CCASurvivors.com has made their survey results available to the public. These are the answers to just a few questions, there is much more on the site.
Copper Canyon Academy is owned by Aspen Education Group, which is owned by CRC Health Group, which is owned by Bain Capital. There have been six deaths at Aspen programs, some were because staff thought kids were “faking” illness and did not get them medical treatment in time.
The year the person attended and their length of stay is indicated at the end of each quote.
If you felt you were being abused, was there anyway you could get to a phone and have a private conversation with your parents, child services or an officer of the law?
No. If you told your parents that you were being abused, they had already been informed by the school to expect to hear such things from you and to assume that you were lying, and to report to the school that you were being negative. (2006, 21 months)
No. Definitely not. In fact, girls who did try to e-mail or write their parents about it got in trouble when their parents confronted the school. We weren’t allowed to talk to people outside of the school and let them know that we were being abused. There were no ways to call child protective service at all. (2006, 1 year)
no (2010, 5 months)
No. (2008, 11 months)
No, none whatsoever. Letters were written to CPS but they were never actually sent. (2010, 2 months)
no (2009, 11 months)
yes (2010, 5 months)
Yes and yes. However on level four I told them I wanted to leave but I never got in trouble but I think that’s because my letter was never read by a staff member because they trusted me. (2008, 11 months)
If you said you wanted to leave, the called it manipulation so you were punished. Everything was monitored so there was no way in telling your parents what was going on without being in trouble (2010, 2 months)
yes (2009, 11 months)
You would be punished if you told your parents you wanted to leave and they found out, you would be dropped for being “manipulative.” (2010, 6 months)
No. You were only allowed to be treated or to rest if you had vomited (and the vomit was witnessed by a staff member) or if you had a fever. (2006, 21 months)
No. I was sick a few times but I never wanted to go on sick day because they made you sleep in a random bunk bed and didn’t really pay any attention to you. I recall a girl having a very bad migraine on the weekend and staff not allowing her to keep the door shut while she was trying to sleep. It was loud. (2006, 1 year)
Sometimes. Most of the time they told us to drink water (2008, 11 months)
No, they often didnt “believe” you. (2010, 2 months)
no (2009, 11 months)
Were you ever refused medical care because staff said that you were “faking it”?
Yes. (2006, 21 months)
Yes. Often. One staff member, Janet Moore, always told the girls that if they weren’t feeling good, it was obviously because they weren’t drinking enough water. (2006, 1 year)
yes (2010, 5 months)
I wasn’t but someone else was even though she was having seizures (2008, 11 months)
All the time (2010, 2 months)
Yes, there was a girl who got toxic shock syndrome, she almost died because they refused to take her to the hospital for so long, on the grounds that she was “faking it.”
(2010), 6 months)
Were proper check ups, dental cleaning, and medication observation appointments held regularly?
Only if your parents made sure of it. (2006, 21 months)
Not really. We had medication appointments with a psychiatrist regularly. He was weird and didn’t really ask much about how we were feeling. I think he took feedback from staff about how we acted and then medicated us accordingly. (2006, 1 year)
not really (2010, 5 months)
No and you were not allowed off campus on level one (2010, 2 months)
No (2009, 11 months)
What is the name of your case manager/ “Therapist”? Did they have degrees/ licenses? What were their qualifications before taking the job at CCA?
I was shown the CCA job application once, it’s not even two pages! The staff have no experience or degrees within the mental health field. They should not be able to work with children. My ‘therapist’ was non confidential everyone including your teachers knew what you said. It’s completely disgusting. My therapist did not care. I do not know if he had proper licensing. (2010, 6 months)
Please describe the “Work Hour” experience. How did you feel about this?
Work hours consisted of being woken up at 4 or 5 am and also forced to continue them after school depending on how many you had and cleaning or performing strenuous activity that some girls were not physically able to do. This would cause extreme exhaustion making you very vulnerable to their “therapy” aka brainwashing. For instance, I had knee surgery during my stay at Copper Canyon Academy and 3 days after I had my surgery, I was forced to run up a hill to the “upper” buildings and then continue to mop, sweep, and scrub the building. I was forced to run the dirt track everyday. I was forced to scrub the grout between the tile while a staff member would watch and laugh at me while saying condescending things like “you’re here for a reason” or “you deserve this because you did something wrong.” Personally, I received a work hour the second day I was at CCA for taking a square to many of cheese. Work hours would often prevent you from being able to have desert that they give you on Friday nights. Work hours were given like water. If you forgot to raise your hand, spoke out of turn, forgot your chemically filled water bottle (water is not filtered), stepped out of the single file line, forgot to get your tray checked off during meal time (you must eat everything on your plate that you took, mind you that you are on a 3,000 calorie diet in which I gained 25lbs in 2 months) taking 2 spoonfuls of salad dressing (yes a staff member would stand and watch every child to make sure they got 1 spoonful of salad dressing) going into your room without an upper level, coming out of your room in the middle of the night not in uniform or in general walking out of your room even if it were to get a staff member because you were going to be sick etc. you would receive a work hour. Work hours make you feel like you are worthless, scrubbing floors, doing strenuous activity and being talked down to on top of doing just the few parts of a work hour I described is torturous. The work hours are written in a “black book” and you would receive “constructive” feedback after or before you work hour as to why you received one. Constructive feedback entailed being yelled at, getting an explanation on what a bad kid you were, being called stupid, idiotic, pitiful, embarrassing, a disgrace etc. On every level, you could only have a certain amount of work hours to move up to the next, so if you exceeded the amount allowed, you were held on that same level for weeks/months. If you had too many work hours a week, on Friday and Saturday nights you were isolated and put into an empty classroom to study. Many staff members would not even allow you to use the bathroom during your work hours and if it were to be an emergency, you would receive an extra work hour. (2010, 2 months)
Work hours could be given by a staff member or teacher for any student infraction, no matter how minor. I was given a work hour for annoying a staff member by singing during free time outside, with no warning. If you felt like you didn’t deserve a work hour, you could submit a grievance, which involved filming out a form describing how you’d been wrong and putting it in the grievance box. I’m 95% sure the grievance box got opened maybe once every three months.
