James T. Russell, Sheriff Genung
and the Dale Report
| In 1993 the Florida Department of Health and
Rehabilitative Services (now Office of Children & Families) released
an IG report that insinuated that in 1989 Melvin Sembler and undesignated
state senators had interfered with a state attempt to close down Straight
- St. Petersburg. That report is the infamous Clary
Report a summary of which was published in the St. Petersburg Times.
As far as can be known, State Attorney Bernie McCabe (R) made no effort
to investigate Mr. Sembler for this very serious matter, much less indict
him. But that should come as no surprise since for 17 years McCabe's predecessor,
James T. Russell, refused to seriously investigate Straight, regardless
of what it was accused of doing. Quite the contrary, one of his chief Assistant
State Attorney's was on Straight's board of directors and
another chief assistant who was frequently assigned to investigate HRS-related
complaints later became chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party
at a time when Mel Sembler was treasurer for the state Republican Party.
Nor did Russell investigate Sembler for the Coopers Point land deal
where Sembler bought a swamp for $1 million based on insider information
from a Clearwater city employee and almost got away with selling it to Clearwater
a few days later with that city official's help for $3 million. (After the
story broke Mel Sembler sold the swamp land to Clearwater for only $ 2 million.)
Russell and county Sheriff Don Genung are responsible for bringing the Straight
concept to Pinellas County in the first place, and James T. Russell was
not going to let his experiment fail. Besides a similar event to the Clary
matter had occurred 10 years earlier, almost as soon as Straight had opened,
and Russell never did anything about that either.
Pinellas County states attorney James T. Russell and Sheriff Genung bring theStraights to Pinellas County In the early 1970s Pinellas County state attorney James T. Russell and Pinellas County Sheriff Don Genung visited a juvenile drug rehabilitation program in Fort Lauderdale called The Seed (Straight's predecessor). On September 6, 1973 James T. Russell, a Republican, introduced Seed founder Art Barker to the Pinellas County Bar Association luncheon declaring that The Seed was the county's answer to the drug incarceration problem. State attorney Russell became a Seed Advisory Board member, along with Lieutenant Governor of Florida Tom Adams, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, County Judge James B. Sanderlin, Circuit Judge William L. Walker and Sheriff Genung. Richard Mensh, at one time Russell's chief assistant prosecutor, is the brother of former Straight board member attorney Myron Mensh; and Allen Allweiss, formerly Russell's chief assistant state attorney for Pasco County was on the Straight board of directors. Later, when Art Barker had problems with federal funding for the Saint Petersburg Seed, states attorney Russell, Sheriff Genung, and Republican Congressman Young met in Washington, DC with Dr. Robert DuPont, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in an attempt to get that money for The Seed. Later Dr. DuPont left NIDA and became a paid Straight consultant getting Nancy and Ronald Reagan interested in Straight.
The Dale Report on Straight's criminal activities In 1978, soon after Straight had opened, Bob Marshall of the Florida Department of Health and Human Services (HRS) was investigating alleged child abuse at Straight (a half dozen directors had already left because of allegations of abuse; one publicly implicating that Straight was worse than The Seed; the wife of another telling a reporter with the St. Petersburg Times that she had personally witnessed the brutal assault of one child by an adult counselor). The accusations included a report on the alleged gang beating of Jerry Vancil who had made it to the St. Petersburg Times which told his story. According to the article Straight people had admitted that there had been an incident but they had only been protecting themselves from Jerry Vancil. On January 19 Marshall submitted a two-page, mostly administrative report, finding that none of the 30 charges of abuse had been substantiated.
But there was another man looking into the allegations of child abuse at Straight. John H. Dale, Jr., assistant chief of Floridas Bureau of Criminal Justice Planning and Assistance (BOCJPA) oversaw funding of Straight by the US government's Law Enforcement Assistance Agency (LEAA). John Dale had been looking at Straight for mismanagement of federal funds when the accusations of criminal child abuse surfaced. He published his report later in 1978 after Marshall's report had been published under the name Special On-site Monitoring Report. In his report Dale disclosed that HRS officials had held back information in their January report and that state officials did indeed have information "corroborating" many allegations of client mistreatment at Straight. When informed by a reporter of the BOCJPA report Melvin Sembler stated, "I don't believe that, I don't think that's factual." The special report confirmed that HRS Secretary William J. "Pete" Page, Jr.'s office had received a telephone call from "one or more" Straight board members. Melvin Sembler himself confirmed to a newspaper reporter that Straight program officials had contacted Page. "For whatever reasons," the special report stated, "the extensive initial report was withdrawn and a considerably briefer report, mostly administrative in nature, was released."
Later Bob Marshall confirmed that on January 18, the day before the substantive HRS report was to be released, he had received a call from Page and had spoken with an HRS attorney. It had been decided then to publicly announce a smaller, two page report and announce Straight would get an interim license while it made several program changes. And then Bob Marshall was fired! The same thing happened ten years later after Straight was once again granted an interim license. In August 1989 an HRS on-site inspections official was preparing to shut down Straight - St. Petersburg for repeated violations when the official was told by a superior in Tallahassee to give Straight a license regardless what was found or else the official would be fired on the spot. The story is told in a special 1993 HRS IG report known as The Clary Report which concludes that the pressure was apparently coming from "Mel Sembler and undisclosed state senators".
