Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sembler is now saying he wasn't in on the day-to-day operations of Straight. I've got real problems with that.

I'm upset. I was just reading the St. Petersburg Times. Another article by Mary Jane Park about St. Petersburg's royal family, the Semblers. This one was her first report on Mel and Betty's 50th wedding anniversary at their Magic Kingdom with the biggest rose garden in Rome. Everybody who is somebody in Pinellas County plus foreign dignitaries from all over the world were there. That was nice. But what upset me was something Betty said. Ms. Park noted that when the Semblers went to Rome hubby Mel had more than he could possibly do managing all those affairs of state, but what did the Misses do all day. Ms. Park wrote,
"Mrs. Sembler said one issue for her was 'finding a niche for myself. . . . It was easy for me.' She chairs the Drug Free America Foundation in St. Petersburg and is on the phone to the office nearly every day."
On September 28, 2005 Melvin Sembler voluntarily submitted a sworn affidavit to the Sixth Circuit in the matter of PumpGate in which he declared, "Neither my wife nor I participated in the day-to-day operations of Straight, Inc." [PumpGate: the ambassador's bizarre lawsuit against a former worker to reclaim his discarded penis pump and to sue the man for mental anguish.] If I told you that the Drug Free America Foundation and Straight, Inc. are the same organization, you'd probably see why I'm so upset.

In 1976 Melvin and Betty Sembler founded a juvenile drug rehabilitation program they called Straight, Inc. But Straight, Inc. was a teenage torture camp. Lawsuits became so routine and media reports about the abuse so prevalent that in 1985 Sembler created a shell corporation to protect Straight's assets (and his own hide). Straight, Inc. changed its mission, ostensibly to educate, and changed its name to Straight Foundation, Inc. A new treatment organization was created called Straight, Inc. (Smart ain't they.) The 1985-based Straight, Inc. continued to abuse kids until it finally closed in 1993. In 1995 the 1976-based Straight, Inc. (e.g.. Straight Foundation, Inc.) morphed once again into Drug free America Foundation with a new mission to help businesses set up drug free work places and to recommend national and international drug policy. (Sorry for the confusion, but that's how they elected to hide it.)

Since 1976 Mel Sembler has been bragging that he and Betty founded Straight; that they saved 12,000 kids at Straight; that they are proud of what they did there; and that they have been chosen for political assignments, not because they bought their way in, but because they are philanthropists who help kids get off drugs at Straight. But recently there has been a resurgence of former clients coming forward to tell the horrors of what happened to them at Straight all those years ago. And now finally the Semblers want to say they had nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of Straight.

So you see why I'm so upset. Seems to me what Mel is saying in that affidavit is this:
  1. From 1976 to 1985 there are allegations (and court judgments proving) that Straight, Inc. abused children. We may have founded that organization; we may have held directorships in that organization; and we may have received more press coverage than anyone else with that organization--but we were not involved in the day-to-day operation of Straight, Inc. when it was known as Straight, Inc.
  2. From 1985 to 1993 Straight, Inc. was a shell corporation named Straight Foundation, Inc. that buffered the assets for a brand new Straight, Inc. that was also accused of child abuse. And once again though we may have served as directors and though our names may have been in the press more than anyone else, we had nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of Straight, Inc. when it was known as Straight Foundation, Inc.
  3. From 1995 to present Straight, Inc. has been operating under the name Drug Free America Foundation. There can not be any complaints of child abuse because we don't treat anyone anymore; we are or have been directors and our names are frequently mentioned in the press with this organization, and Betty Sembler deals with Straight, Inc. under its name Drug Free America Foundation on a day-to-day basis.

At least, that's how I interpret Mr. Sembler's declaration and it just doesn't ring sound--to me. One and only one organization has existed since 1976, but under three distinctly declared missions, under three different names. Two of the morphs are associated with abuse. One is not. The Semblers have crowed for years that they are the force behind all three. Records show that at least one of them served as a director of some sort on all three most of the time. Now, when a new resurgence of the abuse surfaces, Mel Sembler claims he and Betty had nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the two morphs associated with abuse; but Betty says she contacts the non-abusive morph on a daily basis. That's why I'm so upset, but that's just for starters.

