Mel and Betty Sembler,
issues with human rights and civil liberties

by Wesley Fager (c) 2000
[latest update in red 10-27-05]
They run very close to really performing psychic murder.
Marge Robertson, executive director of the Cincinnati Chapter of the ACLU, speaking of Straight, Inc., from Cincinnati Post
I know Craig Sher [CEO of Sembler Company]; I know Mel Sembler. I believe these are fine, caring, committed individuals and community people. I would accuse neither of being a racist.
Darryl Rouson, president of the St. Petersburg, Fl. chapter of the NAACP and Sembler business partner.
It just shows that we must have been doing things right.
Straight founder Mel Sembler bragging to Florida Trend Magazine in 1997 about the lawsuit filed against Straight-Atlanta for violating the civil rights of American teenagers.
From 1976 to 1993 Straight, Inc. operated the world's largest chain of juvenile drug rehabilitation programs treating perhaps as many
Uhurus protest at Sembler's $40 million BayWalk as Sembler teams with black businessmen to build in Midtown
by Wesley Fager (c) 10/18/03
On Valentine's Day+1 2004 the Uhuru, a black political action group, joined with the Straight Awareness crowd for a protest at Mel and Betty Sembler's home in Treasure Island. [photo above]

Earlier this year the city of St. Petersburg, Florida paid $1 million for 3.7 acres of land in an economically deprived section of town known as Midtown--a predominantly African American neighborhood. The mayor has said that the city intends to have a shopping center built there which will include a grocery store. The city purchased the land as an inducement to get a developer to develop it. During the week of September 8 the city asked for bids to develop the site giving high noon October 17 as the bid cutoff date. The Saint Petersburg Times reported on the city's plan in an article dated September 14. In preparing that story Times reporter Sharon Bond called Craig Sher, CEO of Sembler Company, to ask him his thoughts on the city's plan's since at the groundbreaking for the University Village shopping center he had said it's time development ideas focused on Midtown. When asked, Sher said "he had no comment on it right now."

On October 9, in an event at the time, at least, completely unrelated to Midtown, members of Uhuru, which is part of the African People's Socialist Party, staged a demonstration at Sembler's $40 million BayWalk shopping center carrying banners declaring BayWalk Is For Whites Only. They claim they will come back every week to stage protests. They accuse the police of racial profiling in the matter and accuse the Saint Petersburg Times of siding with police in the matter.[2]

Then, somehow, just before high noon this past Thursday The Saint Petersburg Times learned that Larry J. Newsome of Urban Development Solutions Inc. had stated that his company would be placing a bid to develop the Midtown property. They hope to build a Kash n' Karry on the site. What's more the Times reported that Darryl Rouson, director of the local chapter of the NAACP, was a member of Urban Development Solutions and that Sembler Company had partnered with Urban Development Solutions for the Midtown bid! . In April Rouson had been the guest speaker at Temple Beth-El on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Temple Beth-El is the synagogue to which Ambassador Mel Sembler, founder of Straight and the Sembler Company, belongs. Walter Loebenberg, formerly president of Straight Foundation, belongs to Temple Beth-El along with Craig Sher, CEO of Sembler Company who is the former vice president of Temple Beth-El, Sher's wife who chairs the school board and Leonard Englander, Sembler's attorney, who is the former president of Temple Beth-El. The Times did not report on any other bidders. There is no guarantee that the UDS/Sembler team will even get the job. But one thing is abundantly clear to this writer and that is win or lose, the world will know that the Sembler Company tries to work partnerships with blacks.

