Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Mel Sembler, Romney Money Man/A Mel Sembler Timeline

Floridians Among Romney's Money Team
by John Kennedy
Orlando Sentinel
Jul 31, 2007

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney announced Tuesday his national finance chairs and co-chairs, with a few Floridians scattered among the money men and women.

Named finance chairs for the former Massachusetts governor are: Mark Guzzetta, a Boca Raton developer close to former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Tampa Bay-area developer Mel Sembler, a former ambassador who helped raise cash for Gov. Charlie Crist.

Co-chairs include Al Cardenas, Tallahassee and Washington lobbyist, and a former Florida Republican Pary Chairman.

It's Just Another Day in Mel Sembler's World

During the 80's, Sembler served on President Reagan's White House Conference for a Drug-Free America. Sembler was also a leader in raising funds to help get George H.W. Bush elected and pay for his inauguration. Life, such as it was, continued for the kids in the "program" Mel and Betty created...

1980: January: Miller Newton was hired as assistant director. His "expertise" in juvenile drug rehabilitation was gained through a single workshop on alcoholism and the experience of having a son in Straight.

A young man went to Straight, St. Petersburg with the intent of visiting his brother, a client at the warehouse. The young man was kept in an intake room for 9 hours, where staff members threatened to have him court ordered unless he "voluntarily" signed himself into the program. Forcing siblings into the program would also become a Straight trademark.

After receiving a complaint, the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) investigated Straight, St. Petersburg. They determined that a juvenile male was being held against his will for "treatment" of a drug problem he didn't have. Straight, Inc. officials were ordered to release this child.

1981: March: HRS again investigated Straight after receiving a complaint from a woman stating that her son was being held against his will. She had already filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus and gained the release of her other son.

March: 2 state officials met with Miller Newton and 2 female clients. The clients had recently escaped from Straight, St. Petersburg but had been forcibly returned. In the presence of the state officials Newton threatened the 2 girls, saying they could be "sent to a mental institution." Miller also told one of the girls he was thinking about telling her parents to take her to Georgia, where their signature could get her "locked up for 6 months." HRS freed one girl the next day, the other was freed 3 days later. State investigators found that the locks on the bedroom doors at the host/foster home where the girls slept had been reversed to lock from the outside. Yet another Straight trademark.

April: HRS determined that administrative staff members at Straight were indeed threatening prospective clients with court orders and mental institutions unless they "voluntarily" entered the warehouse. Several former "clients" told the St. Petersburg Times that Straight staff members used the same threats during their intakes as well.

August: Straight opened a new warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia.

October: A young woman went to Straight to get permission to speak to her brother who was already a "client." She managed to escape the intake room, only to be kidnapped after a violent, 30-minute struggle and returned to the warehouse by her mother, 2 adult males and another woman. At one point, Miller Newton told her "the state of Florida will take over and put your mother in jail for kidnapping" if she kept saying she was being held against her will. The young woman was finally released in April 1982 by a Writ of Habeas Corpus and a detective from the Sanford, FL Police Department.

Miller Newton was awarded a degree in public administration and urban anthropology from an unaccredited correspondence school. The question remains - What do these 2 subjects have to do with children or drug rehabilitation??

1982: Miller Newton became the National Clinical Director for Straight, Inc.

January: Straight opened a new warehouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.

February: Straight, Atlanta settled with 3 children who were represented by the ACLU. The ACLU agreed that the children had suffered from "inhumane treatment."

June: A college student (and legal adult!) went to the St. Petersburg warehouse in order to get permission to vist his brother who was already a "client." Current clients standing in front of the intake room door prevent him from leaving for 7-10 hours and even refused to let him use the bathroom. The clients in the room told him stories of perverted sexual activities and drug addiction, trying to make him admit the same. He was finally worn down and agree to sign in for a 14 day observation. He escaped 4 and a half months later, 25 pounds lighter due to the food restrictions Straight staff used as punishment because he wanted to leave.

July: HRS sent ANOTHER LETTER (page one) (page two) this time to Miller Newton, confirming allegations of "Marathoning," "The Spanking Machine," "Confrontations," "The Peanut Butter Diet," and Newton's policy of preventing legal adults from leaving the warehouse.

October: A staff trainee escaped from Straight, Sarasota and went to law enforcement with her accounts of rape, torture, abuse, neglect and kidnapping. This prompted an investigation by the State's Attorney. During the investigation, the young woman was provided with a bodyguard to prevent "straightlings" from kidnapping her back to the program. She became the first person court ordered OUT of Straight. The investigation led to 13 criminal indictments against staff members.

