World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools
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The World Wide Association Of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS or WWASP) was an organization based in Utah, in the United States. WWASPS was founded by Robert Lichfield and was incorporated in 1998. WWASPS stated that it was an umbrella organization of independent institutions for education and treatment of troubled teenagers, all operating in accordance with WWASP guidelines. Many outside observers believe, however, that the WWASPS-affiliated institutions were actually owned (through limited partnerships, many of which have used the same street address) by WWASPS or its principal officials or their close relatives. WWASPS is connected to several affiliated for-profit companies. These include Teen Help LLC, the marketing arm of WWASPS and the entity that processes admissions paperwork; Teen Escort Service, a teen escort company that transports teenagers to WWASPS facilities; R&B Billing, which does tuition billing and payment processing; and Premier Educational Systems, LLC (also called Premier Educational Seminars), which conducts orientation and training workshops for parents whose children are in WWASPS facilities. WWASPS claims to have helped over 10,000 students with issues related to personal behavior. Some participants and parents give positive reports of their experiences, but others say that WWASPS programs were abusive. WWASPS has faced widespread allegations of physical and psychological abuse of the teenagers sent into its programs, resulting in a lawsuit filed against the organization in 2006. WWASPS officials report that the organization is no longer in business, and the facilities originally under it no longer associate with the name, but because of ongoing litigation, it has not been dissolved.
WWASPS operated, or was associated with, several facilities in the United States and in other countries. In 2003 there were 2,300 students enrolled in its facilities and programs. At one time, WWASPS facilities had tuition income of more than $90 million per year.
In July 2007 World Wide's president, Ken Kay, told the Salt Lake Tribune that only two schools remained in the WWASPS network, including Majestic Ranch Academy in Utah, which he said was likely to sever its ties with the organization. In a December 2010 newspaper article, Kay was reported to have said that the organization was no longer in business, but because of ongoing litigation, it had not been dissolved.
Schools and programs currently or formerly associated with the organization include the following:
|Name of school||In Operation?||Location||Circumstances/Notes|
|Academy at Dundee Ranch||Costa Rica||Raided by authorities on May 22, 2003 after an investigation into child abuse|
|Academy at Ivy Ridge||Ogdensburg, New York, United States||Closed in early 2009 due to accreditation issues; property has been sold|
|Bell Academy||Terra Bella, California, United States||Shut down in 2003 after issues with state Social Services|
|Bethel Academy||Mississippi, United States||Shut down in February 2005 after state officials investigate reports of abuse, also known as Bethel Girls' Academy and Bethel Boys' Academy|
|Brightway Hospital||St. George, Utah, United States||Closed in 1998 by authorities for providing inadequate care and abuse|
|Carolina Springs Academy||Due West, South Carolina, United States||Was opened by Narvin Lichfield in 1998 and closed in April 2009 when its license was revoked due to lack of compliance with licensing regulations. The campus was abandoned as of September 2010, but a South Carolina newspaper reported in December 2010 that a coeducational Christian boarding school would open on the site in 2011.|
|Casa by the Sea||Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico||Investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse; raided by Mexican authorities on September 10, 2004|
|Cross Creek Programs||La Verkin, Utah, United States||Also known as Cross Creek Manor and Cross Creek Center, originally two separate facilities for different sexes.|
|Darrington Academy||Blue Ridge, Georgia, United States||Closed in March 2009; 90 students were enrolled at the time of closure. School director Richard Darrington was arrested in May 2009 and charged with battery of two students at the school.|
|Gulf Coast Academy||Lucedale, Mississippi, United States||Formerly known as Eagle Point Christian Academy, In the previous location of Bethel Girls' Academy and Bethel Boys' Academy. Closed on an unknown date, now the location of Watermark Congregational Methodist Church.|
|High Impact||Tecate, Baja California, Mexico||Investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse|
|Horizon Academy||La Verkin, Utah, United States||Originally located in Amargosa Valley, Nevada, Currently sharing a facility with Cross Creek Programs Was shut down on 13 October 2013 and reopened as Northwest Academy.|
|Mentor School||Costa Rica||Closed in March 2011. Mentor was housed in the former Hotel Carara near Tárcoles and was headed by Robert Walter Lichfield. There were approximately 20 U.S. teenagers enrolled at the time of closure. It was closed by Costa Rican child welfare authorities on March 18, 2011, following complaints of abuse by parents of enrollees. At the time of closure, it was reported that the program had not been licensed by Costa Rican authorities. Officials who visited the facility reported that "physical, psychological and verbal mistreatment" were "apparent."|
|MidWest Academy||Keokuk, Iowa, United States||Closed in 2016 after a federal raid to investigate abuse allegations. Bob Lichfield in 2003 funded the original property purchase. The operator of the facility and owner of record, Ben Trane, was convicted December 2017 of sexually and physically abusing students at the private "school" he once owned and was sentenced in May 2018 to nine years in prison and will be required to register as a sex offender.|