Read Sembler allies with NAACP to counter Uhuru claims of racism


1 St. Petersburg Times, 9/14/03, p. 1
2 St. Petersburg Times, 10/10/03, p. 3B
3 St. Petersburg Times, 10/17/03, p. 1B

as 50,000 kids. But, next to the treatment by white Americans of American Negroes prior to 1970 and to the treatment of native Americans throughout America's history, Straight, Inc. is the biggest violator of human rights and civil liberties that this country has ever seen. There are accounts of food and sleep deprivation, making kids soil their pants, beatings, spitting in kids faces, and marathon sessions where teenagers would be yelled at by many other kids for long periods of time. Children were forbidden from reading any material including religious books. Conditions were so deplorable that kids had to be watched 24/7, even as they wiped themselves on the toilet (reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps where Jews were made to defecate publicly like cats and dogs) to make sure they did not commit suicide. Under such deplorable and humiliating conditions many kids resorted to carving on their bodies with a fingernail, piece of broken chair, or whatever else they could find just as a caged animal gnarls at an open sore. Straight used cajole and intimidation to force teenagers to talk about their deepest darkest secret (frequently sexual) and then often Straight further humiliated the child by sharing the forced confessions with the larger Group of kids. In violation of US Civil Rights laws, Straight accepted federal money which had been collected from tax money from blacks and whites and used that money to treat almost exclusively white children. This was perhaps due to the perception that white families were in a better economic position to pay Straight's high fees. Straight watched kids to make sure they did not kill themselves while in the program, but Straight had no plan to keep these kids (suffering from Straight-induced PTSS, depression, and humiliation about their sex lives) from killing themselves once they left. Indeed there have been over 40 post Straight suicides (including second-generation Straights): one black who killed himself while still in a second-generation Straight, three women, and the rest, predictably, all white males. The enormity of The Great Straight Holocaust can begun to be grasped by reviewing the following pages:
Straight court cases
Professionals comment on Straight
Newspaper headlines on Straight

Marketing Straight to whites
An analysis of Straight�s tax returns shows that it grossed nearly $100,000,000 of which $18,000,000 alone was from tax exempt donations. I believe that, for the most part, the donors of the money were led to believe they were donating money to help teenagers receive drug rehabilitation, though some donors thought they were helping pay for Straight�s legal expenses in its numerous civil litigations and others felt they were helping the Straight building fund while still others felt they were educating the public about the dangers of improper drug use.  But how much of the donated money actually went to help needy kids receive drug rehabilitation?  Citizens and corporations donated $18 million,  in large part,  to help needy kids get the drug treatment that Straight claimed they needed, yet Straight�s own tax returns show that only $1,375,024 was used for specific assistance to people. In other words, Straight�s own records show that less than 8% of every dollar donated actually was used for assistance to needy people.

Straight began operation in 1976.  According to the Saint Petersburg Times a special report on Straight in 1978 called Special On-site Monitoring Report on Straight by Florida�s Bureau of Criminal Justice Planning and Assistance (BOCJPA)'s assistant chief John H. Dale, Jr. found that Straight �disguised� client fees as �donations�. According to the Times article in those days Straight asked parents for donations, "but program officials have insisted that payment is not required." The report stated that Jim Hartz (then Straight�s clinical director) "could only remember one instance in which the fees had been waived." (About 450 people had been enrolled in Straight by then.) [Saint Petersburg Times, May 7, 1978, p. 3b.]

The "pot" calling the kettle black
They [groups hoping to profit from drug legalization] don't care about civil liberties or our nation's children. . . They only care about getting rich . . .
Betty Sembler, from a letter dated July 6, 2004 to a US Representative

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. Could it have been that Pinellas County Florida had no drug problem with black youths? Well Operation PAR was another juvenile drug rehab program in Pinellas County then and Operation PAR had a population base which varied from 40 - 50 youths�ALL WERE BLACK. At its inception Straight had six young counselors who had graduated from The Seed (and who hopefully had graduated from high school), a clinical director who had been a parent in The Seed and was a high school dropout, and a director with a masters degree in clinical psychology. By comparison PAR counselors had to have at least two years of college. Straight had started with $100,000 in federal grants its first two years plus other private cash donations.  The facility had been donated.   Operation PAR was not grantless either. Operation PAR made a distinction between casual use of beer and marijuana, Straight does not. In 1981 Straight charged between $750 - $1,700 (it claimed based on a person�s ability to pay); PAR charged about $3 per session. [Saint Petersburg Times, March 3, 1978, p. 3a] Straight went defunct in 1993 and not surprisingly  Betty Sembler is on the board of directors of Operation PAR.   [See Move Over Shirley, Here Comes Betty Sembler.] 

