The Straights: 
A Shell Game?

Introduction. Straight-Sarasota closed in 1983 amidst a state criminal investigation. Straight-Cincinnati closed in 1987 on the opening day of court proceedings against it. Straights in Southern California and Virginia Beach closed in 1990 amidst state investigations. Straight-DC closed in 1991 on the eve of its requested court hearing challenging a state decision not to renew its license. Straights in Boston and Dallas closed in 1991 amidst state investigations, as did Straight-Maryland in 1992. Straight Orlando had its license placed on a temporary status in 1991 and closed in 1992 amidst state scrutiny. In April 1993 Straight finally closed its founding center in Saint Petersburg and transferred its clients to Straight-Atlanta, but the foundation, Straight Foundation, Inc. continues to exist. The last treatment facility, at least under the name Straight, Straight-Atlanta, closed on July 1-2, 1993, but 11 days before it closed, on June 21, 1993, a woman named Kathleen M. Cone incorporated a Straight-like program called Phoenix Institute for Adolescents in Marietta, Georgia just 4 ½ miles from Straight’s facility. Kathleen Cone had been the registered agent for Straight-Atlanta. Three days before that, on June 18, 1993, a Straight-like program named Pathway Family Center was incorporated only 15 miles from the old Straight facility near Detroit. Helen Gowanny, an officer at Pathway, was also the the registered agent for Straight-Detroit! In chapter 1 you learned that when Straight-Orlando’s director Michael Scaletta closed down Straight in 1992, he opened the Straight-like program SAFE in the same warehouse from which Straight had operated on the very day that Straight closed. We also learned that when Miller Newton’s KIDS’ franchise in California closed under state pressure, Straight took over operations there. We also learned that in 1990 Kids Helping Kids of Hebron, Ky.--a Straight-like program co-founded by former Straight officer George Ross--changed its name and moved into the old Straight facility in Milford, Ohio.

In Chapter 1 you learned that at one active Straight-like program in Florida 29 clients were restrained in one month compared to only one client being restrained in 3 months at all other juvenile residential programs combined in that state district. Evidence has already been presented that Straight uses kids to brutally restrain other kids without cause, and that clients who turn 18 are frequently and illegally restrained by kid clients in order to keep them from leaving the program. Chapter 2 discusses how for over 20 years Straight has continually battled the individual states over the same recurring issues, namely, kids restraining other kids, the use of foster homes, failure to treat clients with dignity and privacy, denial of civil rights, and intentional physical and emotional abuses. Chapter 2 looks to see whether there is a connection between the new Straights like Kids of North Jersey and the old Straight, Inc. Evidence will be presented that suggests that Straight may continue to operate under new names. And if these new organizations are not tied back to Straight financially, then, at least, sufficient evidence still exists to launch an investigation to determine whether these new Straight-like programs continue to abuse children. (Straight-like implying using Straight methods--not necessarily abusive methods.) In other words has Straight continued to operate for over 20 years by playing a shell game with the individual states, changing names, hopping county and state lines, never really closing, never being prosecuted.

In his 1995 book Adolescence, Miller Newton names only 5 long-term, juvenile drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers. All are Straight-like programs. They are: KIDS of North Jersey, Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati, Growing Together, Pathway Family Center and Second Chance. Each is discussed among other adolescent drug rehabilitaton programs next.


A Shell Game: Name Changing and Hopping County & State Lines?

Drug Free America, Inc., Saint Petersburg, Florida. In the mid 1980s, after the devastating Fred Collin’s award of $220,000 and facing other giant lawsuits, Mel Sembler created Straight Foundation, Inc. and Straight, Inc. out of the old Straight, Inc. Ostensibly, Straight, Inc. would operate all the treatment facilities; the foundation would take any profits from Straight, Inc. and sponsor drug awareness programs. It appears that immediately after the split, the foundation took almost all the money. Except for printing Straight’s newsletter this author can find no evidence that the foundation spent money on anything. But there is plenty of evidence that the foundation was actually a fund raiser for Straight. The last treatment faculty to operate under the name Straight, Straight-Atlanta, closed in 1993. But the foundation never terminated. On December 5, 1995 Straight Foundation, Inc. changed its name to Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. It currently operates at 504 Pasadena Ave., Saint Petersburg, Florida (813) 893-2616. As of March 1998 its officers are Mel Sembler (Straight’s co-founder), Walter Loebenberg (former Chairman and President of Straight Foundation), Joseph Garcia (former Chairman, Straight Executive Committee), and Marlene McCord who works for Sembler Company.

ACE, Inc., Orlando, Florida. Michael Scaletta had served at Straight’s national headquarters in Saint Petersburg, but one of his last assignments was as director of Straight, Orlando. On August 14, 1992, the very day Straight closed its Orlando facility, Straight-Orlando’s director Michael Scaletta opened a Straight-like program called Substance Abuse Family Education, Inc. (SAFE) in the same facility in which Straight had operated. He took over Straight’s clients. Today SAFE is called ACE, Inc.

