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After their case was dismissed last month in federal court, a group of about 500 parents and students have gone to state court with allegations of abuse by the operators of a Utah-based school for troubled teens.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in 3rd District Court, claims that from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, students attending schools owned and operated by World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools Inc., (WWASPS) founded by La Verkin entrepreneur Robert Lichfield were physically, emotionally and sexually abused at the facilities.
WWASPS is accused of a lengthy list of abuses, including that students were beaten, chained, locked in dog cages, forced to eat vomit and made to lie in urine and feces as punishment. The complaint also alleges students were forced into sexual acts.
"At all times relevant, defendants did not disclose to the parents the physical, emotional, mental, and/or sexual abuse to which their children were subjected at their facilities and conspired, even to this day, to prevent them from discovering such abuse," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit lists a total of 59 defendants, including Cross Creek Center for Boys LLC., Cross Creek Manor LLC., Teen Help LLC and Brightway Adolescent Hospital. The facilities mentioned in the lawsuit a number of which are now closed are located throughout the United States, as well as Mexico, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.
The defendants are also accused of defrauding parents of tuition and other monies paid.
The lawsuit was first filed in U.S. District Court in 2006, but Judge Clark Waddoups dismissed it in August, citing a lack of jurisdiction in August.
Windle Turley, a Dallas attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Waddoups dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds because of the way the case was structured, not on the merits of the case.
"We had hoped we could continue to move forward in the federal court. But we're just glad were going to be able to move forward now," Turley said.
Asked about criminal charges, Turley had details only in connection with a case filed in Costa Rica against school director Narvin Lichfield, who is Robert Lichfield's brother, for alleged sexual abuse. Turley said those charges were ultimately dismissed.
The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of damages, including punitive damages, to be determined at trial. A racketeering claim was dropped from the lawsuit filed federal court but may be added to the state lawsuit, Turley said.
Attorney Stewart Harman, who represented Lichfield and Ken Kay, WWASPS' president, in the federal lawsuit, said "the reasons for dismissal are clearly and adequately laid out and set forth in Judge Waddoups' decision."
Kay has previously denied the lawsuit's allegations as "ludicrous."
"We don't condone any type of child abuse and it's highly unlikely that any of the incidents ever happened," Kay said in 2007, noting that troubled teens often have a record of fabricating stories.