Straight's Bruce Epstein appointed interim director of Florida Holocaust Museum
If you go to the home page of the Florida Holocaust Museum based in Saint Petersburg right there top, dead center is a swapping image of photos from America's past of the dastardly violation of the civil rights of American blacks. The photos are from the latest exhibit at that museum. It is sponsored by The St. Petersburg Times. It is proper that Jewish Holocaust Museums should have such an exhibit since in the last millennium no groups have had their civil and human rights trampled upon as much as the American Negro, the gentle Cambodian people and, of course, Jews in Nazi Germany. It is only fitting therefor that that a Holocaust Museum should pay tribute to the disgusting treatment of American blacks prior to 1970. But we do have a problem that this Holocaust Museum, the Florida Holocaust Museum, hosting an exhibit on the violations of civil rights in America--at least under the present management of the Florida Holocaust Museum. And that has to do with Straight, Inc. which, next to the treatment by white Americans of Negroes and native Americans, falls third on the list of violators of human rights and civil liberties.

The Florida Holocaust Museum was founded by Walter Lobenberg, formerly president of Straight Foundation, Inc. and current board member of the Drug Free America Foundation (Straight's latest name). Straight founders Mel and Betty Sembler have been longtime board members of the Florida Holocaust Museum, though they may have recently had themselves removed, perhaps over the Straight issue. Former Straight board member Jay Snyder has been a member of the board. Jan Sher, wife of Sembler Company CEO Craig Sher, is a board member. Marti Heath, director of ISAC (International Survivors Action Committee), a watchdog for abusive juvenile treatment programs, has discussed with former museum director Gary Polland issues that Straight survivors have with the Holocaust Museum. A transcript is here. Before the recent tragic death of museum director Larry Wasser, Chris Tyler, a Straight survivor, had been in contact with Mr. Wasser. Tyler had even threatened to protest the Florida Holocaust Museum if it did not do something about its heritage with and ties to former Straight officers. And then, almost as if to slap Straight survivors in the face, upon the death of Larry Wasser an interim museum director was appointed--Dr. Bruce Epstein, another former Straight board member! [R. Andrew "Andy" Maass has subsequently been hired as the permanent new director.]

On January 7, 2003 ISAC filed a formal complaint with the United Nations against Sembler and Straight, Inc. for the high sounding charge of crimes against humanity. What ISAC got back was a form letter dated February 6 from Markus Schmidt, Secretary of the Human Rights Committee. Mr. Schmidt had denied ISAC's request to even look into the matter. Why? Not because the UN had found no preliminary evidences to substantiate an investigation. Not because the forms were not properly filed or even because statues of limitations had run out. No. Mr. Schmidt responded that the Committee Against Torture cannot examine petitions alleging violations of the Convention Against Torture unless the State has made a declaration under Article 22 recognizing the Committee's competence to receive and consider petitions. He indicated that the USA has not made that declaration. In other words the United States has never agreed to let its citizens be investigated or arrested by international policemen--and rightfully so as it would be abhorrent to allow blue helmeted Gestapo from Syria or Pakistan to knock on our doors and interrogate American citizens.

Meanwhile Sembler's attorney Leonard Englander who has been successful in silencing Ray Bradbury from telling the story of Straight, seems to be mum himself in calling for an outcry from the Florida Holocaust museum for cozy relationships with former and current Straight officers. Surely has had to read up on what he has gagged Bradbury from saying. Lenny Englander is another Florida Holocaust Museum board member.

