Saturday, September 8, 2007

Question is ...

Did Robert Lichfield step down from his position on Mitt Romney's Utah state finance team or was he asked to step down?

Utah fund-raiser for Romney, Robert Lichfield, steps down

Lichfield involved in schools that are subjects of lawsuits

September 7, 2007
By Lisa Riley Roche

More Romney / Lichfield news ...

A Utah fund-raiser for Mitt Romney who helped the GOP presidential candidate collect $300,000 in donations at an event in St. George earlier this year is no longer part of the campaign. Robert Lichfield, who is affiliated with several schools for troubled teens that are the subjects of lawsuits alleging child abuse, left his position as a Utah finance committee co-chairman in July, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign said Thursday.

The Web site "Radar" reported Thursday that Romney asked Lichfield to step down. But Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Lichfield "resigned on his own accord" from the campaign shortly after stories surfaced in late June about his legal problems.
Lichfield's name did not appear on a list of national finance chairmen and co-chairmen released by the campaign on July 31 that included seven Utahns. Campaign officials said then that Lichfield was no longer involved in fund raising.

The Web site report comes after two other people involved in the Romney campaign made headlines.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, stepped down last month as Romney's Senate liaison, after the public learned of his guilty plea to a charge of disorderly conduct in an airport bathroom in connection with a sex sting.

Earlier in August, a Romney national finance co-chairman, Alan Fabian, resigned his position with the campaign after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on 23 counts of bankruptcy fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and perjury.


Romney fundraiser Robert Lichfield in Utah is off team :

Robert Lichfield is named among 140 defendants in a child-abuse lawsuit involving schools for troubled youths

September 7, 2007
By Thomas Burr

More Romney / Lichfield news ...

WASHINGTON - A top Utah fundraiser for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign - who has links to an organization facing a civil lawsuit alleging child abuse - is off Romney's state finance team.

Robert Lichfield left as one of Romney's campaign fundraisers in July, though there are disputing accounts whether he was pushed out or left on his own.

Lichfield, who founded the umbrella group called the Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, brought in about $300,000 earlier this year for Romney during a single Utah event and has donated tens of thousands to the former Massachusetts governor and other Republicans in recent years.

Lichfield is named in a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Utah charging that students of the "behavior modification" schools with ties to WWASPS were subjected to "physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse." The suit had 140 defendants at last count.

WWASPS president Ken Kay declined to comment to The Salt Lake Tribune but told that the Romney campaign asked Lichfield to resign from the finance team. Lichfield could not be reached for comment.
"Governor Romney has asked Mr. Lichfield to step down and not be involved in any more fundraising until the lawsuit is resolved in the positive, which we are confident will happen," Kay said via e-mail to the Radar Magazine's online version.

Romney's campaign counters Kay's account, saying Lichfield resigned on his own.

"Mr. Lichfield was not urged by the governor, he resigned from his campaign position on his own accord," Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Thursday.

The lawsuit against Lichfield, WWASPS and others involved in the schools alleges brazen acts of child abuse, including that students of the various programs had been forced to eat their own vomit, clean toilets with a toothbrush and brush their teeth afterward, were chained or locked in dog cages, kicked, beaten, thrown and slammed to the ground and forced into sexual acts.

Kay has called the lawsuit's allegations "ludicrous."

"We don't condone any type of child abuse and it's highly unlikely that any of the incidents ever happened," Kay said, noting that troubled teens often have a record of fabricating stories.  

Lichfield and family big donors Robert Lichfield, a La Verkin entrepreneur, founded the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools. The organization has been affiliated with a number of schools for troubled youths, several of which schools have been closed amid allegations of abuse or neglect.

Lichfield and family members began donating heavily to Republican candidates and causes in 2001. In the 2002 and 2004 elections, a Salt Lake Tribune investigation found more than $1 million in contributions from family members and business associates.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

UPDATE: Romney Forced to Fire 2nd Crucial Campaign Backer

Big scoop coming from Radar: Mitt Romney, just days after ousting disgraced Sen. Larry Craig from his Presidential campaign, has had to fire another well-connected state campaign organizer due to tawdry dealings — this time involving abuse and fraud toward troubled teens.

“Mitt Romney has asked his Utah finance committee co-chair, Robert Lichfield, who is affiliated with a controversial network of schools for troubled teens and has been dogged by allegations of abuse and fraud, to step down,” according to Radar’s report.

Lichfield is Utah’s largest political donor, and organized a fundraiser in February in his hometown of St. George that made nearly $300,000 for the Romney campaign. Members of the Lichfield family have donated $17,000 to Romney thus far.

But besides being rich, Lichfield was also named in a June 2007 complaint filed in federal court in Utah by the families of 133 children who allege kids under his supervision ”were subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.”

Radar notes that one plaintiff, Chase Wood, “claims he was fondled, forced to eat his own vomit, and locked in a dog cage at the Cross Creek Center for Boys, a school that Lichfield founded in the late 1970s.”

