Lulu Corter gets her
day in court,
For 25 years the Straights have been telling the world that they have the answer to curing teenage addictions. "You can't con a con." "It takes a druggie to tell a druggie." "Only a kid can relate to a kid." For 25 years the Straights have been convincing parents that their children will die without Straight's love and support. For 25 years the Straights have been separating Kids from their parents; wives from their husbands. For 25 years the Straights have been creating mental basket cases. And now, finally, the cat is out of the bag. After a quarter of a century of harm, a lawyer in New Jersey has been able to lay out the whole damn nightmare in a court room.
Four years ago Newark attorney Phil Elberg reached a $ 4.5 million settlement for a client he was representing named Rebecca Erlich who had been severely used and abused at Reverend Doctor Miller Newton's notorious treatment cult Kids of North Jersey (see Closure for a Quack Victim in the New Jersey Law Journal). The horrors of what Mr. Elberg learned about Kids from Rebecca and from other clients and counselors at Kids enraged him and the Erlich case started to take over his life. After three years of preparation Phil Elberg was damn anxious to get in the ring with Reverend Doctor Miller Newton. To go toe-to-toe with this man who was responsible for bringing such unimaginable misery to so many for so long. Then the settlement came and there was no trial.
All through the litigation Phil kept hearing about a girl named Lulu Corter. Every witness he saw said look what they did to Lulu. Lulu had been in treatment for 13 years for an eating disorder. One day after the Erlich settlement Lulu's grandmother read to her an article in the newspaper about the case. That's when Lulu Corter (or what was left of her) contacted Phil Elberg. She wasn't looking for money. She wanted to know where she went to tell her story. And when Phil Elberg heard her exceptional tale of human suffering, he was determined to let her tell it, through him by proxy. But it was way past the time to file. The statue of limitations would be the hurdle. Here is Ms. Corter's certification to the Superior Court of Hudson County, New Jersey.
In 1984 the parents of 13 year-old Lulu Corter entered Lulu into treatment at Kids of Bergen County (later renamed to Kids of North Jersey after a CBS West 57th Street expose of the abuse at Kids). In 1997 Lulu finally escaped her 13 year imprisonment at Kids. Problem is no one at Kids can tell you why Lulu was admitted to Kids in the first place. Seems her records have disappeared. The three week trial started in June. I sat in one day.
Ms. Corter sought compensatory damages, not punitive, as Dr. Newton is in bankruptcy now in Florida. Newton's three psychiatrists settled with Lulu before the trial. Amazingly, Newton himself and Kids chose to fight. And that gave Phil Elberg a free shot at what he had sought for six long years, to let the Kids of Bergen County clients and the Kids of North Jersey clients tell their stories in New Jersey. To let Lulu Corter finally tell her story. To get in the ring with Reverend Doctor Doctor Virgil Miller Newton III and his wife Ruth Ann. For six years he had waited. And he was READY.
The Straights have been getting away with abusing teenagers since 1976 . One technique is to require clients to look straight ahead at all times. Thus if the person next to you is having his arm broken, you would be afraid to turn your head to watch. Consequently you could not testify in court because you did not actually see the event. It is alleged that at Straight - Springfield, Virginia clients would be taken into a closet by three brutes calling themselves The Wall. The three interrogators would scream in the child's face to get honest about his drug use and sex life. One guard would spit in the child's face while the other two would hold the prisoner's arms and bend his finger backwards towards the wrists as they also spat in his face. Straight could presumably terrorize 100 kids this way as it extorted confessions, but always there would be three witnesses against one as to the abuse.
In a civil case a judge typically will not let a witness testify unless he personally witnessed the abuse to the plaintiff or the plaintiff personally observed the abuse to the witness. The fact that all Straight (meaning Kids) clients are abused does not hack it either. Elberg had a lot of witnesses who could testify to the pandemic abuse at Kids, but like any other attorney he had the problem of being able to get them on the witness stand to tell their story. If they saw a specific instance of Lulu being abused, that's as far as the judge would allow it to go. How did he get these witnesses in? Ingeniously, he asked Newton's wife Ruth Ann several questions. Questions about inappropriate and illegal practices which had allegedly occurred at Kids. Ruth Ann would not admit that those types of things occurred at Kids, and Elberg was in like Flint. He was able to call in his witnesses as rebuttal witnesses to Ruth Ann's testimony. Had Ruth Ann admitted to the actions, then Elberg would not have been able to bring in his Aces. According to the New Jersey Law Journal these witnesses told tales of "escapes, kidnappings, beatings, and physical and mental punishment." The lies, deceptions, restraints, beatings and coaxed confessions of exaggerated drug use and sexual activity have been exposed. Lulu, herself, had once admitted to having sex with a dog (a complete fabrication) in order to progress at Kids. Please read the tragic tale of one of those witnesses, a boy named Donald.