Related articles:
The case to protest the Florida Holocaust Museum, and why the media will not cover such protests
Protesters picket Florida Holocaust Museum 2004 Awards Banquet
Protest of Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida, April 3, 2004

In 1971 doctors Robert L. DuPont, Jr. and Richard Katon published an article in Modern Medicine in which they estimated that there were 17,000 presumed addicts in Washington, D.C. and that 91% were black.. [DuPont and Katon, "Physicians and the Heroin Addiction Epidemic", Modern Medicine (6-28-71), p. 123.]  DuPont testified to Congress in 1971 that . . . opiate addiction is concentrated in the lower social classes. In Washington, D.C., only about 4 % of our patients [on methadone maintenance] are white . . .  [U.S. Congress, House Select Committee on Crime, Narcotics Research, Rehabilitation, and Treatment, 92d Congress, 1st Session, 1971, Pt 1, p.157.]   DuPont went on to become the White House Drug Czar, and, later, a paid consultant for Straight. In fact, he has testified in deposition that it was his idea for Straight to go national. With DuPont living in the Washington, DC area, and with his "expert knowledge of drug abuse in the black community" in the national capital area, it is not surprising that Straight opened a treatment facility in 1982 in the Washington, D.C. area to treat the drug problem that he knew blacks were having there. In February 1983 during deposition for the Fred Collins trial Dr. Miller Newton, Straight�s new director, stated, incredibly, that out of 156 kids at Straight�DC, he thought there were 4 blacks, 3-4 Hispanics, 1 oriental, and no native Americans. When asked by Mr. Collins� attorney, And these [Straight] kids come from a higher economic background, do they not?  Newton had replied, Mostly but not always.   Speaking at a press conference in 1978 Straight�s then director Jim Hartz admitted that out of 200 clients currently enrolled at Straight-St Pete there were only three blacks and two other minorities. And yet five years later at the Fred Collin�s trial, Dr. Newton admitted that out of 260 some kids at Straight-St. Pete, there were no blacks!  Six years later in 1989 Straight�s national research director Dr. Richard Schwartz published a NIDA funded study on Straight - Springfield titled Outcome of a Unique Youth Drug Abuse Program: A Follow-up Study of Clients of Straight, Inc. in which he described the race distribution in the demographic characteristics of the study sample of 222 follow-up clients as 99 whites and 1 black. In 1990 Lee County, Florida awarded a $10,000 grant to a juvenile drug rehab program which appeared to have many similarities to Straight  called Outreach in Cape Coral, Florida. There was a stipulation that the money was to be used to help minorities who could not afford the program�s fees. Yet an expose in the Ft Myers News Press found that Outreach had no minority clients or minority staff members!    In a sworn affidavit made by Straight Foundation board member and attorney Jay Snyder on January 17, 1991, Mr. Snyder made this statement, . . . research has shown that over the last 3 years there has been a decline in Straight�s market, to-wit: middle and upper income children involved in drugs. Instead, more lower income families are affected.

The early Straight had been funded,  in large part,  by federal tax money.  Some of that tax money had been paid by black citizens,  yet Straight  had not marketed to black teenagers.   Then,  suddenly,  after six years of criticism by the government and by the media,  Straight finally hired its first black, executive staff member.  Her name was Beverly Hardy.  She was hired to be trained to become the program coordinator for Straight--Cincinnati.   And she had the perfect credentials to be a Straight program coordinator.  She lacked a bachelor's degree from a four year college,  but she did have an  associate degree.  Her degree had nothing to do with drug rehabilitation at all.  It was an associate degree,  appropriately, for Straight,  in marketing.  She had a "nine-year drug past."    Somebody got to the Saint Petersburg Independent (the old evening edition of the Saint Petersburg Times) which did a three day serial promotion on Straight.  The series was written by a black female reporter named Bettinita Harris (we know this because her picture is included) and featured many stories including that of Beverly Hardy who is quoted as saying,  I wish the word would get out that Straight doesn't have a color.    The new ebony and ivory Straight had the series mimeographed and distributed as a promotional brochure.  [Saint Petersburg Independent, 7-27-82, p. 1b;  7-28-82, p. 1b;  7-29-82, p. 1b]. 

Straight, running afoul of the ACLU
Not surprisingly Straight and The Seed program upon which it was patterned were frequently in trouble with the ACLU as told here.