To work off most work hours- usually if you had more than five, people with less were let off easier- you were woken up at 5 AM by being shaken awake by a staff member. You had to walk across campus with them to either clean classrooms, bathrooms, or pull weeds or shovel rocks. Shoveling rocks basically had no purpose except to punish us with physical labor, and was abusive and pointless.
Some of the more self-serving staff members would allow you to work off a work hour by doing something like throwing a soda can away for them, which happened to me once. I got six work hours taken off by the drama teacher, Adam, for stepping in to play a role in the school play last minute. There was no formula or any written rules regarding work hours. (2006, 21 months)
We had to get up in the morning at 5, even during the winter, and pick weeds, move rocks, clean things, and all sorts of ridiculous things. Toward the end of my time being there, they started having girls wash the staff’s cars for work hours. (2006, 1 year)
its child labor (2010, 5 months)
Please describe “Staff Buddy” and the purpose of the yellow/ orange construction vests.
Staff buddy… you must be arms length from staff, one pair of clothes, no showering/restroom with door closed. The construction vests are 24 hour silence vests, if you “break silence” you will be put in one, this means making eye contact with someone you are not allowed to talk to, or speaking to them, if you talk to someone or make eye contact with someone in these vests you will then be put in one. That means no talking for 24 hours except to ask to use the restroom. (2010, 6 months)
Was contact with your parents limited? Where your letters (to and from) intercepted? Were your letters opened, read, crossed out or cut?
Level ones wore red shirts. They were not allowed to wear any non-uniform clothes except for pajamas, and weren’t allowed to wear sneakers except for at exercise- only flip-flops. During my first winter at CCA, the school nurse felt so bad for level ones walking around in flip-flops during 35 degree weather that she bought us all toe socks for Christmas, using her own paycheck.
We weren’t allowed to use the restroom without an upper level student standing outside the door. We weren’t allowed to walk anywhere alone. We could only talk to our parents for five minutes a week, and that was on the phone with a therapist. Emails were probably intercepted, but letters weren’t. (2006, 21 months)
Level 1: One five-minute phone call with their parents per month (obviously supervised with therapist), not allowed to talk to any other level 1s, not allowed to wear tennis shoes except for exercise.. ONLY flip flops, and not even nice flip flops like Crocs that were comfortable and didn’t fall off my feet. I wore them and got in trouble. Not allowed to go to the bathroom on their own or shower, they can’t even go to their bedroom on their own. They had to be babysat by an upper level or staff at all times, even in school.
Contact with parents: It was very limited. We could only speak to them during scheduled therapy phone calls that were very short and through snail mail or e-mails. All of our e-mails were read by curious staff. There wasn’t a policy in place to read emails, but they did anyways. (2006, 1 year)
yes (2010, 5 months)
Yes. You only talked to your parents with your therapist. Emails were sometimes read and notes were taken on you if there was somethig bad in th letter (2008, 11 months)
contact with parents was limited, no phone access and computer access only when they thought it was appropriate. My emails and letters were opened and by accident, I received the email where my therapist was being CC’ed onto my emails so I found out. (2010, 2 months)
yes (2009, 11 months)
If you are on level one you basically have no rights. No speaking to other people on level one, no going anywhere by yourself-includes bathroom, no make up. They read all of your emails to your parents they called it screening, you also were not allowed to close your letters before sending them because they read them. You were not allowed to say bad things about CCA or they would drop you for manipulating, you could not ask for things in your emails. In fact they send emails to your parents telling them things you might say to leave like theres bugs in the food, there is bugs in the food it happened on two separate occasions when I was there. (2010, 6 months)
How long before you were able to speak to your parents on the phone? Were your phone calls monitored?
I didn’t speak to my parents until my second month at CCA. All phone calls made on campus were monitored throughout the program. (2006, 21 months)
I wasn’t allowed to talk to my parents on the phone for 1 month. After the first month, I got to talk to my mom for 5 minutes on the phone under the supervision of my therapist. (2006, 1 year)
yes (2010, 5 months)
A month. Five minutes on christmas (2008, 11 months)
I never spoke to my mother on the phone, I was never allowed. Phone calls on all levels were monitored by either a therapist or dorm staff. (2010, 2 months)
yes (2009, 11 months)
Phone calls are always monitored, they are on speaker and your therapists listens to everything you say. If CCA didn’t have things to hide they wouldn’t screen every form of communication. You could call your parents on holidays. (2010, 6 months)
Were there other students (upper levels) assigned to watch over you? What was their role? Did they give you consequences/ “hold you accountable”? Were they instructed to restrain you or monitor the isolation area, bathrooms and showers?