James T. Russell retired on December 31, 1992. His assistant and the man he endorsed to be his successor, Bernie McCabe, was elected state attorney for Pinellas County in November 1992. So Bernie McCabe was the prosecutor who knew of the Clary Report and possible criminal activity of Mel Sembler, but, like his predecessor, McCabe did nothing. The report is found here:
Mr. Dale found that not only had many of the charges of child abuse at Straight actually been substantiated, but he uncovered other problems with Straight. He found that Straight disguised client fees as donations. A 1978 article in the Saint Petersburg Times reported that Straight asked parents for donations, "but program officials have insisted that payment is not required." The report stated that Jim Hartz (then Straights clinical director) "could only remember one instance in which the fees had been waived." Another finding of the BOCJPA report was that in its first 18 months of operation Straight had enrolled 450 youths but only one had been black! This a violation of federal racial discrimination law.  And that's not all Mr. Dale uncovered. When Straight received $100,000 in federal grants from LEAA the grant guidelines had clearly stated that the money was to be used for salaries only. But the Dale Report found that Mel Sembler had violated federal conflict of interest regulations because the LEAA money had been placed in a single bank account along with other Straight funds at First Bank of Treasure Island. What's worse, Mel Sembler was on the bank's board of directors! The report further disclosed that Straight officials Richard Batchelor, Helen Petermann and Marlene Hauser had violated federal conflict of interest law because either they or a member of their family was receiving part of the grant money as salary. Now one might tend to forgive Straight for all these violations (except for criminal child abuse) because, after all, Straight was then just a startup charity, except that Jeffrey G. Symons, director of the City of Saint Petersburg's grant program, had reported that Straight had been told previously how to structure its grants account yet had failed to do it. Furthermore John White, Straight's treasurer, was a financial officer for the City of Saint Petersburg! So Straight had to have known that it was ignoring the spirit of the giving of the federal funds. 
There is a part to the story that John Dale was apparently never aware of.
The St. Petersburg Police Department and Straight During Marshall's investigation a group calling itself Parents Associated Inc. was formed to investigate Bob Marshall! Prominent on the board of directors of PAI was Circuit Court Judge Jack Dadswell who had had two kids in The Seed and Saint Petersburg police officer Mack Vines who would be the Chief of Police by 1980 and then go on to become the Police Chief of Dallas, Texas where Straight happened to operate another treatment camp. Former acting St. Petersburg Police Chief Raymond Waymire is a founding director of Straight. Mr. Waymire had been director of the City Office of Crime Prevention. In fact during the planning stages before Straight opened Mr. Waymire and the other planners often met at the City Office of Crime Prevention.
One allegation that had surfaced during the 1978 investigations was whether Saint Petersburg police officer Ronald K. Hartz, the nephew of Straight's director, had exceeded his authority with a Straight client. In a now familiar pattern, the allegedly threatened youth was kept apparently isolated from the outside world, until he was interviewed by Chief Vines who found that Officer Hartz had not threatened the child.
In 1973 then Lt. Mac Vines of the Saint Petersburg Police Department said he agrees 80% with what The Seed is doing. Only problem, its "too secretive" and "some youngsters appeared to be confessing to drug habits they didnt have," he stated to a Saint Petersburg Times reporter. He said he heard one kid confess to using so much stuff, that if he did it, "he would have been horizontal." Yet both he and Raymond Waymire admitted to a reporter, that if a kid flees The Seed they will pick him up and return him there. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/16/73, section D.] Terry Hensley, another former police chief of Saint Petersburg, became the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation (formerly Straight Foundation). When Straight-Detroit closed Straight officer Helen Gowanny opened Pathway Family Center outside Detroit in Southfield. Dr. Isaiah McKinnon, retired Chief of Police for the City of Detroit, is an honorary board member of Pathway.
An interesting thing happened after the chief of police to be for Saint Petersburg, under his role as a private citizen, investigated HRS' Bob Marshall . One of his assistants, Lt David Milchan, who had headed the Youth Services Division of the St. Petersburg Police Department, had frequently referred families to Straight. In fact he was on the Straight Advisory Committee. Well it seems he just got tired of being a police officer after all those years of service. No he didn't bother retiring. He just up and quit and took a job with HRS. So now Straight had managed to get Bob Marshall fired for investigating Straight and get a former board member working for HRS to boot. Well, after a bit David Milchan decided that he wanted to be a policeman after all, and so he went back to law enforcement. But not as a mere lieutenant. He went to Saint Petersburg Beach which is the city of residence for Straight cofounder Joseph Zappala and, in 1981, was given the job of Chief of Police! The Saint Petersburg Beach Lions Club annually awards the Joseph Zappala Policeman of the Year Award.