Related stories:

  • The Barbareo Report to the ACLU concerning the second generation Straight Kids of Bergen County
  • Sembler behind brief to the US Supreme Court to force kids to pee in a bottle in violation of their Fourth Amendment protecting against unreasonable searches without probable cause
  • Sembler Company is using bicycle barricades to control free speech on public sidewalks and attorney Mark Kamleiter of the ACLU is considering suing. story

In 1985 a newspaper reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch named Joy Winstead did a special three article report for the Sunday edition of that paper on Straight. She featured Family A and Family B�both had a child in Straight. In Family A the father was a manager with five years of college and the mother with one year of college. They had recently moved back from Europe. Their eldest daughter had been picked for a school for exceptional children because of her high IQ. She had studied piano, violin, gymnastics and dance. But this exceptional child had become involved in drugs which led her to having sex with several men, to committing crimes,  to slicing her wrists, and to finally having a homosexual affair with an older  lesbian woman!   [Author: This is a typical scenario from Miller Newton's book Kids, Drugs and Sex.]   Finally she found  Straight and is  maintaining a 3.5 average in high school!  The father of Family B had five years of college and the mother two. Yet their son had become involved with drugs. One day the mother had noticed the boy had red eyes. That�s a good clue, Ms. Winstead had written. They like to blame it [red eyes] on the pool. Straight was so pleased with the article that they had it printed up and used as an eight page promotional brochure. The back page shows a table with statistics on Straight. One statistics states: The average [Straight] client comes from a middle-class suburban home (60 percent of the families have incomes over $40,000) and has an above-average IQ.  Straight wasn�t saying that 60% of the nation�s drug using teenagers were now from upper-income, middle class families;  Straight was saying that drug abusing kids can be found in ghettos and in affluent white neighborhoods.  And Straight was saying that if you are affluent and your kid has red eyes then he is using drugs and will either kill himself or become a homosexual unless you get him into Straight!  [Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 13, 1985]

Mel Sembler is one big hypocrite
by Wes Fager, Jan. 2005

For 17 years Melvin Sembler operated one of the most destructive juvenile rehabilitation programs the world has ever seen--Straight, Inc. Straight sought white children almost exclusively. Straight denied citizens their civil rights and human dignities. Kids were deprived of food and sleep, beaten without cause, made to soil their pants, spat on, denied private access for a bowel movement. So imagine our contempt when we learned that last month Ambassador Sembler wrote an op-ed for La Nazione/Il Resto del Carlino/Il Giorno that he titled Human Rights Day in which he saluted the opening of the Italian office Ufficio Nazionale Antidiscriminazioni Razziali which will handle ethnic and racial discrimination complaints. He noted that earlier in the year the Italian government had founded an interministerial committee on anti-Semitism. In his piece the ambassador praised the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights noting that it was written to assert "the primacy of human rights and the dignity of individuals." He noted that the rise of democracy in India put an end to the "noxious' notion that democracy was just for a "few wealthy, Western nations." Perhaps his quote that peaved us most was when he wrote, "human rights are indeed inalienable."

On March 12, 2003 Ambassador Mel Sembler, AO wrote an op-ed for the Italian paper "Il Giornale" titled, "It's Time to End Twelve Years of Deception and Denial." What Sembler was writing about was Saddam Hussein. He stated that for 12 years Mr. Hussein had tried to avoid the consequences for failing to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. Yet for over 30 years Mr. Sembler himself has been deceiving friends and enemies alike into believing Straight is something the facts show it is not. Yes, Mr. Sembler, it is time to end 30 years of deception and denial.

What is it with this guy. We have all come to believe that all almost all politicians are liars, yet we still vote for them. When a politician is blindsided with an unexpected question at a press conference and he lies, we can live with that. But when he purposely calls the press conference himself so that he can tell a lie, now that's something we can not tolerate--like the time Bill Clinton called a press conference to look us all right in the eye to say, "I did not have sex with that woman!" Monica Lewinsky saved her semen-stained dress, now that was seamy, but it got Clinton impeached. It served a purpose. So who is worse? A politician who calls us all in to tell us a big lie, or a young intern who saves stained dress? Melvin Sembler operated a program that violated human rights--and got by with it. It is unwise of him to voluntarily write an op-ed on "human rights."
Sembler's op-ed