Straight opened a new warehouse in Springfield, Virginia. Director Mel Riddile trained under Miller Newton.

1983: The prosecutor's office in Sarasota publicly stated that the counselors inflicting the abuse at Straight, Sarasota learned their treatment methods at the St. Petersburg warehouse, the ORIGINAL Straight founded by Mel and Betty Sembler.

January: An intern at a local sheriff's office and legal adult went to Straight, St. Petersburg to visit her brother, a client in the program. Staff members tried to force her into the program. She resisted and walked/hitchhiked home. A month later, she was kidnapped by her parents and 2 strange men and taken back to St. Petersburg. She fought to get out of the intake room and was held captive by other clients. When she told her captors her legal rights were being violated, Miller Newton walked in and said, "Well, I don't give a damn about your legal rights." 2 days later a social services official secured her release. She sued Straight and Miller Newton.

July: Under the weight of criminal indictments, which would have led to a public trial, Straight, Sarasota closed for good.

August: Miller Newton and Straight, St. Petersburg settled 2 lawsuits with former "clients." A legal adult sued Straight, Atlanta for false imprisonment.

September: The State's Attorney for Sarasota County released a damning 600 page criminal investigation of Straight, Sarasota. It included statements of abuse from current/former staff members. The statements detailed kidnappings, false imprisonment, threats of being court ordered unless clients "voluntarily" enroll, enrolling kids who were not drug dependent, hair pulling, grabbing clients by the neck, and throwing children against walls.

2 former "clients" sued Straight, Inc. for abuses suffered in Sarasota. One child filed charges that included beatings, pulling him by the hair, hanging him by his underwear from a bedpost, and torture.

A young man was brought to Straight in leg irons. He had been grabbed in another state by 2 private detectives hired by his mother. A Florida judge ordered his release from the warehouse because proper commitment procedures had not been followed AND the judge found no evidence of drug abuse.

October: Straight, St. Petersburg was sued twice. One case charged false imprisonment, the other - false imprisonment and beatings. In that case, the judge ruled that Straight committed a "malicious act" against the former client.

November: Miller Newton and his wife Ruth Ann resigned from Straight, Inc.

1984: The CBS news program 60 Minutes aired an expose' on the abuses at Straight.

May: Miller Newton opened Kids of Bergen County in Hackensack, New Jersey. A Straight clone, the program soon developed into Kids Center of America, with warehouses in Texas, Utah and California.

1985: First Lady Nancy Reagan and Britain's Princess Diana visited the Springfield, Virginia branch of Straight, Inc.

1986: Straight used quotes from Virginia Governor Charles Robb and Florida Congressman Charles Bennett in brochures promoting the program.

Mel Sembler became the President of the 40,000-member International Council of Shopping Centers. This position made Mel the international leader and spokesman for the shopping center industry.

1987: The state of Ohio took Straight, Inc. to court in an attempt to close Straight, Cincinnati on the grounds of criminal child abuse. The day before the trial, the Cincinnati warehouse closed and transferred the kids to the Atlanta and Detroit warehouses.

1988: Even though Straight, Cincinnati closed, Straight, Inc. was sued by Cincinnati area individuals and corporations for $1.5 million they had contributed to the program back in 1982. The class-action suit stated that the donations were made with the understanding that Straight, Inc. would open AND maintain a warehouse in the Cincinnati area.

Mel Sembler served on the National Finance and Steering Committee for the George Bush for President campaign.

1989: The California branch of Miller Newton's Kids program closed while under criminal investigation for child abuse. Straight, Inc. took over the warehouse and all the "clients."

Mel Sembler was Finance Co-Chairman for President Bush's Inaugural.

February: Mel Sembler was awarded the ambassadorship to Australia by President George H.W. Bush.

Joseph Zappala, ANOTHER founding member of Straight, Inc., was awarded the ambassadorship to Spain.

On ABC's news show 20/20, Florida State Prosecutor David Levin described Straight, Inc. as "a sort of private jail, utilizing techniques such as torture and punishment which even a convicted criminal would not be subject to."

August: According to internal documents, an HRS licensing team was ready to deny Straight, St. Petersburg a new operating license after inspectors discovered abuses such as withholding medication and food, depriving clients of sleep, and using excessive force.

