Molly Redden

Molly Redden

Reporter

Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

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Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

GOP Gov. Rick Scott Raising Big Bucks With Founder of Abusive Teen Boot Camps

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 11:16 AM PDT

This Thursday, a who's who of Florida big shots will hold a private, $1,000-a-head fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott's reelection effort, led by a host committee that includes Mel Sembler, the founder of a notorious substance abuse rehab program that folded after allegations of extreme abuse were lodged against several of its facilities.

The program, Straight Inc., was founded in 1976 by Sembler, a developer, and his wife, Betty. In the 17 years that it operated drug treatment centers, Straight Inc. was plagued by news reports and at least one civil suit claiming that its staff kidnapped its adult patients and mentally, physically, and sexually abused their underage charges. Two state investigations substantiated reports of abuse.

Straight Inc. officials consistently denied these allegations. Sembler's biography on the Sembler Company website hails Straight Inc. as having "successfully graduated more than 12,000 young people nationwide from its remarkable program." Sembler, it adds, "is nationally recognized as an activist in the anti-drug campaign." Sembler could not be reached for comment.

Critics paints a much darker picture. "Children had to flap their arms like chickens or else face shaming as 'sluts' and homosexuals," John Gorenfeld reported in the May 2006 issue of Mother Jones. "Hundreds of Straight alums now claim they were scarred for life, among them Samantha Monroe, who was enrolled in 1980…and claims she was starved, raped, and confined in a closet."

Sembler is a longtime Republican fundraiser. He's already donated $25,000 to Scott's reelection PAC. And even after abuse allegations against Straight Inc. were widespread, the program enjoyed public support from many high-profile GOP figures. In 1985, Nancy Reagan brought Princess Diana to a Straight Inc. facility in Virginia—two years after a jury found that staff from that facility had kidnapped a college student. In his inaugural address, President George H.W. Bush celebrated Straight Inc. as one of a "thousand points of light" that exemplified stewardship. In 1993, the year that Straight Inc.'s last drug treatment facility closed, Sembler was serving as a US ambassador; he had been appointed by the elder Bush.

Straight Inc. staffers were alleged to have abused clients at a number of clinics. After Monroe escaped a Straight Inc. program in Florida at age 13, she says, Straight Inc. staff hog-tied her, brought her back to the facility, and placed her in a "timeout room." "Monroe had no choice but to soil her pants with urine, feces and menstrual blood," a 2002 St. Petersburg Times article reported. "She says Straight staffers called this punishment 'humble pants.'" Soon, a staffer began raping her, the Times reported, and she became pregnant at age 14.

In 1989, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse released a damning report of Straight Inc.'s Dallas-area Straight Inc. clinic. "The report said that clients were tied up with rope and with an automobile towing strap to prevent escape, that clients were physically restrained for minor infractions such as 'failure to sit up properly,' and that bedrooms were overcrowded and furnished with 'containers to be used for urination,'" the Times reported. Citing the huge need for drug treatment facilities in Texas, the commission allowed Straight Inc. to remain open, pending oversight and changes to its program.

In 1990, the California Department of Social Services ordered Straight Inc.'s Yorba Linda facility to close after investigators said they substantiated several complaints of abuse. According to these complaints, Straight Inc. staff had subjected children in their care to "unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse…and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting."

In 1983, Straight made undisclosed financial settlements with two Florida women, Arletha Luann Schautteet and Hope Yvonne Hyrons, who claimed that they had been kidnapped by employees of a Straight Inc. facility in Florida and imprisoned there. In a sworn statement, Hyrons, 19, said she was abducted from a gas station, physically prevented from leaving the Straight Inc. facility, and strip-searched. That same year, a judge awarded 20-year-old Fred Collins $220,000 after a jury found that he had been detained against his will at a Straight Inc. facilities in Virginia and St. Petersburg in 1982. An appellate court later denied Straight Inc.'s appeal. Schautteet and Hyrons testified on Collins' behalf, according to the Washington Post, repeating the allegations they made against Straight Inc. prior to their financial settlements.

Straight Inc. repeatedly denied allegations of abuse and kidnapping. A Straight Inc. clinical director told the St. Petersburg Times that Hyrons "has a history of pathological lying…the girl is just playing scapegoat kind of games." After complaints about the Yorba Linda program led to its closing, a Straight counselor told the Los Angeles Times that he had "never seen anyone tormented." "Some kids get very upset and lie and some parents believe them," he said. Reacting to the jury verdict for Collins, a Straight Inc. clinical director told the Washington Post that the outcome was "unfair" and "really scary…It means that every time I or any other staff member tries to help a young person, we'll have to be frightened of the legal consequences."

In 1991, after Virginia state officials stripped that Straight Inc. facility of its license, the operation moved to Maryland. State officials in Maryland spent hundreds of hours investigating abuse allegations before licensing Straight Inc., in an agreement which noted that investigators "found no truth to any of the allegations." In response to the Texas commission report, staff at the Dallas-area Straight Inc. program pointed out that they had fired at least one offending staff member whose actions were highlighted in the report, who had gagged a patient with a Kotex pad. By the time that Monroe made allegations against Straight Inc., the program no longer existed.

After Straight Inc. closed, the education arm of Sembler's organization lived on as a new program named the Drug Free American Foundation, which still exists today. Sembler, after serving as ambassador, continued to fundraise for prominent Republicans, including Mitt Romney. He also hosted an event to raise money for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's legal defense fund when the former Bush White House aide was on trial for perjury.

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GOP Senate Candidate Cory Gardner Disavows His Support for Fetal Personhood—After Sponsoring a Bill Last Year

| Mon Mar. 24, 2014 9:51 AM PDT

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Col.) has Democrats spooked. Less than three weeks after his late-in-the-game announcement that he would challenge Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.), a poll from the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found Gardner trailing Udall by just two points.

But Gardner, a two-term congressman, brings plenty of baggage to the race, including his background as a fierce culture warrior. Among other attempts to limit abortion access, he co-sponsored a 2011 bill that would have changed the definition of rape under federal law, limiting abortions that could be covered under Medicaid to instances of "forcible rape." So on Friday, Gardner took a step toward softening his image as a social conservative crusader by recanting his vocal support for fetal personhood laws, which would confer constitutional rights on fetuses and ban abortion from the moment of conception.

"This was a bad idea driven by good intentions," Gardner told the Denver Post. "I was not right. I can't support personhood now. I can't support personhood going forward. To do it again would be a mistake… The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position."

What changed? Gardner says he "learned to listen" to critics of fetal personhood measures—something it couldn't have hurt to have done before he co-sponsored a House bill that established a "right to life [for] every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization." That bill, which Gardner signed last July, was named the "Life at Conception Act." During his first run for Congress, in 2010, Gardner boasted of circulating a petition for a personhood ballot measure at his church. Coloradoans voted against that ballot measure—and a nearly identical measure in 2008—by a margin of 3-to-1 that year.

But their opposition didn't register with Gardner until he faced an electorate that voted for Obama in the 2012 presidential race. Now, his eyes are open. "The voters of Colorado have spoken on this issue," Gardner told the Post. "To me, that's the end of it." What a difference a tight Senate election makes.

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