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Deception, Misrepresentation & Fraud
By Sue Scheff, Weston, FL
After experiencing my good teen making some bad choices, I found myself surfing the internet until I was so confused and stressed that I couldn’t make a decision.
One group of specialty schools and behavior modification programs kept popping up wherever I clicked and I figured they must be good. Then I received their beautiful glossy literature with a video that could make any parent weep (I actually received four FedEx packets of the same material. This was before everything was online and available as a digital download). Once the initial sticker shock wore off, the cost was reasonable in comparison with other programs, or so I thought until I enrolled my child. The hidden costs added up like a grocery bill. I was totally misled by the sales rep and made a rash decision.
Mistake number one: being clueless as to whom you are speaking with when reaching out to these toll-free numbers. This is a common mistake for parents in a desperate situation. A swift sales rep is there waiting for you, meeting every question with the answer you want to hear and making promises that convince you they can help your child.
In the midst of my frantic search, I attempted using the so-called Independent Educational Consultant that immediately wanted a check for $350 just to talk to me. They claimed they could help me (without even knowing my daughter) for about another $3,000 or more. I now know the frightening truth that even Independent Educational Consultants (who are supposed to be professionals) have no state or government regulations. In other words, anyone can state they are an Educational Consultant.
My true nightmare was just beginning.
Impressed by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs’ fancy words and glossy brochures, I enrolled my child with the understanding that they were qualified to help. I am ashamed to say that I never did a background check on these programs. I had called their parent references that they gave me (and later found out they were paid to talk to me, some actually receiving a free month’s tuition). I know many of you are thinking that I must have been nuts, and you are right. While in this stage of my life, I was in a total frenzy—I was at my wit’s end. I truthfully just wanted help for my child and thought for the money they were charging, the program must be good.
Long story short, my frenzy and desperation led to my biggest mistake. I was looking for therapy and internalization through the help of professionals, but what I inadvertently ended up with was more of a teen warehousing program. This was not what they had sold me.
In retrospect, red flags went up shortly after I dropped my child off and I asked who the psychologist would be. Guess what? There was none, unless I wanted to pay extra! So who led the group therapy they raved about? There was no group therapy, there was a person, usually another student, who sat in a circle with them as they reflected. I could have hired their psychologist for another $100 per visit. But why? We could have done that at home. Their sales reps had told me that there was a licensed therapist “on staff and on site.” I should have pulled my child then, but I thought I was over-reacting since I was in such a state of confusion and frenzy. The staff was very good at convincing me to “trust the program” instead of addressing my concerns.
My child wrote me letters: some good, some bad. According to the program, the good ones were considered manipulation; the bad ones were considered proof that she needed to stay longer.
I couldn’t win and neither could my child.
During my child’s entire stay of almost six months, I was never allowed to speak with her. I was only able to speak with an employee once a week for about 15 minutes. In further research, these employees had no credentials and many were not educated beyond high school, including the president of the organization. I later found out it usually takes up to six months to speak with your child, and in most cases up to a year to see them. Although they sell you another story, the truth be known, most teens take two to three years to graduate (I understand a law was recently passed that mandates you can see your child after three months. I am not sure if the WWASP group of programs is abiding by this new regulation; however, it is in place).
After attending a parent support meeting and listening to some of the other families, I began to realize that it was all very strange. Some of these kids had been there for well over a year and the families were so deep into this program that it was both sickening and sad. The support group meetings were like a Stepford family reunion, with a leader making her financial profits. These poor kids just wanted to be loved and held by their parents, who couldn’t be there.
It took me months to realize that I had made a big mistake. In order to visit my child, it was mandatory to attend some very bizarre seminars; I wrote my withdrawal letter immediately after the second seminar.
I brought my child home suffering from depression and nightmares from her time in this WWASP program, and fear of being sent back had created suicidal thoughts. My child went immediately into real counseling where, after almost two years, an excellent psychologist helped us recover from this horrible, traumatic post-WWASP experience. When my child felt confident that I wouldn’t send her back, I heard some unspeakable stories. I have also heard similar stories from many other post-WWASP aka WWASPS students and families suffering from the same post traumatic symptoms. Many parents and professionals believe that this cult-like program is enough to destroy both families and children, as we have many testimonials which came forth in my jury trial with them. I am one of the few parents who have been able to take them all the way to a jury trial. Many have settled out of court with confidentiality agreements.
