Thursday, August 23, 2007

Coming Fall 2007

L.A., Chicago, S.F., Seattle, NYC & Select Cities!!!For more information and to watch the powerful trailer, visit

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Compelling film about teen rehabs gone bad – Part 2

I am honored to have been one of the first to see Director Nick Gaglia’s profound film, Over the GW - a film about a world that existed a few years ago just over the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey when Nick was a teen. A world that, sadly, still exists today I. Zehnder

Over the GW is a poignant film directed by Nick Gaglia that is based on a real life experience in a cult-like rehab center that preys on vulnerable teens and their parents – programs that are still widespread. It is a frightening look at what went on behind closed doors then - and sadly - what goes on behind closed doors today.

The actors of the film did an excellent job at capturing the essence of what youth endured at KIDS, Inc., New Jersey, a spin-off of Straight, Inc.

While the program in New Jersey no longer exists sadly others have taken its place. Known as the “troubled-teen industry”, it has rampantly grown into a multi-billion dollar a year unregulated industry that houses literally tens of thousands of our American kids each year.

One of the most sinister organizations operating programs for children and teens today is the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS). WWASPS is an umbrella organization that dates back to the early 90’s. Sitting at the helm is businessman Robert Lichfield. Lichfield has no degree in education or psychology. His major was business.

It appears history is repeating itself. Following in the footsteps of former program owners who were known to make large contributions to the Republican Party, Lichfield recently contributed $250,000 to the 2006 Maine governor’s race. Lichfield’s contribution raised more than a few eyebrows. He is being accused of involvement in violations of the Maine Clean Elections Law, saying “the parties have made a complete farce out of the law.”

In a May 2006 Deseret News article, it was reported that “Robert B. Lichfield was the single largest individual donor to Republicans in Utah, giving at least $212,000 to GOP politicians since 2003. He is also No. 6 on the overall list of individual Utah donors. The extended family, businesses and employees of Lichfield make him even more influential. As a group, they donated at least $346,000 since 2003 — the sixth most of any such extended family/business grouping in the state.”

Ken Kay worked as a night watchman before taking his position as the president of WWASPS, an organization with a repertoire of some 20 programs housing thousands of American youth ages 7-22 both inside and outside the US.

Ken Kay told the Denver Rocky Mountain news in an interview before he rejoined Teen Help as Vice President, and WWASPS as president, "These people are basically a bunch of untrained people who work for this organization. So they don't have credentials of any kind. We could be leading these kids to long-term problems that we don't have a clue about because we're not going about it in the proper way. How in the hell can you call yourself a behavior modification program -- and that's one of the ways it's marketed -- when nobody has the expertise to determine: Is this good, is this bad?"

In fact, four separate countries have shut down WWASPS programs, all on allegations of child abuse and neglect – Mexico, Western Samoa, Costa Rica, and the Czec Republic – all nations that could use our American money, all nations that would not tolerate our American programs abusing our American kids.

The media are not strangers to WWASPS and the abuse, neglect, and deaths reported in their programs. Articles have been written in People, Forbes, New York Times, LA Times, News Day, Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, Guardian, Jamaican Observer, YM Magazine, Salon, Time Magazine, Spin, to name a few. Countless reports of abuse have aired on television stations across the US. Segments have aired on Dateline, Primetime, 48 Hours, Montel, Fox News, and Inside Edition. Montana PBS aired the documentary, Who’s Watching the Kids. The Cutting Edge: Tranquility Bay, is a documentary about WWASPS’ Tranquility Bay facility in Jamaica that aired in Australia. This film has yet to be released in the US.

In their haste parents have turned to the Internet for help. What they don’t know is there are literally hundreds of websites leading parents to the same umbrella group of programs that are affiliated with the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS). For example, Teen Revitalization does not mention they are affiliated with WWASPS yet it is obvious the programs they promote are WWASPS-affiliated or have been WWASPS-affiliated in the past. Programs that want no affiliation with WWASPS yet still have the same directors overseeing their operations.

The Costa Rica program listed on their website is said to be WWASPS-affiliated and replaced the facility that was shut down by the Costa Rican government.

The Jamaican program listed on their website appears to be the WWASPS-affiliated Tranquility Bay program. There have been multiple reports of abuse.

