American, Canadian teens removed from Samoan reform camp amid abuse allegations

Nando Times/July 22, 2001

APIA, Samoa -- Allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse led to the removal of 23 American and Canadian teens from a center for troubled youths reportedly run by a man who was banned from operating teen-reform survival camps in the United States following the death of a girl in his care.

Reports made by the teens to the U.S. Embassy over the past three weeks "were very serious and were coherent, credible and consistent," said James A. Derrick, the charge d'affaires at the embassy. "We were able to verify many to our satisfaction," Derrick said. "We are interviewing the students and if we receive credible information of specific crimes we will pass it on to the appropriate authorities of the Samoan government."

The attorney general's office said the "serious, credible complaints" are being investigated by police. Specific allegations weren't disclosed by officials investigating the program, which has an unlisted telephone number. The 22 Americans and one Canadian were housed in a motel after being removed Thursday. They spent Friday at the embassy contacting their parents to make arrangements to return home.

Most of the teens are from the southwestern part of the United States, Derrick said. Embassy officials, along with officials from the High Commissioner of Australia, representing Canada, visited the Pacific Coast Academy on Friday along with police officers, Health Department staff and a lawyer from the attorney general's office.

The Samoa Observer reported the rehabilitation center is owned by Steve Cartisano, who was banned from operating teen-reform survival camps in Utah following the death of a girl in his care.

Cartisano gained notoriety after founding Challenger Foundation, a successful adolescent "wilderness therapy" program in the late 1980s. But charges of child abuse and negligent homicide - 16-year-old Kristen Chase died of heat exhaustion in 1990 while on a forced hike in Kane County, Utah - closed the program.

Cartisano was acquitted of criminal charges. His name landed on Utah's registry of suspected child abusers in 1992, barring him from working for any state-licensed child-treatment facility in the state. Cartisano also was linked to another center for troubled American youths in Samoa.

He was hired by several Utah businessmen in 1998 to help start the New Hope Academy. In the two weeks Cartisano ran New Hope, company officials allege he wrote $23,000 in bad checks and ran up a $10,000 cellular phone bill. In 1999, New Hope closed its doors, reportedly stranding five youths in the South Pacific island nation, located 2,300 miles south of Hawaii.

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