So who am I? I am a parent that refused to be silenced. In 2001, I posted my story of what we endured. How my child was abused, how I was duped, and how they (in my opinion) continue to dupe others. WWASPS decided to sue me to have my story removed from the internet. It went to a jury trial, and I won with truth as my defense. My story is published in Wit’s End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen (Health Communications, Inc) in more detail. I believe in sharing my knowledge of this (very political) industry with as many parents as possible, and I have continued to help families through my organization founded on our experiences, Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc (P.U.R.E.™).
Our experiences occurred with Carolina Springs Academy, one of many of their programs that are part of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP aka WWASPS aka Premier Educational Systems). I feel all of their programs are simply boot camps that claim internalization, however lack it tremendously. Their real business is cash cropping children; marketing and using troubled teens is part of their strategy. They are, in my opinion, a children’s warehouse and an escape for parents from their desperate situation. Their deluxe marketing and pyramid* skills seem to be what they specialize in, and I am speaking from experience; I used to sell their program and market their schools to gain free tuition. Yes, whenever you referred a family, you would get a month free! What a concept, and I fell for it! Being involved in selling the program controls your mind by reinforcing the message of how great they are when in reality, you have not even spoken to your child. I had no idea how the program was working; I was just trained to sell like a good follower.
There are many followers of this program who have become indoctrinated to the program. There are also many, like myself, who are waking up daily to the reality of their child’s plight. Dateline, Primetime, 48 Hours, and Inside Edition have done segments on this organization that paint the same picture of negative experiences. Many newspapers and magazines (including People, Forbes, New York Times, LA Times, News Day, Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, Guardian, Jamaican Observer, YM Magazine, Salon, Time Magazine, and Spin) have printed articles regarding the program and lawsuits pending against WWASP that the group is struggling to keep silent. With all this bad publicity, why take a chance with your child? Where there is smoke, is there usually fire? Again, is this something you risk with your child? Of course this is a choice a parent needs to make.
Many have asked why they are allowed to continue. The answer is simple: money and plenty of it. Money is usually the root of evil, and it seems obvious in this case. I truly believe that one day WWASP will be held accountable for their actions. The day will come that many truths will be exposed, and the sooner the better.
First Lawsuit WON Against WWASP:
P.U.R.E. ™ is proud to have defeated WWASP as they attempted to silence P.U.R.E. ™ and myself. Please note that we won in their state of Utah. I believe this is only the first of many wins. Additionally, in June of 2006, P.U.R.E.™ went on to defeat WWASP in the Federal Supreme Court of Appeals.
I hope my experiences have saved other parents from making the same mistake I made in desperation. I am sharing my personal experiences to create awareness about the misrepresentation and fraud I endured. This story was not written out of malice against WWASP (World Wide Association of Specialty Programs), it was written for the principles and morals that they lacked. I think they call it “accountability;” I am accountable for what I have written as being the truth as I experienced it.
I firmly believe that true hopelessness is found by walking in the shoes of a parent of a troubled teen. I have been there and I have survived and learned from it. I believe that if you take a negative child, and put them in a negative environment, it builds resentment and anger. Literally, this is what I had done, but I had no idea until it was too late. Through this experience I have developed the opinion that fraud and misrepresentation, combined with a vulnerable parent, can lead to danger for a child.
If you are one of the many parents struggling with their teenagers—good kids making bad choices—you are not alone. If you are in need of teen help, residential therapy is an excellent resource. In reality there are many more good programs than there are not so good; the key is to do your homework. I created a list of tips and questions to ask schools and programs before enrolling your child, as well as other valuable information. Be an educated parent and you will have safer and healthier teens. So ditch your denial and get proactive! Your child deserves a chance at a bright future.