There is truth in Mel Sembler saying, "Neither my wife nor I participated in the day-to-day operations of Straight, Inc." This is because what Straight did was to furnish a warehouse and stock it with 100 - 200 white teenagers and children. Some with varying addictions; some who had tried pot or alcohol; some with no addiction history at all. The one thing in common they had was parents with the ready funds, or the capability of getting funds, to pay them. Mel and Betty did not watch Straights' kids all day long--that was the problem. Few trained adults did? Kids further along in their treatment managed kids (and sometimes adults) with less time in treatment. As kids graduated they became junior staff. They were uneducated (thanks to Straight) and were paid minimum wage. There was some limited adult staff--including a clinical director and an executive director at each camp. A job of other adults (including directors and parents) was to raise money for the Straight cause and to encourage schools, parole officers and judges to send kids to Straight. Furthermore, directors and officers were responsible for managing Straight rentals back to itself and for telling Straight's attorneys to offer Straight's standard $37,000 settlement to those who sued.

Straight board members frequently rotated offices from time-to-time. For example in 1976 when Straight was first formed Mel Sembler was president of the board of directors. As such he enjoyed much public exposure. But in 1980 Guy Perenich was president and Sembler chaired the executive committee. On Wednesday December 10, 1980 Straight held its second annual banquet and used the occasion to announce to the 450 assembled guest and press representatives that Straight was considering the possibility of opening a facility in the greater Atlanta area. But it wasn't Guy Perenich, the president of Straight, who made the announcement. It was Melvin Sembler. Four days later Robert Coram of the The Atlanta Journal wrote an article about Straight - Atlanta. He mentions two (and only two) board members by name--but Straight President Guy Perenich wasn't even one of them. Mel and Betty were the two.

In 1982 the presidency of Straight had rotated to Jack Clark. Nancy Reagan visited Straight - St. Petersburg under Clark's watch. When Mrs. Reagan was handed a microphone to address the assembled juvenile prisoners she asked them what was the best thing she could do to help. A young inmate responded, "Help open Straights all over the country." And then, according to the New York Times, a voice seated behind Mrs. Reagan, chimed in, "Help the country correctly perceive the problem." Rightly that voice should have belonged to President Jack Clark. But you get the message. The New York Times said the voice belonged to a Straight board member. The Saint Petersburg Times reported that the board member was Mel Sembler. [New York Times, 2-16-82, p. B10; NBC News Magazine, 4-24-82; Saint Petersburg Times, 2-16-82]

Read Yer Dern Tuttin' Mel Sembler knew about Straight's abuses. Mel Sembler was always the force behind Straight just as he has boasted he was for 35 years--until Sept. 28. Regardless what position he held on paper, he was Straight. Let me give you another example. Nancy Reagan and The Reader's Digest did as much as anyone to make Straight the powerhouse it became. In 1982 The Digest did an article on Straight. The well read monthly quoted a man described as “a local businessman who was one of the prime movers in getting it started.” The “local businessman” had said, “At Straight, you don’t just dump your kid at the door and walk away.” But that businessman was not board president Jack Clark--it was Mel Sembler.

On Sept. 28, 2005 Melvin Sembler voluntarily submitted an affidavit to a state circuit court declaring, "Neither my wife nor I participated in the day-to-day operations of Straight, Inc." But in 1980 he told Atlanta journalist Robert Coram that he and his wife Betty keep a close eye on Straight activities because they don’t want a “personality cult to develop; neither do they want any ‘guru’ exploiting the enormous power the staff has over youngsters for a brief time in their lives, as has happened in some other drug-rehabilitation programs.” Coram wrote, “The Semblers stay in the background at Straight but keep a close eye on its activities.” How can you not be involved in day-to-day operations yet keep a close eye on its activities? What's the difference? [The Atlanta Journal, The Atlanta Constitution, and the Atlanta Weekly, 12-14-80]

On January 15, 2003 Ambassador Sembler gave a speech at Northwestern, his alma mater, in which he stated, " . . . we [Betty and I] founded and directed for many years a treatment program that rehabilitated over 12,000 young drug abusers." If he directed Straight, how can he now claim he was not involved in day-to-day operations of Straight.

