The World Wide Association Of Specialty Programs and Schools
) is an organization based in Utah
, in the United States
. WWASPS was founded by Robert Lichfield
and was incorporated in 1998. WWASPS states that it is an umbrella organization
of independent institutions for education and treatment of troubled teenagers, all operating in accordance with WWASP guidelines. Many outside observers believe, however, that the WWASPS-affiliated institutions are actually owned (through limited partnerships
, many of which have used the same street address) by WWASPS or its principal officials or their close relatives. WWASPS is connected to several affiliated for-profit
companies. These include Teen Help LLC
, the marketing arm of WWASPS and the entity that processes admissions paperwork; Teen Escort Service, a teen escort company
that transports teenagers to WWASPS facilities; R&B Billing, which does tuition billing and payment processing; and Premier Educational Systems, LLC (also called Premier Educational Seminars), which conducts orientation and training workshops for parents whose children are in WWASPS facilities. WWASPS claims to have helped over 10,000 students with issues related to personal behavior. Some participants and parents give positive reports of their experiences, but others say that WWASPS programs were abusive. WWASPS has faced widespread allegations of physical and psychological abuse of the teenagers sent into its programs, resulting in a lawsuit filed against the organization in 2006.
WWASP operates, formerly operated, or is associated with, several facilities in the United States and in other countries. In 2003 there were 2,300 students enrolled in its facilities and programs.
In July 2007 World Wide's president, Ken Kay, told the Salt Lake Tribune that only two schools remained in the WWASPS network, including Majestic Ranch Academy in Utah, which he said was likely to sever its ties with the organization. Schools and programs currently or formerly associated with the organization include the following:
- Academy at Dundee Ranch, Costa Rica
- Casa By The Sea, Ensenada, Mexico (investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse )
- High Impact in Tecate, Mexico (investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse)
- Morava Academy, Brno, Czech Republic. Opened in 1998 and closed later that year when Czech police arrested its managers (Glenda and Steven Roach, former police officers from Utah) and charged them with child torture.
- Paradise Cove, Samoa (shutdown by Samoan authorities because an investigation determined credible allegations of abuse)
- Sunrise Beach, Cancún, Mexico (raided and closed by Mexican authorities over abuse)
Related and spinoff programs and projects
Some personnel formerly associated with WWASP schools and programs have gone on to establish or work at other similar institutions.
In 2005 Robert Lichfield and the Utah-based holding company, Golden Pond Investments Ltd., made an offer to buy the campus of the Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, to open a new school for adolescents needing help with discipline, responsibility and leadership skills. It was announced that the school would be directed by former WWASP staff member Randall Hinton and his brother Russell Hinton. The Hintons told Boonville officials that the proposed school would not be a part of WWASP. The Boonville City Council rejected the proposal.
WWASPS and its associated institutions have been the target of criticism over their treatment methods, including allegations of severe abuse
by staff at programs supported by WWASPS. The programs have been the subject of legal investigations by several U.S. states. In 2003, a reporter for The New York Times
interviewed 60 current and former program participants and parents; some gave positive reports of their experiences, while other participants and parents said that WWASPS programs were abusive
Numerous former students or their parents have filed lawsuits against WWASPS, its personnel, or individual schools. Most have been settled out of court or dismissed for procedural reasons. For example, a 2005 lawsuit filed in California on behalf of more than 20 plaintiffs was dismissed because the judge found that California lacked jurisdiction. In June 2007, Utah attorney Thomas M. Burton told a reporter that six suits he had filed against WWASPS on behalf of his clients had been dismissed on procedural grounds. WWASPS president Ken Kay told an interviewer that lawsuits against WWASPS are ploys to get money, brought by people who "are never going to be happy." A lawsuit filed in 2007 against WWASPS and its founder, Robert Lichfield, on behalf of 133 plaintiffs alleging physical and sexual abuse and fraudulent concealment of abuse brought negative publicity to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, because Lichfield was one of six co-chairs of the Utah state fundraising committee for Romney's campaign.
On August 31, 2007, Randall Hinton was convicted of one count each of third degree assault and false imprisonment, for mistreating students at the WWASP-affiliated Royal Gorge Academy, of which he was manager and co-founder. However, the jury returned verdicts of "not guilty" on four other counts of third-degree assault and one other count of false imprisonment. Hinton was sentenced to jail followed by probation.
- Claire and Mia Fontaine, Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back, HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN 978-0060792169
Web sites for WWASP facilities and affiliated institutions:
Marketing web sites promoting institutions associated with WWASP