If you watched any of the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia   you saw a sea of black and white faces on  stage,  but there were few blacks in the ranks of voting delegates out in the audience. So, according to political commentator John Young of the Waco Tribune Herald,  the camera shots of the audience kept showing the same black faces over and over.  Usually when you saw a picture of George Bush, Jr.,  he was backed by J. C. Watts,  the black congressman form Oklahoma.  If you see a photo of  George Junior back home in Texas where he is governor,  chances are you'll see black political activist Michael Williams of the Texas Railroad Commission.   George Senior once made a TV commercial for Straight after receiving a quarter million dollars in donations from Straight co-founders Mel Sembler and Joseph Zappala,  and he made the two U.S. ambassadors.   Today Mel Sembler is our ambassador to Italy and his wife Betty,  who is called Ambassadorable  by Florida's Governor Jeb Bush,  was Jeb's  finance co-chairman when he ran for governor.   On June 17, 1984 the Detroit Free Press did a special report on Straight - Cincinnati which told the horrific stories of Straight students.  Several photos are presented.  You can count the faces of over 35 boys and girls--they are all white!  Three months later, on Monday September 17, 1984  Nancy Reagan toured Straight - Cincinnati.  There is a famous photo of that historic visit that you can find in a Straight newsletter of the times.  It is a photo of Nancy Reagan sitting in the audience at on Open Meeting flanked by a well groomed young male wearing a suit and tie on one side of her,  and a smartly dressed, attractive young female on her other side.  The female is black. 

After his unsuccessful bid for governor of Florida in 1994 Jeb Bush formed the non-profit Foundation for Florida's Future which employed two of his campaign aides.   But a 1998 expose by Florida TV station WJXT on that charity reported that only 27% of the raised money actually went to programs  with most going to administrative salaries for foundation employees.  The one shining example of the foundation's work that Jeb likes to boast about is the foundation's effort to form the  Charter School in Miami for underprivileged kids which he had established along with black political activist T. Willard Fair, President of the Greater Miami Urban League.  After winning the 1998 gubernatorial election,  Jeb appointed T. Williard Fair as a co-chairman of his inaugural committee.   The WJXT report found that only $33,000 or just  2% of the foundation's raised money went to  the Charter School (although the foundation did loan it $40,000).   The foundation's annual report shows that  the Sembler Company and  the Huizenga Family Foundation both gave $5,000 or more to Jeb's foundation [former drug czar and paid Straight consultant  Robert DuPont sits on the board of  Psychemedics,  a Huizenga's drug hair testing company.]     In her continuing efforts to affect the nation's drug policy Mrs. Ambassadorable has formed a new tax exempt, anti-drug foundation called Save Our Society from  Drugs or S.O.S.   Prominent on its board of directors is none other than T. Williard Fair.        

Perhaps Straight felt it was not so important to accept minority clients or to hire minority staffers as long as it told state officials that it had an affirmative action policy.  Whatever.  The question remains:  Is Straight�s motivation to help American youngsters?--as it claims. Or is it to help white American youngsters? Or is it simply to make money by marketing a product to the parents of white American youngsters--they  being better able to pay Straight�s huge fees than minority parents?  

On June 5, 1999 Betty Sembler was the keynote speaker at the Saint Petersburg, Florida NAACP Awards Banquet.

Related articles:
The case to protest the Florida Holocaust Museum, and why the media will not cover such protests
Protesters picket Florida Holocaust Museum 2004 Awards Banquet
Sembler allies with NAACP to counter Uhuru claims of racism
Protest of Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida, April 3, 2004
Uhuru protest Ambassador Sembler's House for 2nd time in a month
the growing rift in St. Petersburg, Florida's black community: should we call it containment or demand reduction?
The tampa bay independent media center covers the Uhuru protest
BayWalk Diversity Weekend and the Ultimate Honor for Mel Sembler
Sembler allies with NAACP to counter Uhuru claims of racism
Who are the Uhuru and what's their beef with Mel Sembler?
Florida Holocaust Museum insults Straight survivors
InPDUM News, the voice of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement
The growing rift in St. Petersburg, Florida's black community