The Prague Post, December 11, 1998
Morava Academy heads arrested before
By Ladka Bauerova
The American couple Glenda and Steven Roach, arrested last month in the Czech Republic on charges of illegal imprisonment and torture of the 57 teenagers found at Morava Academy, have a past marred by similar offenses. The couple has managed other illicit prison-like facilities for troubled American teens and been arrested in other foreign countries.
According to U.S. social worker Donna Headrick and her research team, the couple was arrested May 1996 while running a girls' facility called Sunrise Beach on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. After three teenage girls escaped from the institution and made complaints about sexual abuse, an immigration inspector visited the facility and found that the girls did not have the proper paperwork to be in the country. The inspectors also found poor sanitation standards and signs of abuse.
Shortly thereafter, the staff with 41 girls were intercepted at the local airport trying to leave the country. Mexican federal police arrested the staff, including Steven and Glenda Roach, and charged them with depriving juveniles of their liberty and with running an unlicensed and unsanitary facility. As at Morava Academy, Sunrise Beach was shut down by police officials, and the couple eventually managed to leave Mexico.
The Roaches are longtime employees of an organization called Teen Help. Based in Utah, Teen Help operates a network of institutions that promises to set problematic kids straight. While many parents and children have defended the program and claim it has changed their lives, others report horror stories and speak of the staff's brutal practices, including starvation, chemical burns, handcuffing and psychological abuse.
"Kids are not treated well in these facilities. I saw horrible things," said Donna Burke, 48, from Houston, Texas. Her ex-husband sent their two sons to Tranquillity Bay, another of Teen Help's facilities in Jamaica. She told The Prague Post that in August 1997 an "escort service" -- two men hired by her ex-husband -- kidnapped her then-14-year-old son, Scott. "They handcuffed him and carried him out of the school screaming," she said.
Three months later, the escort service came for her elder son David, now 17. "I was trying to get them back, but my ex-husband ran up my legal fees so high I finally had to give up."
She went on describing the poor hygienic conditions and maltreatment of the children in the facility. "They take a shower with a hose, using only cold water," she said. During a surprise visit, she discovered that all the kids had ringworm.
The staff attempted to treat the fungus, but with horrible results. "My younger son had scars from chemical burns," Burke said.
Complaining to state authorities didn't help, she said: "The State Department people say, 'They're out of the country, there is nothing we can do.' One guy at the State Department told me straight to my face: 'We don't like to mess with rich people's kids.' " And rich they are, she added, since one year's tuition at Tranquillity Bay costs $38,000 (1.14 million Kc).
After 13 months, Burke's older son David returned home, but his mother is distressed by his state of mental and physical health. "He's been brainwashed," she said. "We get in a fight every time we talk about the school, and he yells at me for fighting against it. And this is a boy who was begging, crying and pleading for me to take him home when I first visited him," Burke said.
Cases where one parent places the child in a behavior-modification facility against the will of the other parent are not uncommon, according to social worker Headrick. "They have their children legally kidnapped," she said. "The people usually come in the middle of the night, wake the kid up, handcuff him and take him away."
The Teen Help organization is part of a complicated network of companies and nonprofit organizations run mostly from La Verkin, a small community near St. George, Utah. They have at least eight behavior modification schools located in Mexico, Jamaica, Western Samoa, and the United States, Teen Help also operates several hospitals and other "service oriented" companies. One of them is Youth Transport Services (YTS) which, according to Headrick, does the kidnapping. Another organization, "Resources Realizations," runs seminars for parents who have placed their children in one of the Teen Help schools. Before taking part in the seminars, participants must sign a confidentiality clause.
About a year ago, Teen Help established a nonprofit organization called World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP). Its Web page provides little information and its president, Karr Farnsworth, who visited the Czech Republic during the Morava Academy crisis last month, refused to reveal details other than saying it is the umbrella organization of the Teen Help facilities. In an interview for a Utah newspaper, he compared the Czech police to the Soviet KGB, adding that Czech police don't like Americans.
One WWASP partner, attorney J. Ralph Atkin, is also registered as a majority owner of Morava Academy and an owner of EuroSky Airlines, which provides special flights to selected European cities including Vienna -- only two hours away by car from Morava Academy.