|Morava Academy||Brno, Czech Republic||Opened in 1998 and closed later that year when Czech police arrested its managers (Glenda and Steven Roach, former police officers from Utah) and charged them with child torture.|
|Old West Academy||Randolph, Utah, United States||Formerly Majestic Ranch Academy. Closed on an unknown date, website is now inactive.|
|Paradise Cove||Western Samoa||Shut down by Samoan authorities because an investigation determined credible allegations of abuse|
|US Youth Services||Lecompte, Louisiana, United States||Formerly Red River Academy. The school has undergone heavy renovations before becoming US Youth Services. Closed in 2018, website is now inactive.|
|Royal Gorge Academy||Canon City, Colorado, United States||Closed in October 2008. Youth sent to Red River Academy.|
|Sky View Christian Academy||Hawthorne, Nevada, United States||Enrolled about 120 students and employed about 63 staff and teachers, with a total annual payroll of $1.57 million. It was closed abruptly in 2007 after a hazing incident.|
|Spring Creek Lodge Academy||Sanders County, Montana, United States||Operated from the late 1970s until January 9, 2009.|
|Sunrise Beach||Cancún, Mexico||Raided and closed by Mexican authorities in 1996 over abuse|
|Sunset Bay Academy||Mexico||Coeducational; established in 2008 as Oceanside Teen Center; the institution states that it subcontracted with WWASP in 2008, but ended the contractual relationship in April 2009|
|Tranquility Bay||Treasure Beach, Jamaica||Subject of several documentaries detailing severe abuse; closed in January 2009|
|Northwest Academy||La Verkin, Utah, United States||Originally Horizon Academy. Reopened with new ownership. Website is now inactive, school closed in February 2019.|
|Woodland Hills Maternity Home||Woodland Hills, Utah, United States||Closed on an unknown date, website is now inactive.|
Related and spinoff programs and projects
Some personnel formerly associated with WWASP schools and programs have gone on to establish or work at other similar institutions.
In 2005 Robert Lichfield and the Utah-based holding company, Golden Pond Investments Ltd., made an offer to buy the campus of the Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, to open a new school for adolescents needing help with discipline, responsibility and leadership skills. It was announced that the school would be directed by former WWASP staff member Randall Hinton and his brother Russell Hinton. The Hintons told Boonville officials that the proposed school would not be a part of WWASP. The Boonville City Council rejected the proposal.
WWASPS and its associated institutions have been the target of criticism over their treatment methods, including allegations of severe abuse and torture by staff at programs supported by WWASPS. The programs have been the subject of legal investigations by several U.S. states. In 2003, a reporter for The New York Times interviewed 60 current and former program participants and parents; some gave positive reports of their experiences, while other participants and parents said that WWASPS programs were abusive.
Numerous former students or their parents have filed lawsuits against WWASPS, its personnel, or individual schools. Most have been settled out of court or dismissed for procedural reasons. For example, a 2005 lawsuit filed in California on behalf of more than 20 plaintiffs was dismissed because the judge found that California lacked jurisdiction. In June 2007, Utah attorney Thomas M. Burton told a reporter that six suits he had filed against WWASPS on behalf of his clients had been dismissed on procedural grounds. WWASPS president Ken Kay told an interviewer that lawsuits against WWASPS are ploys to get money, brought by people who "are never going to be happy." A lawsuit filed in 2007 against WWASPS and its founder, Robert Lichfield, on behalf of 133 plaintiffs alleging physical and sexual abuse and fraudulent concealment of abuse brought negative publicity to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, because Lichfield was one of six co-chairs of the Utah state fundraising committee for Romney's campaign.
On several occasions, WWASPS and its principals have responded to criticism by suing their critics. Robert Lichfield sued two individuals associated with the International Survivors Action Committee (ISAC) for defamation, invasion of his privacy, and causing "intentional interference with 'prospective economic advantage'." That suit was pending as of April 2005. In May 2005 a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed (on jurisdictional grounds) a defamation lawsuit brought by WWASPS against a United Press International reporter who had done research for a news story about alleged abuse at several WWASPS schools. The reporter was accused of having made defamatory statements about WWASPS to "potential students, former students, parents of potential and former students, an employee of a state agency responsible for licensing a member school, and a Utah attorney who had filed numerous suits against [WWASPS]."
On August 31, 2007, Randall Hinton was convicted of one count each of third degree assault and false imprisonment, for mistreating students at the WWASP-affiliated Royal Gorge Academy, of which he was manager and co-founder. However, the jury returned verdicts of "not guilty" on four other counts of third-degree assault and one other count of false imprisonment. Hinton was sentenced to jail followed by probation.
- See Investigation shows troubled school may be buying interest with lawmakers[dead link] (Associated Press, September 20, 2004), Utah-based school owner banned (Deseret News, July 6, 2003), and Former student alleges months of abuse Archived 2007-04-08 at the Wayback Machine (John Sullivan, Columbia Daily Tribune, April 15, 2005.)