UPDATE: Romney Cans Golden Goose Over Abuse

September 5, 2007
John Cook

Mitt Romney has asked his Utah finance committee co-chair, Robert Lichfield, who is affiliated with a controversial network of schools for troubled teens and has been dogged by allegations of abuse and fraud, to step down, Radar has learned.

Ken Kay, the president of the Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP), a nonprofit group co-founded by Lichfield that provides consulting services to schools specializing in "behavior modification" for wayward teens, said in an e-mail that Romney has asked Lichfield to stop participating in fundraising activities for the campaign.

Lichfield was named in a June 2007 complaint filed in federal court in Utah by the families of 133 children who have attended schools associated with WWASP, alleging that they were subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. One plaintiff, Chase Wood, claims he was fondled, forced to eat his own vomit, and locked in a dog cage at the Cross Creek Center for Boys, a school that Lichfield founded in the late 1970s.

"Gov. Romney has asked Mr. Lichfield to step down and not be involved in any more fundraising until the lawsuit is resolved in the positive, which we are confident will happen," Kay said.

Lichfield is Utah's largest political donor. He organized a fundraiser in February in his hometown of St. George that netted nearly $300,000 for the Romney campaign, and members of the Lichfield family have donated $17,000.

According to a class-action lawsuit filed against him in New York in 2006 for fraud, Lichfield makes $90 million a year through a complicated network of businesses based around behavior modification and has owned or operated a total of 26 schools worldwide, some of which have been closed by local authorities for mistreatment. The lawsuit claims that the Academy at Ivy Ridge, a school that sits on land owned by Lichfield and for which he has provided consulting services, admitted students for five years without any accreditation as an educational institution from the state.
Last week Randall Hinton, an educational counselor who has worked at Cross Creek and many other schools affiliated with WWASP, was convicted of third-degree assault and false imprisonment for slamming the head of a 15-year-old student at Royal Gorge Academy in Colorado into a stairwell and forcing a 17-year-old to lie flat on his stomach for so long he had to vomit. Hinton faces up to three years in prison.

Kay, a longtime associate of Lichfield's, says WWASP simply provides marketing and other business services to schools, does not deal directly with students, and is not responsible for any mistreatment.

Lichfield could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Romney campaign did not immediately return messages.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Romney in deep doo doo?

The incident: dog excrement found on the roof and windows of the Romney station wagon. How it got there: Romney strapped a dog carrier — with the family dog Seamus, an Irish Setter, in it — to the roof of the family station wagon for a twelve hour drive from Boston to Ontario, which the family apparently completed, despite Seamus's rather visceral protest. Click here for the article.

June 27, 2007 4:03

Romney in Deep Doo-Doo?

Posted by Ana Marie Cox

I'll have a more formal version of this story up in a bit, but: it turns out that strapping your dog to the roof of your car might actually be against Massachusetts state law, which says anyone who carries [an animal] or causes it to be carried in or upon a vehicle, or otherwise, in an unnecessarily cruel or inhuman manner or in a way and manner which might endanger the animal carried thereon...shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years or imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years or by a fine of not moe than $2,500, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Not that we can lock him him up. It's not a cut and dried case, according to animal welfare officer I spoke to, and it looks like the statute of limitations has passed on the incident (15 years). I've called the campaign for comment on it anyway, and the president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, was kind enough to weigh in as well:

What is also worrying is that Mr. Romney seems to hold the very old fashioned idea that he needs to actively show he is heartless, hence the hunting claims he has made. Not subsistence hunting, but pride in killing defenseless animals for sport, for fun, for show. [I believe this is in reference to the "small varmint" safaris. -- AMC]

In the case of the dog on the roof of the car, if this is true, quite remarkably it obviously wasn't for show as only his own children were watching, a lesson in cruelty that was also wrong for them to witness. There was also the obviousness of the situation. Thinking of the wind, the weather, the speed, the vulnerability, the isolation on the roof, it is commonsense that any dog who’s under extreme stress might show that stress by losing control of his bowels: that alone should have been sufficient indication that the dog was, basically, being tortured.

If you wouldn’t strap your child to the roof of your car, you have no business doing that to the family dog! I don't know who would find that acceptable.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Romney Lichfield - Lawsuits hit a Romney money man

June 20, 2007
By Alexander Bolton

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars through the fundraising efforts of a supporter targeted by several lawsuits alleging child abuse.

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, 133 plaintiffs have alleged that Robert Lichfield, co-chairman of Romney’s Utah finance committee owned or operated residential boarding schools for troubled teenagers where students were “subjected to physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.”

The complaint, which plaintiffs amended and resubmitted to the court last week, alleges children attending schools operated by Lichfield suffered abuses such as unsanitary living conditions; denial of adequate food; exposure to extreme temperatures; beatings; confinement in dog cages; and sexual fondling.