August: At a follow-up visit to Straight, St. Petersburg, the HRS licensing determined that Straight officials had failed to comply with previous orders to correct the ongoing abuses at the warehouse and were again ready to deny the operating permit. While at the facility, the licensing team received a phone call informing them that NO MATTER WHAT they found, the St. Petersburg warehouse would still receive its license.

Internal documents from HRS specifically name Mel Sembler as the person who made repeated calls to HRS officials and exerted significant pressure on them for the purpose of keeping Straight open.

Mel Sembler donated $5,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

1990: Professor Barry Beyerstein of Simon University in Canada visited Straight, Springfield VA for a first hand look. He subsequently published a paper entitled Thought Reform Tactics: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions.

Beyerstein outlined 17 methods that cults employ on unsuspecting members, and concluded that Straight, Inc. was guilty of using EVERY one of them. Professor Beyerstein went on to state that Straight could fairly be compared to POW camps.


February: Straight, Virginia Beach closed under allegations of child abuse.

July: Straight, Boston closed when the state of Massachusetts revoked its foster care license.

July 26: Straight, Springfield VA was under criminal investigation for a rape that occured there when the state health department decided not to renew its license. Straight officials "voluntarily" closed the warehouse one day before a scheduled appearance in court.

July 29: Just 3 days after the Virginia warehouse closed, Straight officials crossed the Potomac River - taking the kids and staff members, too - and opened a "new" warehouse in Columbia, Maryland.

October: Straight, Dallas closed under allegations of child abuse.

The Sembler Company donated $15,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee.

1992: State health officials cited Straight, Maryland for not having a single certified drug/alcohol counselor on its entire staff.

Straight, Atlanta was cited for employing a counselor who possessed no credentials beyond a GED.

February 28: Straight, Maryland closed. Officials and staff members walked off the job and left the kids to fend for themselves.

August 14: Straight, Orlando FL closed...sort of. At lunch the kids were in Straight. By dinner the warehouse was called SAFE, Inc. Same staff, same kids, same warehouse, different name. It's still open today.

Mel Sembler donated $5,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee. His 3 sons donated $1,000 each to George W. Bush.

1993: Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and a paid consultant for Straight, Inc. testified that the originator of the Straight treatment method was the Synanon Church. DuPont also admitted that Synanon was a cult.

Mel Sembler became the Finance Chairman for the Republican Party of Florida.

HRS sent a letter to Lowell Clary, Florida's Inspector General, with the following findings:

A definite pattern of abuse and excessive force was used against clients (CHILDREN!!) at Straight, Inc.

Outside influences and/or pressure were involved in Straight's licensing issues back in 1989.

It appeared that the pressure was generated by several United States Senators and Mel Sembler.

April: The St. Petersburg warehouse began transferring it's remaining clients to Straight, Atlanta.

May: The St. Petersburg warehouse was preparing to close due to mounting lawsuits and allegations of criminal child abuse. A reporter for the St. Petersburg Times called Mel Sembler's office. Sembler's secretary told the reporter "He [Sembler] will not answer any questions about Straight."

June: Straight Detroit closed...sort of. Former program executive Helen Gowanny opened another Straight clone - Pathway Family Center. It too, still operates today.

July: Straight Atlanta closed...sort of. Former program executive Kathleen Cone opened yet ANOTHER Straight clone - called Phoenix Institute for Adolescents. And yes, it's still operating.

The Sembler Company donated $15,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee.

1994: Mel Sembler donated $5,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee.

1995: The Semblers donated over $30,000 to the Republican party.

1996: The horrors of Straight were documented in 2 books - Smoke and Mirrors by Dan Baum and Drug Warriors and Their Prey by Richard Lawrence Miller.

The Semblers donated over $7,600 to the Republican party.

1997: Mel Sembler joined the board of the Holocaust Memorial Museum and became a trustee to the George Bush Presidental Library.

The Sembler Company donated $10,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee.

Mel Sembler donated $25,000.

1998: The Sembler Company and the Huizenga Family Foundation each donated $5,000 to Florida Governor Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florid's Future. Jeb is the son of former President George H.W. Bush.

In her continuing efforts to influence national policies, Betty Sembler formed a new foundation called Save Our Society from Drugs. S.O.S. for short.

The Semblers donated over $74,000 to the Republican party.