Part of the responsibilities of upper levels was to watch level ones. They had to walk level ones everywhere, including classes and the rest room. If they caught you breaking a rule, they would hold you accountable. They were never instructed to restrain anyone, though I did witness a situation in which a staff member had two level fours go after a runaway student with her. (2006, 21 months)
Yes. Upper levels had to watch level 1s do just about everything. Level 2s could go to the bathroom by themselves, etc. Only level 4s could go to the laundry room alone. Everyone else had to be accompanied by a level 4. During my first week, I was asking an upper level from a different house if there was anything I could do about my roommates being rude to me. They “held me accountable” for “gossip” and I was later given 4 work hours. (2006, 1 year)
yes (2010, 5 months)
Upper levels watched you while you went to your room an had to go to the room with you when you went to the bathroom. We were told to hold people accountable. I know this is bad but the only way to move up was to throw other people under the bus. To point out what others were doing wrong so people could think you were doing good.(2008, 11 months)
Yes, when we got there you had a “big sister” she explained all of the rules to you. They had to hold you accountable for mistakes so they could move up in the program! on level one and two you always needed an upper level to go anywhere, including the bathroom. (2010, 2 months)
yes (2009, 11 months)
Do you believe that the program acting within the means of “Tough Love” was appropriate treatment for you in your adolescence?
Tough love is a nice way of saying it but you must take love out of it. The staff is cruel they treat you like criminals, they believed we were like their enemies. There was a few select staff that were great but they got fired or quit because of how bad this place is. The words they should use is emotionally abusive and traumatic. (2010, 6 months)
No, it completely destroyed all trust and I now have severe attachment disorder. (2004, 3 months)
Not really, no. Tough love is great. Cruelty is not. (2006, 12 months)
No, I now suffer from PTSD and anxiety. (2010, 3 months)
Considering long term effects, do you think your experience at CCA has an effect on your life today? Positive or negative?
Yes, it has a negative effect on my life today. I am still fighting my depression which CCA sent me into. I am attending a CSU and doing well in school. But mentally, I am messed up. I cry all the time, it’s very hard for me to control my emotions. I can’t deal with things because of that place. They make you feel lower than low, its to break you. I hate this place and what they do it makes me sick to my stomach. I still have CCA nightmares weekly and its been three years. For the first year I was home I had to wear socks on my hands because I would scratch myself in my sleep. (2010, 6 months)
Negative, I have night terrors (2010, 5 months)
New details emerge on several wrongful deaths since the Bain takeover in 2006
Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney in 1984, prides itself on turning around failing businesses. But lawsuits and critics allege that controversial profit-maximizing methods and the residential treatment industry don’t mix.
In 2006, Bain took over the CRC Health Group, including a national drug-treatment chain, and went on an acquisition frenzy — adding more sites and venturing into the world of residential facilities for troubled teens by buying Aspen Education. Aspen was a scandal-plagued company even before Bain took over — facing a high-profile wrongful death suit over the 2004 heat stroke death of a boy at one of its wilderness camps. Now there are allegations that things have gotten worse.
In a months-long investigation, reporter Art Levine traveled to Utah and California and interviewed current and former staffers and residents of CRC facilities, revealing reports of systemic abuse and neglect that has flourished in the last six years under Bain.
Levine tells the story of Brendan Blum — a 14-year-old autistic boy, left in an isolation room all night at a CRC facility as he screamed in agony. Hours later he was dead from a twisted bowel infarction, his corpse discovered on the morning shift. In the 12 years before Bain took over, CRC had no known cases of a wrongful death. But Levine uncovered fresh details about six wrongful deaths since the Bain takeover in 2006.
He also explores how CRC permitted “therapy” to run amok, with some girls forced to do lap dances during sessions and used distorted disciplinary practices, including encounter sessions so harsh that some girls choked themselves to avoid attending. In what critics and lawsuits suggest was part of a drive for profits, medical staff in at least two drug treatment facilities were pressured to admit patients who were far too ill for the facilities to handle. And in a drive to avoid scrutiny, at many CRC facilities, lower-level staff were barred from calling 911.
Levine asks whether these abusive and sometimes deadly incidents reflect the CRC corporate culture, which critics say elevates profits over the health and safety of clients. And he examines whether CRC’s corporate culture, in turn, reflects the attitudes and financial imperatives of its owners at Bain Capital. Mitt Romney, Levine finds, is likely aware of the problems at CRC: Not only are two of his major campaign donors on CRC’s board, but two of his key fundraisers, Robert Lichfield, and Mel Sembler, faced firestorms after allegations of abuse emerged regarding their own residential treatment chains.
Levine also places CRC and Bain within the context of a troubled teen industry operating in a regulatory Wild West, with some states lacking any licensing system for residential programs. Regulation of drug treatment programs is shoddy, too. In California, for example, the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs has yet to investigate the deaths of nearly 200 patients at CRC’s 12 outpatient methadone clinics.
“Dark side of a Bain Success” was published on Salon and is available online here: Salon.com It was reported by Art Levine and published in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with generous additional support from the Fund for Constitutional Journalism.