Updated 7-17-03 The day I was there Newton was on direct examination by his attorney. I heard him testify that the five steps actually had been developed at The Seed. I wanted to ask Dr. Newton right then and there whether he knew that the Saint Petersburg Times claims that Art Barker, the man who dreamed up the Straight/Kids concept at The Seed, had a mail order degree in psychology; and that the US Senate had published a report in 1974 which compared the methods of The Seed to those employed by North Koreans against American servicemen during the Korean War; and that the US Senate had ordered Robert DuPont and his National Institute on Drug Abuse to require Seed clients to sign "human experimentation forms" acknowledging that they were participating in human experimentation; and that Dr. DuPont left NIDA and became a paid Straight consultant and represented Straight in several law suits for child abuse; and that all of Straight's original clinical staff (except for Jim Hartz) were graduates of The Seed and that Helen Peterman, their supervisor, had been a mother in The Seed and had but a high school education, and that she had been publicly accused of physically abusing at least one child; and that almost all of the original board of directors from the Seed, including Mel and Betty Sembler, had been Seed parents and that a half dozen original board members resigned in the first 18 months of Straight's operation with board member Art Bauknight writing in his letter of resignation that no "basic safety rules" had been developed by the corporation "to protect others from unreasonable risk of bodily harm, loss or damage;" and that in August 1977 three board members resigned in mass issuing a joint statement declaring that neither Hartz nor Peterman "have the necessary qualifications to rehabilitate preteens or teens who have a drug or alcohol problem ... "furthermore," they wrote, "we feel we cannot recommend Straight Inc. to our friends or citizens of our community;" and that director Theodore Anderson wrote in his letter of resignation that, "It (Straight) has many of the poor points of the Seed and few of the good points . . . If I had to recommend one (program) I'd recommend The Seed;" and that Melvin Sembler replaced Jim Hartz with Miller Newton.
In short, I had wanted to ask Dr. Newton if he realized that the man who thought up the Kids/Straight concept was a high school graduate with a mail order college degree; that there were reports of abuse at The Seed but that early Straight was worse, and then it got worse still with the introduction of Miller Newton! Well of course I didn't ask him, it was Lulu's party not mine. But there will be questions to ask Jim Hartz and Miller Newton in deposition, along with Ambassador Melvin Sembler, AO and Betty Sembler when they are finally deposed in this horrific tale.
Anyway, I finally got to meet Dr. Newton. During a break I was standing in the back of the court room talking to Stuart Erlich, Rebecca's father, when all of a sudden none other than Miller Newton walked by. I put my hand out and said, "Dr. Newton." He shook my hand and said, "I don't believe we've met." Still holding his hand I said, "Dr. Newton, you don't know who I am, do you?" He said no. "I'm Wes Fager," I replied. He looked at me, stared very briefly, dropped my hand and said, "Like I said, we've never met," as he abruptly exited the courtroom.
The trial ended Tuesday, July 8 shortly before it was to go to the jury when Newton's insurance company made a last minute settlement. The total settlements combined from Newton plus the three psychiatrists is $6.5 million. Hopefully this, and the Erlich settlement, will send a strong message to insurance providers of other Straight-legacy programs and to insurers of other controversial treatment programs.