The Utah program for children ages 7-14 appears to be the WWASPS-affiliated Majestic Ranch program. You can read about four former employees who came forward and testified that children were being severely abused at this program in the Majestic Ranch Report: A Living Nightmare for Kids.

These are just a few examples of how websites can easily mislead desperate parents looking for help for their children and teens.

Google WWASPS and you will see there is no end to the amount of bad publicity they have received.

They are slick! Today’s marketing agents and program directors have a way of convincing parents that their child or teen is headed down a dark and dreary path – when sometimes all the parent said the child had done was smoke cigarettes or had slipping grades.

So with all this media attention, why does mainstream America have no idea this problem exists, that these programs exist?

Why has the media not picked up on the Wood, et al. v. WWASPS, et al. lawsuit that was filed in August 2006? Within four months the lawsuit jumped from three plaintiffs to eighty-two, and forty to sixty more are expected to join. That’s pretty impressive. But even more impressive are the allegations of abuse by former WWASPS victims who claim they were:

- Forced to eat their own vomit
- Kicked, beaten, thrown, and slammed to the ground
- Bound and tied by their hands and/or feet
- Chained and locked in dog cages
- Forced to stay in isolation for long periods of times
- Locked in small boxes or cages
- Forced to lie in or wear urine and feces as a method of punishment
- Forced to clean and scrub toilets and floors with their toothbrush and then use
the toothbrush afterwards
- Forced to assume distorted and painful physical positions for long periods of time
- Denied adequate food
- Denied even a minimally sufficient education
- Denied proper medical and dental treatment and care
- Exposed to extreme hot and cold temperatures for long periods of time
- Forced to exercise beyond their physical capacity, and more

Their parents alleged they were defrauded. The Complaint alleged breach of contract/breach of warranty, conspiracy and fraudulent concealment, RICO violations, to name a few. In an October 25, 2006, Press Release, Ken Kay calls accusations "preposterous", and says that WWASPS will be cleared of charges.

In a 2003 Salt Lake City Tribune news article, 'Tough-Love' Schools Meet Criticism, Suits, Schools Face Harsh Criticism by Families, Kay stated, "Just because something's controversial doesn't mean it's negative. We have a 97 percent satisfaction rate. I don't think you could do an exit poll at Disneyland and see that."

Yet there is no independent entity monitoring these programs to determine how they arrive at their 97% satisfaction rate, or to determine if these programs are doing more harm than good.

It was well-known that WWASPS employee Randall Hinton abused children in their Jamaica facility, Tranquility Bay. Hinton laughed on video as he admitted to pepper-spraying Kerry Layne Brown, Jr., multiple times a day, every day for nine months. Kerry Layne Brown died last June. His mother believes his death was directly related to the abuse he endured.

In 2005 Hinton attempted to purchase an old military school, Kemper Military Academy in Missouri to start a program for children and teens – a facility with the capacity to house hundreds of children. The City declined to sell the property to him when they learned Robert Lichfield was funding the project, and when they learned of Hinton’s past abusive behaviors.

Just this year Hinton was arrested for abusing children at a facility in Colorado, Royal Gorge Academy (formerly Royal Peak Academy). Just after his arrest it was discovered that, soon after posting bail for his release, that he, his wife, and their four young children were still living inside the facility that housed the children he was accused of abusing.

Once the Judge was made aware of this fact, and was provided documentation and a copy of the videotape, he ordered Hinton not return to the facility and that he have no contact with current or former students. Just recently Hinton pleaded with the court to return home to Utah – his request was granted. His trial is scheduled in August 2007.

One of their programs, Majestic Ranch in Utah, houses children as young as seven. In a report written in February 2005, four former Majestic Ranch employees testified that children were being restrained with their faces in horse manure, that the water quality was bad and children were becoming ill, that children were being forced to sit on milk crates in the middle of the snow for punishment, that they were being forced to handle dead animal carcasses, and more. A number of parents have reported they removed their children from Majestic Ranch after the report was written and learned children continue to be abused there. Two lawsuits were recently filed against Majestic Ranch. What is it going to take for changes to be made so these young children, as young as 7, can be protected?

Google WWASPS and you’ll see what I mean. What most people do not understand is that while programs are withdrawing their affiliation from WWASPS, and while programs are no longer listed on the website, WWASPS is very much alive and growing strong. They’re just getting sneakier about it.