Straight: Mel and Betty Sembler's $95 million charity marketing to white families and
violating human rights & civil liberties
by Wesley Fager (c) 2000
1976 to 1993 Straight, Inc. operated the world's largest chain of juvenile
drug rehabilitation programs treating perhaps as many
Straight court cases
Professionals comment on Straight
Newspaper headlines on Straight
Marketing 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.]
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]
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].
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]
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. Used to be in Pinellas County Florida that if you were a young black person with a real drug drug problem you went to Operation PAR; but if you were a white teenager who had drunk some beers or experimented with marijuana, or if you had a drug problem, you went to Straight. Today Betty Sembler is on the board of directors of Operation PAR! [Saint Petersburg Times, 7-14-95, p. 3b]
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.