Please also see updated article here:
Mitt Romney’s biography describes him as a well-educated businessman, skilled economic adviser, and typical family man. He is quoted as stating, “I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag. We stand for freedom and opportunity and hope.” 
His biography references his involvement in the formation and operation of Bain Capital in 1984, an investment company that purchases and rebuilds otherwise failing enterprises. What the biography fails to include is that some of these enterprises – including CRC Health Group and Aspen Education Group – have directly profited off of the abuse and imprisonment of American youth.
The connection does not stop there.
Mitt Romney is linked to the troubled teen industry in more ways than perhaps any other candidate running for office. Outside of directly owning some of the most notoriously abusive programs he has also employed a litany of financiers who have made their living off of what can only be described as the antithesis of Mitt’s political slogan; enslavement, restriction, and hopelessness.
In 2006, Bain Capital acquired CRC Health Group. The $720 billion dollar deal was the most expensive acquisition of its kind and helped to position Bain Capital at the forefront of the addiction treatment playing field. (2)
Bain Capital spent an additional $290 million in 2006 to acquire Aspen Education Group, a network of private, for-profit adolescent treatment facilities.  Aspen Education Group is largely considered one of the top players in the adolescent behavioral health field. Their network of programs include behavior modification facilities, residential treatment centers, wilderness therapy programs, therapeutic boarding schools, and long-term residential weight loss centers for children and young adults. Their target clients are middle to upper class American families who are looking for substantial changes from their children and are willing to spend anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands monthly to achieve the desired results.
As Bain Capital gained entry into the adolescent behavior modification field, private therapeutic schools and wilderness therapy programs had become a booming industry with estimated profits exceeding $2 billion in 2007.  More and more private companies were seeking to gain access to the profitable field and Bain Capital, armed with its newest acquisition CRC Health Group, was one of them. Upon acquiring Aspen Education Group, Bain quickly merged the two companies together and Aspen became the adolescent division of CRC. The powerhouse created would persist until this day.
Aspen Education Group describes itself as being, “recognized nationwide as the leading provider of education programs for struggling or underachieving young people.”  While Aspen programs may be recognized as “leading” in their industry, their network of facilities has also been one of the most notorious in regards to allegations of abuse, neglect, and negligent homicide.
Family Light, an IECA certified group of educational consultants responsible for referring children to private facilities posted an open letter to Aspen Education Group stating that they now only recommend referring to or enrolling in any Aspen or CRC program with “great caution.” Their list of complaints include Bain Capital’s overarching interest in profits over patients, deceptive marketing practices by Aspen Education Group, one-size-fits-all treatment methods and the use of counterproductive, harsh, and punitive therapeutic methods across the facilities overall. 
Mount Bachelor Academy in Rural Oregon where DHS alleges Students Suffered Abuse
Mt. Bachelor Academy, Aspen Education’s flagship program, was closed following substantiated claims of abuse by the Oregon Department of Human Services on November 3rd, 2009. At least 17 former students have filed a lawsuit seeking $25.5 million in compensatory damages.  Students suing for sexual and emotional abuse have asserted that as part of the program’s Lifestep seminars children – some of whom were victims of prior rape or incest – were forced to dress in provocative clothing including fishnet stockings, high heels and miniskirts in order to provide lap-dances for fellow male students.  The experiential therapy was designed to help them to overcome their pasts and take ownership for the actions that had led them to being abused.
Mt. Bachelor Academy offered behavior modification therapy based on a method developed within the Synanon model, a self-help group that was largely considered to be a cult by the late 1970′s. The teenage version of Synanon’s controversial “game” – an attack-based therapy – was developed at Mel Wasserman’s CEDU school in Southern California. Practices developed in both Synanon and CEDU were at one time considered to be ground-breaking and effective in behavior modification however their harsh methods and unconventional tactics had become highly criticized in later years. Both programs are no longer in operation however methods developed within the facilities continue to be utilized in behavior modification centers across the United States and abroad. 
Synanon Members Had Shaved Heads, Lived Communally
The Oregon Department of Human Services complaint against Aspen’s Mount Bachelor Academy, which eventually led to its closure, found that the school used methods that were “punitive, humiliating, degrading, and traumatizing.” Children housed at the facility – ranging in age from 13 to 17.5 – were found to have been forced to re-enact past physical and sexual abuse in front of peers, to refer to themselves with derogatory phrases, to allow staff and peers to name-call and ridicule in humiliating manners, and were deprived of sleep.  The pending lawsuit against Mt. Bachelor Academy substantiates these claims, asserting that students who attended the school were regularly subjected to psychological abuse and shaming, endured severe isolation and deprivation of basic necessities including food, water, shelter, and medical care, were subjected to harsh labor punishments and were only offered brief, monitored contact with parents and guardians. Before being allowed contact with their families, family members were warned not to believe any claims of abuse by the children, insinuating that all troubled children are inherently liars and all claims of mistreatment were simply “manipulation.” 
Youth Care of Utah, another Aspen Education facility, was placed on a brief probation following the death of 14-year old Brendan Blum in 2007.
Brendan died of an untreated bowel obstruction. His bowel had twisted leading to a cut-off of blood to his small intestine. The death was extremely painful and violent.
Despite persistent vomiting, diarrhea and loss of bowel control the counselors on duty at the time of Brendan’s illness – Deborah Cole and Jorge Ramirez – gave him over-the-counter medication and placed him in a separate room away from the other students. The on-call nurse was never contacted.
