoes, scorpions and vermin."

After listening patiently during his interview with The Times to a recounting of these kinds of parent and student complaints, Lichfield spoke again of religious faith and his conviction that the methods he pioneered have aided many.

"God can't help everybody. I don't know how we're going to," he said. "But it [WWASPS] does provide an opportunity for thousands of kids to improve their lives. Those who choose not to, choose not to."

link (http://caica.org/NEWS%20Robert%20Lichfield.htm)