1999: The Semblers consented to a very informative interview with Trend Magazine. In it Mel defended the practice of politicians favoring big-money donor. Sembler said he tries to influence politicians all the time. Sembler also freely admitted to leveraging his reputation within the Republican Party. And here's a nice quote from Mel, as written in the article - "Senators never get elected president because all they know how to do is compromise."

When a reporter from a Canadian magazine asked Betty Sembler about the horror stories he had read from Straight survivors, Betty replied, "They should get a life. I am proud of everything we have done. There's nothing to apologize for."

The Semblers donated $12,000 to the Republican party.

2000: Betty Sembler served on Florida Governor Jeb Bush's task force.

The Semblers donated over $12,000 to the Republican party.

2001: Mel Sembler told the U.S. Senate about his involvement with Straight, Inc. - and was rewarded with the Ambassadorship to Italy.

"Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I believe that I have the qualifications necessary, if confirmed, to lead our diplomatic mission in Italy, to modernize it, and to strengthen it as an instrument to promote American interests in Italy. During my career in business, public service, politics, and diplomacy, I have worked hard and accomplished much. . . For the last quarter century, along with my wife, I have fought vigorously against the plague of drug abuse. In 1976 Betty and I helped found STRAIGHT, a non-profit, adolescent drug treatment and rehabilitation program with branches across the U.S., which successfully treated and graduated more than 12,000 young people nationwide. For 17 years, I served as chairman of the board of STRAIGHT. Other than our children, nothing was more rewarding than this effort. Betty and I initially agreed that if we helped one child it would be worth all the effort. With 12,000 successful graduates . . . It was a gratifying accomplishment."

Ambassador Melvin Floyd Sembler, AO addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Oct 31, 2001, on the occasion of his hearing as George W. Bush's nominee to be ambassador to Italy.

During a day of protests by Straight survivors, the Semblers and Miller Newton hired security guards from the same company.

The Semblers donated over $8,500 to the Republican party.

2002: The Multijurisdictional Task Force held a class on investigatative techniques and elements of prosecuting the criminal enterprise as a whole in order to enforce the RICO Act. Betty Sembler is on this board, along with Florida drug czar Jim McDonough. Coincidentially, racketeering was one of the accusations made against Straight.

The Semblers donated over $20,000 to the Republican party.

2003: January 15: Mel Sembler spoke at his alma mater, Northwestern University. According to sources at Northwestern, Sembler requested that attendance be by "invitation only" and specifically requested that only older alumni be invited. I've also been informed that Sembler made it clear that he didn't want anyone to ask any questions about Straight. Sources at Northwestern also said it was very clear in Mel's speech that "he knew nothing about Italy." Click here to see for yourself.

August 13: announced plans to initiate a class action lawsuit against the state of Florida on behalf of survivors of Straight.

August 27: Straight, Inc. survivor Richard Bradbury is served with documents stating that he is being sued by none other than Mel & Betty Sembler.

The Sembler's also obtained a gag order, preventing Mr. Bradbury from talking about the case.

October: Uhuru, an activist group seeking social justice for African-Americans, began protesting BayWalk - a shopping mall in St. Petersburg, FL that is owned and operated by Sembler Company. Uhuru accused Sembler of racism after a disproportionate number of African-American teenagers were banned from the complex.

Oddly enough, very few African-American teens were admitted to Straight, Inc.

2004: January 17: 20 former "clients" of Straight, Inc. and concerned citizens gathered to protest at the Florida Holocaust Museum Award's Banquet. Walter Loebenberg, founder of the museum, is a former President of the Straight Foundation (formerly known as Straight, Inc.) and Mel and Betty are on the museum's Board of Directors. According to protesters, as Mel and Betty passed by, Betty told them to "Get a Job." The Sembler's grandson reportedly "flipped-off" the protesters. Several reported seeing Betty tossing back a few drinks at the bar.

Although the St. Pete Times reported on the abuses at Straight for many years, the protest was not mentioned by ANY media outlets in the St. Pete area.

February 14: Former Straight "clients" and members of Uhuru teamed up for a protest at Mel Sembler's home.

April 3: There was another demonstration at the Florida Holocaust Museum to protest the involvement of several former Straight officials, including Mel and Betty Sembler.

April 21: Mel and his penis pump made the Washington Post. It seems he threw the pump away and now wants it back. Mel's Wandering Pump

2005: January 19: Once again, Sembler claims to be leaving his post as Ambassador to Italy. Maybe he'll actually quit this time. Sembler Says He's Quitting, Again