The special-needs child who suffered from Asperger’s syndrome was found dead on his mattress the following morning.
The two staff members were fired and charged with felony child abuse, though neither was convicted. While Aspen Education Group took no public responsibility for Brendan’s death, autopsy reports determined that if proper medical attention had been given he would have survived. 
Also in 2007, an unnamed 16-year old male died after hanging himself with a shoelace at Aspen Achievement Academy after asking to use the latrine. The wilderness facility which treated children ages 13 to 17 suffering from moderate to severe emotional and behavioral problems  did not find the youth until after he was already unconscious. Though briefly revived the child died during a helicopter transport to the hospital.  The young man’s death was not the first controversy to affect the Academy. In the late 1990′s several youth staged an elaborate and violent runaway prompting the Utah Bureau of Land Management to reconsider the use of State lands for the wilderness facility. 
Aspen Achievement Academy has been merged with another wilderness facility in Lehi, Utah and is still in operation today. 
On August 28th, 2009 16-year old Sergey Blashchishen collapsed and died on his first day at Aspen Education’s SageWalk Wilderness Expeditions program.
The day prior, Sergey was awoken in the early morning hours and forcibly removed from his home, blindfolded and transported to the remote Oregon facility. His parents, along with SageWalk, had contracted the use of a “transport” company – an enterprise designed to legally kidnap unwilling children from their homes and escort them to the facility of their parent’s choosing.
Sergey’s death was likely a slow and painful demise.
SageWalk records can only account for a mere 400 calories being consumed by the teenager before embarking on his wilderness hike. He carried a backpack weighing anywhere from 40-50lbs. There was little shade and Sergey was never made aware of the length of his hike or the terrain he would experience throughout it.
Staff recollected Sergey walking strangely, carrying his backpack in a different manner, and not resting properly. Aspen’s staff members assert that they did not push the youth to continue however they did not intervene when other students encouraged him to push forward.
As the hike continued, Sergey fell multiple times and eventually vomited. Though staff called the main office to report his illness, the hike continued as planned. Eventually, Sergey collapsed to the ground in the blaring sun while the rest of the students and staff prepared lunch. He denied offers of food and began flailing his arms and shouting in another language.
In less than half an hour he began to hyperventilate and eventually stopped breathing.
It took nearly an hour before a helicopter arrived at their remote location. By that time, the youth was dead.
Five hours after he stopped breathing, the medical examiner noted that his body was warmer than his own, comparing the feeling of Sergey’s skin to someone who had just stepped out of a hot shower. 
Investigators called the school reckless in Sergey’s death, eventually requesting that homicide charges be filed. As of the writing of this article, no criminal charges have been brought against those involved in the youth’s death. 16-year old Sergey Blashchishen died as the result of a combination of poor nutrition, heat stroke, and improper staff medical response. Though SageWalk was ordered by the Oregon Department of Human services to send all students home two weeks following Sergey’s death no one from the program or Aspen Education group has faced trial. 
Claiming that its population is by nature “sick and troubled” CRC Health Group has also denied allegations that it is responsible for deaths in its Tennessee facility New Life Lodge.  The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services froze admissions at New Life Lodge for children in state care in August 2011 along with several other managed care providers.  Medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits have plagued the Southern facility. Though closed in March 2012, the facility is set to reopen this April – though now only accepting adult patients. It is estimated that the facility lost over $10 million in revenue when State-funded groups stopped referring patients to their care. 
Bain Capital and Bain & Co – the parent company of both CRC Health Group and Aspen Education Group – have contributed a combined total of $267,300 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 election run.  Though Mitt Romney publicly left Bain Capital in 1999, his retirement package has allowed him to earn more following his leave than gained during his tenure. In 2011, Romney reported between $1.5 million and $9.3 million in income gained from Bain’s investments. An additional $10 million has been set aside from Bain income in 2011 for his wife, Ann. Due to reporting laws, the amount could be considerably more as he is only required to report the minimum income obtained. 
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP) was born in the late 1990′s in the predominantly Mormon and loosely regulated State of Utah.
Robert Browning Lichfield got his start working at the Provo Canyon School in Provo, Utah in 1977 before formally founding WWASP in 1998. Though he had no college degree or relevant training in education or child psychology Lichfield was entrusted to lead young boys at the controversial behavior modification center.  His experience at the school – along with his strong Mormon faith – encouraged him to begin working with troubled teens and forming his own schools based on what he had learned while working for Provo Canyon.
Robert Browning Lichfield, Founder of WWASP and Former Utah Finance Co-Chair for Mitt Romney
By the early 2000′s WWASP had become an extremely profitable enterprise with 25 programs operating under its umbrella operation. At its peak WWASP was responsible for the operation of programs in the United States, Mexico, Jamaica, Samoa, the Czech Republic and Costa Rica. The private, for-profit enterprise charged tens-of-thousands annually in tuition and accepted students with any range of emotional or behavior issues. No court orders or evaluations were necessary for children to be held against their will in WWASP programs.