In 1978 Sembler probably had a hand in having a state worker fired for investigating Straight for criminal child abuse and he probably had another threatened 10 years later for trying to close Straight for failure to correct repeated violations. [See The Clary Report.] Melvin Sembler wasn't there when Miller Newton threw Leigh Bright by her hair and he never ordered anyone to spit in S. B. 's face. Nor did he order A.N. to supervise the breaking of Nancy's finger. But the record is pretty clear that Mel Sembler knew of Straight's abuses and did not stop it. Rather he thwarted attempts to stop the abuse and positioned himself to be protected from lawsuits and prosecutions. Blocking major attempts to stop ALL the abuse is day-to-day operation at the very HIGHEST level. It is a thousand times more destructive than breaking one little girl's finger.

The Semblers may have already committed perjury in PumpGate by telling the court they were not available for depositions when they were. When Mel Sembler and Joe Zappala were nominated for ambassadorships in 1988, Sembler let Zappala tell the Senators he was a Straight cofounder, but the records do not show that. When Straight Cincinnati closed, Sembler let the lie be told that it had closed for economic reasons. He let the same lie be told when authorities closed Straight - Dallas. When Bernadine Braithwaite sent a correspondence to Straight parents asking for more money saying that salaries had been cut back at all levels, did Sembler know about it and allow it--even though her own salary and the salaries of Straight's top five highest paid workers had all increased! Now he's saying he wasn't involved in the day-to-day operations of Straight!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The joke of the year. Mel Sembler tries to stall his trial by going to Israel for the Passover

12-14-05 .

On Aug. 26, 2003, Lenny Englander (who is Melvin Sembler's attorney in Pumpgate) filed, and was granted, a motion for expedited discovery including deposition and interrogatories from Ray Bradbury. Judge Walt Logan signed the order. The Semblers thought Bradbury would just cave under their might, but he did not. At some point it must have dawned on the Sembler crowd that once Ray Bradbury is deposed, Mel Sembler must be also. Today, all the principals in PumpGate have been deposed except for--except for Mel Sembler! Sembler pushed early on for an expedited trial, but now, over two years later, it is Sembler who is delaying.

But his latest delay takes the cake. A trial date has finally been set for April 10 - April 21, 2006. Former Straight victims from all over the country have been making tentative plans to be there to, hopefully, finally see the man they feel responsible for the horrors they endured at Straight. But now, in an almost laughable motion, the Semblers have requested that the judge delay the trial because they, with their families, will be going to Israel for the Passover from April 10 to April 20!

For over two years Lenny Englander has been handling this case for the Semblers, but this time Mel Sembler personally filed the motion. He told the judge that the vacation dates can not be changed because other family members are going with him. He even tries to set the judge's mind at ease telling him this is not just another stalling attempt. He writes, "This motion is being filed in good faith and not for dilatory purposes." "Dilatory"--that's just a stupid comment to make. It's like when CNN's Peter Arnett claimed in the first Gulf War that the Americans had bombed a baby milk factory in Abu Ghraib. US intelligence said the camouflage plant was making biological weapons. Arnett showed film footage of technicians rummaging through debris sporting white medical-type frocks with the words BABY MILK FACTORY emblazoned boldly on the back in English--of all languages. There are no baby milk factories. There are milk companies that make skim milk, 2% fat milk, baby milk and cottage cheese. And these corporations have names like PET, Inc. or Bordens--not Baby Milk Factory. You just don't tell the judge this request is not a "stall tactic."

Poor Judge Rondolino. There is no way in hell he would grant such a request to Ray Bradbury; but if he denies Sembler's personal request, that, we fear, could be the end of his judgeship as we know it. Obviously, Judge Rondolino must comply and reschedule the trial to fit National Lampoon's Vacation. But we must advise Judge Rondolino not to reschedule for Sep. 23, 2006 to Oct. 10, 2006. If you do Sir, we can assure you that Sembler will pack up Betty and the kids and head to Mecca for Ramadan!