Kids of Bergen County, New Jersey. Straight was a Saint Petersburg, Florida-based corporation. Through the years it has had a sizable group of people sitting on its board of directors --usually as apparent figure-heads lending credibility to the program. Understandably--as can be seen in the listing for the board of directors in Appendix C--almost all board members were from Saint Petersburg or Clearwater, Florida.a In 1986 Straight Foundation, Inc. selected one Norman Trenton from Los Angles as its treasurer. This is strange since Straight had no apparent interest in L.A. at that time. Since Straight had no operations in New Jersey, it is also strange that Straight had two board members from northern New Jersey (Ray Chambers from Morristown, and Stanley M. Bernstein from Secaucus) since it did not operate in that area either. When Miller Newton, Straight’s former national clinical director, left Straight in 1983, he opened Kids of Bergen County near where these two future Straight board members live. In 1990 he moved his program to Secaucus. Newton later operated a franchise outside Los Angeles in Yorba Linda--just popping open without seeking a state license. After Newton closed his franchise after coming under fire from California authorities, Straight opened a facility in the same building.

AARC, Calgary, Alberta Canada. Between June 1988 and February 1989 Straight operated a Family Service Center in Edmonton, Alberta Canada.  Straight’s former national clinical director, Miller Newton, also sought a Canadian connection. In March 1990 he was in Canada on business. Dr. Dean Vause trained at Newton’s New Jersey facility. In 1990 Dr. Vause formulated the Straight-like program AARC (Alberta Adolescent Recovery Center) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada 160 air miles from Straight’s former service center.

Life Line, Salt Lake City. KIDS of Salt Lake City was another Newton franchise to come under fire in the late 1980s for abusing children. After it closed c. 1990, Life Line opened in the old KIDS facility at 462 Bearcat Dr. Life Line is a youth-helping-youth, juvenile drug rehabilitation program.

Phoenix Institute for Adolescents, Marietta, Georgia. When Straight-Sarasota closed in 1983, its clients were transferred to Straight-St Pete. When Straight closed operations at its founding center in Saint Petersburg in April 1993, its Saint Petersburg clients were transferred to Straight-Atlanta which is actually in Marietta, Georgia. In May Straight’s national headquarters closed. Straight-Atlanta had been the first Straight to open outside of Florida and the last Straight to close when it shut down on July 1-2, 1993. On June 21, 1993, three days after Pathway Family Center was incorporated in Detroit and 11 days before Straight-Atlanta closed, Kathleen M. Cone incorporated the Straight-like program Phoenix Institute for Adolescents in Marietta, only 4 ½ miles N.E. of Straight’s camp. Kathleen Cone had been the registered agent for Straight-Atlanta!

Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati. When Straight-Cincinnati closed in 1987, its clients were transferred to Straights in Atlanta and Detroit. Straight director Dr. George Ross left Straight in 1980 to form a string of Straight-like programs including Kids Helping Kids of Hebron, KY which borders with Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1990 the program moved into the same facility in Milford, Ohio that Straight had occupied. It is known today as Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati and owned by Tri-State Drug Rehabs of Hebron, KY. At least one former Straight counselor works for KHK of Cincinnati. Her husband, also a former Straight counselor, has previously been a staff coordinator with KHK of Cincinnati.

Growing Together, Lake Worth, Florida. Growing Together, a Straight-like program in the West Palm Beach area of Florida, grew out of LIFE, Inc. Straight ran a Family Service Center in the West Palm Beach area in Tequesta/Jupiter Florida. Historically--as with Straight’s Family Service Centers in Dallas and in Virginia Beach--Straight has first opened a FSC prior to opening a treatment facility.

Second Chance, Memphis, Tennessee. Second Chance in Memphis, TN is an active juvenile therapeutic community which combines Straight-like therapies with Christian living. Its founder, Scotty  Cassidy, claims that before opening Second Chance he worked in adolescent drug rehabilitation programs in the Tampa area. There are notes from a Straight staff meeting which mention a Straight official at Straight-St Pete named Scotty Cassidy. A newspaper article mentions that a Scotty Cassidy was scheduled to be the founding director of Straight-Dallas.

Pathways Family Center, Southfield, MI. On March 3, 1992 Jeff Messer of Valrico, Florida and a 1989 graduate of Straight wrote a letter of complaint to Florida’s HRS. He reported that while he was in Straight his father had been recuperating from open heart surgery, his mother had been released from a treatment facility herself, and his grandmother was terminally ill in the hospital. In spite of all this family hardship, he wrote that a Straight official named Helen Gowanny told him that he could not progress in the program until his parents opened up a host home! In 1992 Helen Gowanny was the registered agent for Straight-Detroit in Plymouth, Michigan which closed in 1993. On June 18, 1993 a Straight-like program called Pathway Family Center was incorporated in Southfield, MI just 15 miles from the old Straight camp. Helen Gowanny is an officer with Pathway.

Straight-DC. When Straight closed in Springfield, Virginia during a state investigation, it took its kids across the boarder to a warehouse in Columbia, Maryland on the other side of the nation’s capital and set up operations there. It just popped open without a license. It closed down within a year amidst a state investigation. The program was re-opened under the name Renewed Horizons in Ellicott City, Md. Renewed Horizons, which apparently lasted less than one year, had been founded by former Straight parents.

Straight-Dallas. Initially Straight Dallas was in Richardson, Texas. Later it moved to Irvin, Texas but maintaining its name. The reason for the move is not clear.

So where are the Straight's today?  Click here.