Current lawsuits against WWASP allege that children it its care were forced to eat their own vomit, endure extreme physical beatings, be bound and tied by their hands and feet, endure hours or days locked in dog cages under the blaring Mexican sun, sleep on concrete or plywood beds, assume painful “restraint” positions for extended periods of time, live in unsanitary conditions, be restricted from access to proper food, water or medical care, experience verbal and emotional abuse, endure pepper spray as punishment, experience sleep deprivation, undergo mind-altering seminars, experience near to total isolation from society and family and undergo unnecessary strip-searches and sexual abuse.  
Primitive Housing in WWASP’s Samoa Facility
WWASP publicly claims to be an affiliation of independently owned programs however closer scrutiny has found that all WWASP facilities – including affiliated operations responsible for billing and referrals – were owned by the same individuals, their family members, or close friends. Many were incorporated under the same street address. 
WWASP operated strict behavior modification facilities.
Children within its facilities progressed through six different levels with each advancement granting them new privileges and freedoms. On the first level children were not allowed to speak, move, cross through a doorway or use the bathroom without staff permission. Conversation between students on levels one and two was forbidden at all times. New program attendees could only speak to those level three or above – most of whom had been in the facility for at least three to six months and were well indoctrinated in the program’s methodology. Contact with parents and families was limited to mail communication for several months. Mail was censored and parents were warned to disbelieve any claims of ill-treatment noting that the children were “manipulative” and prone to lying in the hopes of being removed from the facility. Brief monitored phone calls were allowed only after the child had reached the appropriate level and face-to-face visits were prohibited until both parent and child had completed a series of multi-day experiential seminars. 
Loosely based on EST and Lifespring, WWASP’s seminars were confrontational and unconventional. Accountability – a primary focus of all seminars – was based on the motto that, “Based on Your Results, You Have Exactly What You Intended.” In the seminars, “right” and “wrong” were considered to be the equivalent of swear words. All actions were either “working” or “non-working.” Any negative experiences – including rape, incest, physical abuse, or traumatic events – were considered to be the result of a series of non-working choices. In order to successfully complete the seminars, students had to rid themselves of their prior “images” and take responsibility for their choices that had not only led to past traumas but also had led to their placement in the program.
Two Primary Seminar Slogans – Participant Handouts
While the seminars were optional for parents of program attendees, they were mandatory for students enrolled in any of WWASP’s facilities. The seminars touted the belief that a “magical child” lived within the soul of all participants. Unlocking the magical child would free the individual to be a healthy, whole and capable adult. The idea of the magical child was explored through a variety of modules and activities designed to show that anything not part of the magical child was instead a part of the person’s image – a false cloak designed to protect them from harm and lock-in their total potential.
The rules in WWASP facilities were extensive and covered nearly every aspect of the child’s life from communication, movement, expression, hygiene and participation in daily activities.
Rule breaking resulted in a reduction of points or loss of level depending on the degree of the infraction. Punishments included study hall or essays – where a student was required to write a 3.000 – 5,000 word essay by hand in under three hours – or observation placement. Observation placement was described as a form of “suicide watch” or cooling-off room however many students (and staff) have reported children remaining in isolation for months or years at a time.
Consequences that could lead to immediate placement in isolation included looking out the window (a form of run-away plans), making eye contact with the opposite sex (sexual encouragement), knuckle cracking or picking at a mosquito bite (self-injury) or any litany of “blatant rule violations.”
Observation Placement or “Suicide Watch” in Jamaica
Children in the WWASP system spent anywhere from ten months to multiple years at WWASP programs. The schools located in the United States were considered to be the “least-harsh” of the programs with the overseas locations promoted as more intense options for children who were unsuccessful domestically. At all schools, therapy was performed in large-groups led by “case managers.” Within the groups, students were responsible for providing each other “feedback” and calling our one another’s faults and issues. Though one licensed therapist was employed by WWASP for all of its facilities, Dr. Chappuis, private sessions were not included within the standard tuition.
Male Group Therapy Session
Of the locations overseas, Tranquility Bay in Jamaica was considered by most to be the “punishment” school for most United States programs. Noted for having one of the harshest reputations of all WWASP facilities the tightly guarded compound on the remote northern coast of Jamaica had both fierce critics and strong supporters. Before closing the gated facility housed up to 300 children – both male and female – ranging in age from 12 to 19. Despite having no hot water, plywood beds and no oversight from either Jamaican or US officials the program charged parents up to $40,000 annually.  
Tranquility Bay has been the subject of various documentaries and scathing articles.
In response to allegations of abuse at the facility, Ken Kay – Robert Lichfield’s partner in running WWASP – stated that, “The accusations are from students. The parents may believe them, but the parents weren’t there. The teens making the allegations generally have a long history of lying, exaggerating and dishonesty.” 
Untreated Sores on the Back of a Boy’s Head at Tranquility Bay
Child Displaying Pepper Spray Burns from Punishment at Tranquility Bay
In an interview for the French Documentary on Tranquility bay “Les Enfants Perdus De Tranquility Bay” Randall Hinton was interviewed regarding the use of pepper spray on former Tranquility Bay student Kerry Layne. Following the filming of the documentary, Kerry took his own life after suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He was held at Tranquility Bay for nearly a year. He spent more time in isolation than in the general population and was the recipient of countless acts of abuse.
