Lawsuits hit a Romney money man
June 20, 2007
By Alexander Bolton
More Lichfield / WWASPS news
Romney / Lichfield news ...
5/6/07 - Suit alleging abuse names GOP donor [RECAF
& ROBERT LICHFIELD]
PAC donations from Utah raise
doubts in Maine [RECAF & ROBERT LICHFIELD]
5/6/07 - How we traced the money [RECAF & ROBERT
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt
Romney (R) has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars through
the fundraising efforts of a supporter targeted by several lawsuits
alleging child abuse.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S.
District Court for the District of Utah, 133 plaintiffs have alleged
that Robert Lichfield, co-chairman of Romney’s Utah finance
committee owned or operated residential boarding schools for
troubled teenagers where students were “subjected to physical abuse,
emotional abuse and sexual abuse.”
The complaint, which plaintiffs
amended and resubmitted to the court last week, alleges children
attending schools operated by Lichfield suffered abuses such as
unsanitary living conditions; denial of adequate food; exposure to
extreme temperatures; beatings; confinement in dog cages; and sexual
A second lawsuit filed by more than
25 plaintiffs in July in the U.S. District Court of the Northern
District of New York alleges that Lichfield and several partners
entered into a scheme to defraud them by operating an unlicensed
boarding school in upstate New York. The suit does not allege
physical or emotional abuse.
These are two active lawsuits
against Lichfield. Several others suits have alleged child abuse on
behalf of dozens of plaintiffs, but judges have thrown out the suits
for procedural reasons. As a result, the merits of the allegations
have not been weighed. In some suits, plaintiffs have settled their
cases for undisclosed amounts of money.
The allegations could force Romney
to re-examine his relationship with his Utah finance co-chairman or
put pressure on him to give away the contributions Lichfield helped
Lichfield helped to organize a
February event in St. George, Utah, that raised about $300,000 for
the Romney campaign. Romney has six finance committee co-chairmen in
Utah. Since the beginning of 2003, Lichfield has given money to at
least seven other Republican candidates and also to the National
Republican Congressional Committee and Bush-Cheney ’04 Inc.
Overall, Romney has raised $2.7
million in Utah for his presidential campaign, far more than any
other candidate, according to data compiled by the Federal Election
Commission (FEC). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has raised the second
most in the state, $113,000.
“Mr. Lichfield is one of 6
Co-Chairman of our Utah finance team,” said Romney spokeswoman Gail
Gitcho in a statement. “He has donated to numerous Republican
candidates and committees. The Romney campaign will continue its
policy to make our fundraising efforts as transparent as possible.”
Lichfield did not respond to
requests for comment made through the World Wide Association of
Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS). WWASPS is his co-defendant
in several lawsuits and Lichfield sits on its board of directors.
Plaintiffs represented by the
Dallas-based Turley Law Firm claim Lichfield and WWASPS helped to
run boarding schools where staff abused students and “acted in
concert” to “fraudulently conceal the extent and nature of the
physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse occurring at its
[member] schools,” their complaint states.
The plaintiffs include former
boarding school students and their parents.
The president of WWASPS, Ken Kay,
said in an interview the lawsuits are a ploy to get money and
dismissed the credibility of former students making allegations.
“Most of them are ludicrous,” Kay
said of the claims made against his organization and the boarding
schools. “A certain percentage of the kids [who participate] are
never going to be happy. They weren’t happy with public schools,
they weren’t happy with law enforcement, and they have a long
history of lying, fabricating and twisting the story around to their
“Many of them have done poorly and
have filed suits [since leaving the schools],” he added. “They have
had problem with their families, churches, public schools and
outpatient therapy. A large percentage of these kids have been [in]
other treatment programs.”
The legal disputes shine light on
the obscure world of boarding schools for troubled teens.
Years ago, parents set their
troublesome teenagers to military schools. In recent years,
boot-camp boarding schools, where staff emphasize discipline, have
become popular. The schools affiliated with Lichfield and WWASPS fit
The parents suing Lichfield sent
their kids to WWASPS-affiliated schools such as Cross Creek Center
for Boys in LaVerkin, Utah; Majestic Ranch Academy in Randolph,
Utah; and The Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg after they got into
trouble for insubordination, drug use or petty theft.
The parents learned of the boarding
schools through Teen Help, a business owned by Lichfield that
matched parents and their children with boarding schools around the
country and in Mexico, Costa Rica, and American Samoa. Lichfield had
consulting relationships with nearly all the schools, according to
Kay. In some instances Lichfield rented property to the schools,
said Kay, who did not name the properties specifically.
Plaintiffs have alleged that
Lichfield made millions from the schools.
Former students allege they were
transported against their will — sometimes in handcuffs — by
operators such as Clean and Sober Solutions and Teen Escort Services
to far-away locations.
Once at the boarding schools, they
say they were subject to harsh treatment. Some students say they
never attended classes and simply received books to read on their
own without supervision. Others allege that staff at the schools
threatened them with cattle prods and punished severely violations
of school rules. Several students alleged in legal complaints that
they were forced to lie face down on the floor for hours at a time,
forbidden from moving their arms or legs.
Kay said WWASPS worked only with
the schools and never had direct contact with the students. He also
said only a very small percentage of former students have brought
Kay also said that the vast
majority of former students never alleged abusive treatment.
A survey by The Hill found at least
nine lawsuits filed in the last nine years against specialty
boarding schools affiliated with Lichfield. Judges threw out more
than half of the complaints because of procedural objections.
For example, a suit filed in Los
Angeles Superior Court in 2005 on behalf of more than 20 plaintiffs
was dismissed by a judge who found California did not have
jurisdiction over the matter, according to Henry Bushkin, the
plaintiffs’ attorney. Bushkin said he would gather more evidence to
show a California court could hear the suit.
One of the lawyers making
allegations against Lichfield is Thomas M. Burton, by his own
account, a relative of Romney through marriage and a one-time friend
of the ex-governor’s late father, George Romney.
Burton said he has filed six
unsuccessful suits against Lichfield. He said judges have thrown out
his complaints because of various procedural difficulties.
Citing an example, Burton said one
case could not proceed because his client, Clayton Bowman, a
resident of the state of Washington, could not bear the
psychological anguish of testifying about his experience at one of
the WWASP-affiliated schools.