It is unpardonable that health and police officials have let this nightmare continue for so long in so many places. We ran them out of Virginia and they popped open in Maryland. Newton made a mess of things for Straight in Florida and emerged as Kids in New Jersey. They ran his Kids out of California and Straight took over the merchandise (children) until state authorities ran Straight out too causing the commodities to be transferred to Straight camps in Texas and elsewhere. West 57th Street exposed Kids of Bergen County so Newton changed to Kids of North Jersey in Hudson County. In 1989 as Newton was hopping the Hudson River, Newark Judge Edith Klinger studied Kids and found that "many of the deficiencies . . create hazards to health and safety." She recommended that Kids should not be allowed to continue operation. In 1993 three Kids' counselors--Carlos Lugo, Michael O'Connor, and George Clemence--were convicted of beating 17 year old Channery Soto. Michael O'Connor, who admitted to beating Soto, said that beatings were routine at Kids and that he had even been beaten himself. Judge Emil DelBaglivo--the Secaucus trial judge--publicly remarked that it was "almost unbelievable" that the director of the program, a man with "supposedly " strong credentials, would allow and condone the use of violence. "We find the institution highly questionable and someone should look into it," he said, "we think there's something radically wrong." Newton stayed, Judge DelBaglivo was transferred! At one point Kids senior staffer Tony Kozakiewicz was arrested for trying to kidnap Tony Mitchele back into the program. And the charges go on and on. But Republican Governor Christie Whitman ignored Judges Klinger and DelBaglivo's recommendations and Newton's reputation (if she was aware of the problem). For almost 10 years her Commissioner of Health and Human Services Len Fisher gave Newton a special certificate to operate from the Department of Health!
[I recommended to Phil Elberg early on that he should have sued the state of New Jersey too for giving Newton a special license in spite of his growing reputation for abuse. That's how we ran Straight out of Virginia. A raped boy sued Health Commissioner King E. Davis for granting Straight all those yearly licenses in spite of its reputation for abuse. That's right. Tell the insurance companies, and the state health officials who license them, and the Republican governors who endorse them that we expect them to share in the damages their actions (or inactions) have caused. The Straights and other controversial rehabilitation programs play the game this way. If they're under intense criminal investigation, they'll voluntarily close and hop county or state lines often taking their commodities with them. No state prosecutor is going after them after they've left. He feels he's done his job and he doesn't want a bad rap anyway for prosecuting a program that is trying to help kids with drug addictions. A lot of people won't sue in the first place because they have signed a statement that whatever happens in the program they won't sue them. If they are sued civilly, they'll offer their standard $37,000 settlement. If you don't take it and they lose, they'll let the insurance company pay it. If you can get them out of your state or county, one way to keep them from coming back is to sue state licensing officials. Another way is to make them known in the press so the Republicans will disassociate themselves from them and their money. One trick that Straight, Inc. employed is that they formed a shell company which owned the property and held the money. The shell company then leased the property back to the treatment company. Then if the treatment company got sued, plaintiffs couldn't get to the money or property, or even to the program principals. Thus many attorneys would be discouraged from taking a case against Straight because there would appear to be no money to win other than the insurance. Specifically in the case of Straight, Inc.the shell holding company was called Straight Foundation, Inc. which today calls itself the Drug Free America Foundation.
But the ONLY way to completely stop them is somebody has to go to jail.]
Even the Feds let Newton off the hook. Newton gave them $45,000 and they agreed not to prosecute him for 254 counts of insurance fraud. Phil Elberg and Rebecca Erlich exposed him in 1999 so he became Father Cassian. Thirty years and going strong, but you two girls in New Jersey scored major damage. Survivors from Kids, you guys were in a true cult complete with a charismatic leader. Unfortunately for you, Kids was among the worse of Straight-based synanons. But take heart, the SURVIVORS won't let this one surface ever again, no matter what he decides to call himself.
A message to Lulu Corter from the Oakton Institute. Lulu darling, you just wanted to know where to go to tell your story. Fortunately you found a brilliant attorney with a breaking heart who knew a way to help you. And now you have told your story for all the world to hear. For countless newspapers to carry, and for web pages and web discussion forums to post for years to come. For the New Jersey Law Journal, no less! There were three writers at your trial, I was one of them. I can assure you that your story is going to be told over and over and over again, all over the world. But Lulu, as you know, your story is Donald's story and Kimberly Fees' story too, it's Bill Fager's story and Bobby's. It's the story of a little girl from Georgia named Kay and Christy Johnston's story, and Richard Bradbury's, Michael Daniels', and oh yes, Paul Riffle's story. Paul's dead now you know, along with Steven Matthews and Duane Rholfs. I'm sorry Lulu, there's so many stories you told, but I just can't stop crying for now or else I'd tell you more. It is dastardly what Miller Newton did to you boys and girls, and most of all to Lulu Corter. He should be in jail. If it's any comfort knowing, we are looking into that for you.
Read now "Keeping 'Cult' Out of the Case" the story of Lulu Corter's trial in the New Jersey Law Journal. The Oakton Institute will continue to report this breaking story as details are learned. story . If you can't get it, try this link.