Randall Hinton, Former Tranquility Bay Staff Member
Hinton is quoted as stating, “ he was pepper-sprayed by myself and by Jay Kay. I think we were the only ones who could actually pepper-spray students. I think I can remember Kerry Layne being pepper-sprayed more than once in a day. I know he was pepper-sprayed more than two times in a day. I don’t think it would have been more than three times. …And from somebody on the outside looking in I would say it was abusive. For somebody that stayed with him 24/7 I would say I received as much abuse as he did as a staff. But that’s what we’re getting paid to do.”
Hinton continued describing the program, stating that “Restraints could be used – mechanical devices could be used – pepper-spray could be used to gain control of your child. It’s just a job that, that helps people. Instead of the pizza coming to you we’ll come and pick the pizza up and take it and let it get cooked for a while, in a sense. Until it’s ready to come home and then you get a brand new hot pizza.”  
Randall Hinton would be convicted of third-degree assault and false imprisonment of a minor in 2007. Though no charges were brought against him during his employment at Tranquility Bay, Hinton continued to work within the WWASP system. He was the director of WWASP’s Royal Gorge Academy in Colorado at the time of his arrest. He was sentenced with 25-days in jail and one year of probation. Royal Gorge Academy remained open for at least a year following his arraignment though under the leadership of a new director. 
Violence was a part of life at many WWASP facilities.
Shannon Levy experienced a brutal restraint at Tranquility Bay in 2001.
She details that, “One staff held my arms behind my back when I was standing up so I couldn’t grab onto anything. Another staff ripped my feet out from underneath me so I fell with all my weight right onto my chin. I immediately started gushing blood everywhere, but that didn’t stop them. They still continued restraining me.” 
Though no medical treatment was provided by WWASP, Shannon’s parents were eventually called to collect her from the Jamaican facility. She was unable to open her mouth wide enough to eat or insert a toothbrush. Her injuries were long lasting. She lost over 40lbs following the incident due to being unable to consume solid foods. 
Amberly Knight, the former director of WWASP’s Dundee Ranch in Costa Rica, wrote to the Costa Rican authorities in 2003 detailing human rights violations and cases of abuse at the facility. She had resigned from her position the previous year. Her efforts led to the immediate closure of the program. In her letter she stated that, “The purpose of Dundee Ranch is not to help teens in crisis or their families; it is to make millions of dollars for the owner,” She also said students were improperly restrained; in one case, staff dislocated a teen’s shoulder. 
A Child Demonstrating the Restraint Positions Used at WWASP Facilities
For students who couldn’t perform at Tranquility Bay or at WWASP’s other tough overseas programs High Impact in Tecate, Mexico was the final option.
High Impact was a short-term program that was raided and shut down by the Mexican police in the early 2000′s. Its reputation within the WWASP system was well-known as being nothing shy of torture. Children were required to run laps around a fenced in field while dressed in thick sweatsuits. Graduation was only obtained when the required number of laps was completed. Students were not allowed to speak, make eye contact, or interact with anyone during their stay. Punishments at High Impact were the most severe of any WWASP facility.
When High Impact was raided, children were found hog-tied in dog cages under the hot Mexican sun as a form of isolation punishment. As in most facilities, it was initially claimed to be a form of observation placement or “suicide watch” but former students allege it was used for even minor infractions.
Children Hog-Tied in Dog Cages at High Impact
Close Up of Child in Dog Cage at High Impact
As of 2012, WWASP is no longer operating programs under its own name though the company remains undissolved on paper due to pending litigation. 
Robert Lichfield served as Mitt Romney’s Utah campaign finance co-chair until 2007 when he was asked to step down following media attention over high-profile lawsuits against WWASP. Lichfield was Utah’s largest political donor before his resignation, generating over $300,000 for Romney’s campaign in 2008 and helping to facilitate donations of $17,000 from family members and associates. 
The Huffington Post listed Robert Lichfield as one of the GOP’s Dirtiest Donors in 2008, noting that Romney asked his Utah money-maker to step aside from the campaign until the lawsuit was settled. It is also noted that Romney brought in over $2.7 million in Utah donations, much of which was helped by Lichfield’s campaign efforts. 
In early February 2012, Paul Babeu stepped down as Mitt Romney’s Arizona Finance Co-Chair following allegations that he had threatened to have his gay ex-lover deported back to Mexico if details of his homosexuality were made public. Babeu denies the threats but has since confirmed his homosexuality.
The Romney campaign supported his decision to resign so that he could focus on settling the allegations made against him. 
While the allegations against Babeu are shocking and potentially damaging to the strictly Conservative Romney campaign, Babeu’s involvement in the controversial (and now defunct) DeSisto school in Massachusetts seems to be yet another dismal link between Mitt Romney and the mistreatment of troubled youths.
The co-ed private boarding school was founded in 1978 and charged parents over $78,000 annually in tuition. Babeu became headmaster in 1999. According to Massachusetts Office of Child Care records, investigations into the school began in 2000 following nine separate claims of abuse. Abuse reports indicated that students were regularly isolated, deprived of food, given unnecessary strip searches, forced to partake in group showers and monitored bathroom trips and were regularly restrained. Further investigations revealed that sexual relations between staff and students had occurred regularly as improper background checks were not performed on employees. Students were also regularly tied together as part of treatment and forced to strip down to their underwear and perform other humiliating acts in the name of therapy. 