At some point during his investigation, Marshall was asked by a reporter about the alleged beating of Jerry Vancil to which he had responded that if it proved to be true he would turn the matter over to Pinellas County State Attorney James T. Russell because "that would be a criminal matter." But then Jerry Vancil disappeared and has never been seen since (as far as we know), dead or alive.
More on Pinellas County states attorney James T. Russell In 1978 HRS had given Straight an interim, short-term license to fix its problems when just two weeks into the probation on the evening of February 2, 1978, a teenage girl named Gail Stephenson, dressed only in a bathrobe, blue jeans and slippers, knocked on the door to the home of Fisher and Thelma Thomas in Largo Florida and asked to use the phone. While she frantically pleaded with her sister to come get her, Straight students busted into the Thomas home without permission and forcibly carried Ms. Stephenson away. Attorney James F. Beers, representing the Suburban Estates Home Owners Association, announced that within the past few months Largo residents had seen "young teenage girls who were allegedly handcuffed together" enter the Straight foster home together. HRS officials announced that the Thomas' and other witnesses are prepared to testify "if Pinellas-Pasco state attorney James T. Russell calls for a criminal investigation." But Russell did not investigate. He let the girl remain at Straight for a week. By that time she told HRS personnel that she wanted to stay. (Events like this had happened at The Seed in Pinellas County too, but Russell refused to get involved.) Once again, Sembler, nor anyone else at Straight, was investigated. Just three months later Florida Congressman C. W. Bill Young received three complaints of abuse at Straight, one of the complaints came from fellow Congressman Robert E. Bauman from Maryland. Congressman Young turned the complaints over to James T. Russell. Even Governor Askew's aide called Russell because the governor himself had received a complaint about Straight.
HRS fired its investigator and in June gave Straight a yearly license. BOCJPA in Tallahassee announced that it would wait until Russell released his investigation before announcing its own findings and then, giving up on Russell, announced its report in early May. In June a 13 yearold female client named Mizereck jumped from the fourth floor balcony of her Tampa foster home breaking her back. She claimed she had been sexually assaulted by another female in the program. She sued Straight and Straight counter-sued HRS for granting Straight a license to operate! On June 29, probably just days after her jump, James T. Russell finally announced his own findings. Russell said that he would not prosecute Straight because there was "insufficient evidence" on which to base a case. Russell said that he could not substantiate that a counselor used a .357 Magnum revolver to threaten a client, that Straight used handcuffs on its clients, or that Straight held two Pennsylvania girls against their will. "I have no reservations at all about recommending the program to juvenile judges who place drug-troubled youths in treatment programs," Russell told the press.
In 1983 Straight - Sarasota voluntarily closed amidst an investigation by States Attorney James Gardner. Some of the complaints he was investigating included holding clients against their will, treating kids for addiction who did not have drug problems, hair pulling, kicking, hitting, biting, sitting on other clients, seclusion for hours or days, locking clients into foster homes, denial of food, forcing kids to clean toilets with their bare hands, threatening to extend clients' time at Straight is they told HRS of the abuse. Gardner gave several staff members immunity in return for their sworn depositions and they confirmed a lot of this abuse. He was further alarmed when he asked them where they had learned to abuse kids that way and was told they had been trained to do it at the Straight training center in Saint Petersburg. At least one of the Sarasota counselors took employment back at Straight - St. Petersburg. Gardner's closing of Straight - Sarasota caused Russell once against to bow to public pressure and investigate the flagship facility in Saint Petersburg, like like always, he found nothing wrong .
the Kwalls, Sheriff Rice and the Republican Party
Later Kwall left the State Attorney's Office and went into law practice with attorney Raymond O. Gross. In 1988 Kwall ran the successful campaign for Republican Everett Rice for Sheriff of Pinellas County--a position he has been reelected to every term to this very date. Then from 1992 - 1994 Kwall was chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party while Mel Sembler was treasurer for the state Republican Party. Today attorney Jean Kwall, Louis's wife) is the attorney for Sheriff Rice and Raymond Gross is a Sixth Circuit judge. [Also See Kwall in Tampa Bay Indy media's report Sembler and The Great Cooper's Point Land Scam!
The reader can go here to read of some of the criminal abuses at the founding center, but Russell did nothing about it. Or look here to see the vast chain of alleged abuses at the flagship facility under Miller Newton, but Russell did nothing. He let him go to New Jersey where he continued his reign of terror paying out $ 11 million in settlements with former clients in his last four years of operation. Russell found nothing wrong when Ohio authorities closed Straight there. He did not demand an investigation when Texas and Massachusetts closed their Straights for criminal child abuse. Incredibly, he stood idly by as Virginia authorities and California authorities closed their Straights. The point is that James T. Russell allowed the Straight Holocaust to occur and people have been damaged for life. Forty have committed suicide.
7. Saint Petersburg Times, 6-30-78, p. 16B.
8. The Saint Petersburg Times, 4-24-83, p. 1B.
9. The Saint Petersburg Times, 1-30-83, p. 1B.