- Parents Divided Over Jamaica Disciplinary Academy by Tim Weiner, The New York Times, June 17, 2003
- Maia Szalavitz, The Trouble with Troubled Teen Programs, Reason, January 2007
- John-Thor Dahlburg, Key to His Schools' Success? It's God, Founder Says Archived 2007-10-08 at the Wayback Machine, Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2003
- See "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-02-26. Retrieved 2007-03-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "WWASPS Rebuttal website". Archived from the original on 2018-08-05. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
- Troubled Teen Programs - 25 Plaintiffs Join in Lawsuit Against WWASPS, Cross Creek Manor, Robert Lichfield, and Associates – More Expected to Join In, press release by Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse, Webwire, October 16, 2006
- Kirk Brown, Abbeville school had role in rise and fall of enterprise for serving troubled teens Archived 2013-06-14 at the Wayback Machine, Anderson (South Carolina) Independent Mail, December 17, 2010
- Loophole in state law has allowed some in teen-help industry to go unlicensed Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, The Salt Lake Tribune, July 16, 2007
- "Ivy Ridge, home sold for $2.8m". Watertown Daily Times. April 25, 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- Henry Winckel, The Porterville Recorder, September 26, 2003
- Animal Bones, Carcasses Found At Closed School Archived 2012-03-23 at the Wayback Machine - Dozens Of Surviving Animals Rescued By Upstate Group, WYFF4, September 10, 2010
- Sandra Dibble & Anna Cearley, Baja raids shut boarding schools for U.S. teens Archived 2005-09-13 at the Wayback Machine, The Union-Tribune (San Diego), September 11, 2004
- Brian K. Finnicum, Darrington closes doors Archived 2012-09-12 at archive.today, The News Observer (Blue Ridge, Georgia), March 2, 2009
- Scott Neufer, Battery investigation trails Whittell dean, The Record-Courier (Gardnerville, Nevada), September 4, 2009. ("According to the Blue Ridge News Observer, Darrington was arrested in May by Fannin County sheriff's investigators for allegedly slamming a 17-year-old student on the floor, causing a tooth to fall out, and pushing a 16-year-old juvenile into a wall. Darrington paid $6,000 bail and was released from jail. He relocated to Nevada, though the charges are still pending.")
- Mentor School website Archived 2011-08-18 at the Wayback Machine
- Williams, Adam (April 1, 2011). "Parents revile Teen Mentor, others claim program's value". Tico Times. Archived from the original on 10 May 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- "Former Iowa boarding school director sentenced to 9 years for abuse", Des Moines Register - Associated Press, Published 11:01 a.m. CT May 11, 2018 | Updated 4:01 p.m. CT May 11, 2018.
- Rood, Lee. "80 sheriff calls in 3 years to Keokuk boarding school", DES MOINES REGISTER AND TRIBUNE COMPANY, Published 11:01 a.m. CT May 11, 2018 | Updated 4:01 p.m. CT May 11, 2018.
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- "Housing slump indefinitely delays Hawthorne project". Reno Gazette Journal. December 2, 2007. Retrieved 21 August 2012.[permanent dead link]
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- Kilzer, Lou (1999). "Desperate Measures". Denver Rocky Mountain News. Archived from the original on 18 March 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- "Sunset Bay Academy website". Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- "Sunset Bay Academy Proud of Long and Successful History; Academy Staff is Excited about Growth of their Teen Programs". Rosarito, B.C., Mexico: PRWEB. October 14, 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- Green, Joanne (June 22, 2006). "Rough Love". Miami New Times. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- "Boonville to discuss Kemper proposal: A company involved in the plan has faced abuse allegations". Columbia Missourian. April 11, 2005. Archived from the original on April 25, 2005. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- Sullivan, John (April 5, 2005). "Kemper suitors plan new military school". Columbia Daily Tribune. Archived from the original on 10 April 2007. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- Amy Joi Bryson, Utah-based group under fire, Deseret Morning News, April 21, 2005
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- Order and Judgment, World Wide Association of Specialty Programs ad Schools v. Thomas G. Houlahan, United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, May 10, 2005. No. 04-4181 (D.C. No. 2:04-CV-107-DAK)
- "Hinton guilty on two counts: Jury finds Royal Gorge Academy official guilty of assault, false imprisonment". Cañon City Daily Record. 9/1/2007. p. A8. Archived from the original on 16 December 2007. Retrieved 21 August 2012. Check date values in:
- Harmon, Tracy (November 20, 2007). "Randall Hinton Sentenced to Jail for Bloody Assault on Child". Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- "Top 10 stories of 2007". Cañon City Daily Record. 2007-12-31. p. A1. Retrieved 21 August 2012.[permanent dead link]
- Cindy Art, Trapped in Paradise: A Memoir, CreateSpace, 2012. ISBN 978-1475192278
- Claire and Mia Fontaine, Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back, HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN 978-0-06-079216-9