Before stepping down, Babeu was a skilled fund-raiser for the Romney campaign. He was a former Tea Party favorite in Arizona and his strict anti-immigration attitude helped to win many staunch conservatives to Romney’s side. Babeu, who was also running for Congress while supporting Mitt’s Arizona campaign financing, raised over $200,000 for his own Congressional efforts. The exact amount contributed to Romney is unknown. 
Mel Sembler – Mitt Romney’s National Finance Co-Chair
Though Mitt Romney asked Robert Lichfield and Paul Babeu to step down while their legal woes were sorted, he retained one of the biggest and most controversial names in adolescent treatment as part of his group of financiers: Mel Sembler.
Mel Sembler – a well known name in GOP politics – remains as Mitt Romney’s US National Finance Co-Chair. Prior to working with Mitt Romney, Sembler served as U.S. ambassador to Australia under President George Bush, served as finance chairman for the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000 and in November, 2001, was appointed ambassador to Italy by President George W. Bush. 
Mel Sembler is known as the “Money Man” of Republican politics. To many he is also considered the God-Father of today’s booming adolescent behavior modification industry.
Mitt Romney chatting with National Finance Co-Chair Mel Sembler (Center)
In 1973 Mel and his wife Betty came to the realization that one of their children had begun smoking marijuana. Betty Sembler is quoted as stating, “We saw this as a fundamental breakdown of everything we believed in: family, education, law and order, responsibility to the community. Drugs represented the very antithesis of these ideal – pure selfishness.” 
The first Federally funded drug rehabilitation program for minors – The Seed – got its start in Sembler’s home state. In a scathing government report that led to the Seed’s closure, methods used within the facility were compared to those used in North Korean brainwashing camps.  In 1976, seeing a need for additional assistance for struggling teens, Mel Sembler formed his own privately-funded, non-profit drug rehabilitation program called Straight. 
Straight used the same tactics developed within the Seed and was staffed by former Seed parents and participants. As early as two years following its opening, claims of abuse began to surface from participants and past staffers. 
Miller Newton, Straight’s national clinical director, admitted to authorities in 1982 that he had kept teenagers awake for 72-hour periods, put them on peanut butter–only diets, and forced them to crawl through each other’s legs to be hit in a “spanking machine.” 
Children in Straight’s facilities endured 12-hour daily group therapy sessions. During these sessions, they were forced to repeatedly confess their various crimes in front of a large group of peers. To gain attention from the group’s facilitators the children – who were not allowed to stand – flapped their arms wildly in an act called “motivating.” 
Group Therapy Meeting at Straight
Richard Mullinax, a former Straight staff member, replied to an open request for apology posted by Surviving Straight Inc, an advocacy group of former attendees and abuse victims.
In his apology, he states that during his time of employment with Straight from 1985-1989 he personally participated in and witnessed acts of abuse. His letter quotes his apology for participating in and not-stopping the occurrence of, “Brainwashing, physical abuse, usage of illegal or unethical restrains, unethical forms of extreme humiliation, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, coerced confessions, unjustifiable and lengthy isolation in intake and/or time our rooms, denial of necessary medical care, kidnapping, and false imprisonment.” 
Like the allegations against Aspen Education Group, WWASP and the DeSisto School, lawsuits against Straight included claims of kidnapping, physical violence, false imprisonment, isolation, brutal restraints, and sexual humiliation.  While Sembler has not been linked with any abuse personally, the organization he co-founded, Straight Inc., paid out millions of dollars to victims during the 1980′s and 1990′s.
By 1993, all of Straight’s facilities had closed. In every state where Straight facilities were located, abuse was substantiated by regulators or lawsuits. Some of the allegations involved children being gagged with Kotex, boys being called “fags” and girls “whores,” and instances where children were held down to the point of urinating or defecating on themselves. 
Mel Sembler would oversee Straight during its 17-years of existence. He claims that Straight Inc graduated over 12,000 youths and has never separated his name from the program despite the persistent allegations of abuse. Mel remains an avid anti-drug activist, sharing a spot on the board of directors for the Drug Free America Foundation along with his wife Betty. 
Mel Sembler is set to bring in millions for Mitt Romney’s White House bid. Following Santorum’s decision to drop out of the race, Sembler stated, “The primary is over. The finance team is focusing on the general election and will begin raising victory money.” 
Between 2011 and 2012, Mel Sembler personally donated $61,400 to the Republican National Committee. Sembler, his wife Betty, son Brent, daughter-in-law Debbie and son George all donated the maximum individual contribution of $2500 each to Romney’ primary campaign.  Through his fundraising efforts, Sembler has assisted Romney in generating over $76 million for his presidential bid and the number is expected to continue to increase.
Mitt Romney and his political camp must be aware of the allegations surrounding his previous enterprises and various campaign financiers but they aren’t speaking. No one from Romney’s camp has made a peep regarding his deep connections to the troubled teen industry.
His wife, Ann, however has pledged that – if she becomes first lady – helping troubled teens will be her primary focus.
“At risk youth has been a concern of mine and love of mine for a lot of years,” she said while speaking before a group in Iowa. 
Romney has also eluded to her cause at several additional campaign events.
If the work of Romney’s friends and former employer are any indication of what that would look like, it might be time to let our troubled teens remain “troubled” before they end up being sent back to us, brainwashed, emotionally scarred and haunted by the deep wounds of child abuse.
C. Kapela April 13th, 2012
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