* A footnote on their Marketing: When I was searching for options for my child, I was recruited by a Miami based parent that made it a mission (in many peoples’ opinions) to build this pyramid for WWASP. Although she claimed she had no financial gain from this, we have further learned that she collected large sums of money for her involvement with WWASP. Although she stated that she made her income from her Title Company, it was discovered that she was arrested in February 2002 on charges of illegally diverting nearly $6 million in trust money through a variety of schemes. Lynn Pretzfeld, of Miami Florida, was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering and grand theft.
According to the Florida Department of Insurance, the now closed Title Examiners Inc. diverted money into personal accounts from escrow accounts. According to public record, on June 3, 2003, Lynn Pretzfeld is now a Convicted Felon and on 10 years probation as well as paying restitution. Case #F02003735B
** Please note that WWASP seems to make it a habit to change their name. When I was involved, it was WWASP. Shortly later it became WWASPS (with an “s”), and presently we understand they are opening under Premier Educational Systems. I assume when parents do Search Engine research, it eliminates any bad press that may be associated with previous names. This is just an opinion. If you have nothing to hide, why the constant name changes?
As of December 2014 it is believed that WWASPS or Premier Educational Systems LLC has affiliations with the following:
Academy of Ivy Ridge, NY (CLOSED)
Bell Academy, CA (CLOSED)
Camas Ranch, MT
Canyon View Park, MT
Carolina Springs Academy, SC (CLOSED)
Casa By the Sea, Mexico (CLOSED)
Cross Creek Programs, UT (Cross Creek Center for Boys and Cross Creek Manor for Girls)
Darrington Academy, GA (CLOSED)
Discovery – Mexico
Dundee Ranch Academy – Costa Rica (CLOSED)
El Dorado, Costa Rica – 90 Day Boot Camp
Gulf Coast Academy, MS (CLOSED)
Help My Teen, UT (Adolescent Services Adolescent Placement) Promotes and markets these programs.
Horizon Academy, UT
Jade Robinson – Director of WWASPS programs (Floats to different ones)
Jane Hawley – Lifelines Family Services
Kathy Allred – Lifelines Sales Representative
Ken Kay – President of WWASPS
Lifelines Family Services, UT (Promotes and markets these programs) Jane Hawley
Lisa Irvin – Helpmyteen and Teens in Crisis (Will use Lisa Irvine at times too)
Magnolia Christian School, SC – (CLOSED)
Majestic Ranch, UT
Mark Peterson – Teen Help Sales Representative
MENTOR School, Costa Rica (CLOSED)
Midwest Academy, IA
Parent Teen Guide – Promotes and markets these programs
Pillars of Hope, Costa Rica
Pine View Christian Academy, (Borders FL, AL, MS)
Reality Trek, UT
Red River Academy, LA (Borders TX)
River View, La Verkin UT
Royal Gorge Academy, CO (CLOSED)
Seneca Boarding School for Troubled Teens, SC and Costa Rica
Seneca Ranch Second Chance Youth Ranch, SC and Costa Rica
Second Chance, UT (formerly Cross Creek Manor)
Sherri Schwartzman – Lifelines Sales Representative
Sky View Academy, NV (closed)
Spring Creek Lodge, MT (CLOSED)
Sunset Bay Academy, CA
Sunset Bay Academy, Oceanside, CA
Teen Help, UT (Promotes and markets these programs)
Teens In Crisis – Lisa Irvin – Teen Help Sales Rep
Three Points Center, LaVerkin, UT (formerly Cross Creek Manor and Cross Creek Center)
Tranquility Bay, Jamaica (CLOSED)
Utah River View, La Verkin, UT
Wood Creek Academy, MT – (formerly Spring Creek Lodge)
Youth Foundation, LaVerkin UT
In addition to defeating WWASPS in a jury trial in Utah, P.U.R.E.™ and founder Sue Scheff won an unprecedented $11.3 million jury verdict for Internet defamation. Despite being vindicated at a jury trial for damages in September 2006, many of the attacks on Sue Scheff and P.U.R.E.™ continue out of malice and spite. It seems when you can’t defeat someone legally, many are taking their revenge online. WWASPS continues to consider Scheff a disgruntled parent, and she is the first one to agree. However she has also decided to move forward from it by helping others avoid making the same mistake.
Learn from my mistakes, gain from my knowledge….. – Sue Scheff