A second lawsuit filed by more than 25 plaintiffs in July in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of New York alleges that Lichfield and several partners entered into a scheme to defraud them by operating an unlicensed boarding school in upstate New York. The suit does not allege physical or emotional abuse.

These are two active lawsuits against Lichfield. Several others suits have alleged child abuse on behalf of dozens of plaintiffs, but judges have thrown out the suits for procedural reasons. As a result, the merits of the allegations have not been weighed. In some suits, plaintiffs have settled their cases for undisclosed amounts of money.

The allegations could force Romney to re-examine his relationship with his Utah finance co-chairman or put pressure on him to give away the contributions Lichfield helped raise.

Lichfield helped to organize a February event in St. George, Utah, that raised about $300,000 for the Romney campaign. Romney has six finance committee co-chairmen in Utah. Since the beginning of 2003, Lichfield has given money to at least seven other Republican candidates and also to the National Republican Congressional Committee and Bush-Cheney ’04 Inc.

Overall, Romney has raised $2.7 million in Utah for his presidential campaign, far more than any other candidate, according to data compiled by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has raised the second most in the state, $113,000.

“Mr. Lichfield is one of 6 Co-Chairman of our Utah finance team,” said Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho in a statement. “He has donated to numerous Republican candidates and committees. The Romney campaign will continue its policy to make our fundraising efforts as transparent as possible.”

Lichfield did not respond to requests for comment made through the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS). WWASPS is his co-defendant in several lawsuits and Lichfield sits on its board of directors.

Plaintiffs represented by the Dallas-based Turley Law Firm claim Lichfield and WWASPS helped to run boarding schools where staff abused students and “acted in concert” to “fraudulently conceal the extent and nature of the physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse occurring at its [member] schools,” their complaint states.

The plaintiffs include former boarding school students and their parents.

The president of WWASPS, Ken Kay, said in an interview the lawsuits are a ploy to get money and dismissed the credibility of former students making allegations.

“Most of them are ludicrous,” Kay said of the claims made against his organization and the boarding schools. “A certain percentage of the kids [who participate] are never going to be happy. They weren’t happy with public schools, they weren’t happy with law enforcement, and they have a long history of lying, fabricating and twisting the story around to their own benefit.

“Many of them have done poorly and have filed suits [since leaving the schools],” he added. “They have had problem with their families, churches, public schools and outpatient therapy. A large percentage of these kids have been [in] other treatment programs.”

The legal disputes shine light on the obscure world of boarding schools for troubled teens.

Years ago, parents set their troublesome teenagers to military schools. In recent years, boot-camp boarding schools, where staff emphasize discipline, have become popular. The schools affiliated with Lichfield and WWASPS fit this mold.

The parents suing Lichfield sent their kids to WWASPS-affiliated schools such as Cross Creek Center for Boys in LaVerkin, Utah; Majestic Ranch Academy in Randolph, Utah; and The Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg after they got into trouble for insubordination, drug use or petty theft.

The parents learned of the boarding schools through Teen Help, a business owned by Lichfield that matched parents and their children with boarding schools around the country and in Mexico, Costa Rica, and American Samoa. Lichfield had consulting relationships with nearly all the schools, according to Kay. In some instances Lichfield rented property to the schools, said Kay, who did not name the properties specifically.

Plaintiffs have alleged that Lichfield made millions from the schools.

Former students allege they were transported against their will — sometimes in handcuffs — by operators such as Clean and Sober Solutions and Teen Escort Services to far-away locations.

Once at the boarding schools, they say they were subject to harsh treatment. Some students say they never attended classes and simply received books to read on their own without supervision. Others allege that staff at the schools threatened them with cattle prods and punished severely violations of school rules. Several students alleged in legal complaints that they were forced to lie face down on the floor for hours at a time, forbidden from moving their arms or legs.

Kay said WWASPS worked only with the schools and never had direct contact with the students. He also said only a very small percentage of former students have brought complaints.

Kay also said that the vast majority of former students never alleged abusive treatment.

A survey by The Hill found at least nine lawsuits filed in the last nine years against specialty boarding schools affiliated with Lichfield. Judges threw out more than half of the complaints because of procedural objections.

For example, a suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2005 on behalf of more than 20 plaintiffs was dismissed by a judge who found California did not have jurisdiction over the matter, according to Henry Bushkin, the plaintiffs’ attorney. Bushkin said he would gather more evidence to show a California court could hear the suit.

One of the lawyers making allegations against Lichfield is Thomas M. Burton, by his own account, a relative of Romney through marriage and a one-time friend of the ex-governor’s late father, George Romney.

Burton said he has filed six unsuccessful suits against Lichfield. He said judges have thrown out his complaints because of various procedural difficulties.

Citing an example, Burton said one case could not proceed because his client, Clayton Bowman, a resident of the state of Washington, could not bear the psychological anguish of testifying about his experience at one of the WWASP-affiliated schools.