When embattled White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby needed to raise some cash for his upcoming perjury trial, he turned to big-time Republican fundraiser and former ambassador to Italy Melvin Sembler to set up his legal defense fund.
It was an interesting choice—Sembler knows a thing or two about the humiliations of involuntary confinement. For 17 years, he directed Straight, Inc., a substance-abuse rehab and behavior modification program that treated American teens like terrorism suspects. Sembler’s official bio boasts that the “remarkable program”—where children had to flap their arms like chickens or else face shaming as “sluts” and homosexuals—treated 12,000 kids. President George H.W. Bush hailed it as one of his “thousand points of light.” But in the early ’90s, amid state investigations and suits filed by clients claiming physical and mental abuse, his clinics were dismantled. Hundreds of Straight alums now claim they were scarred for life, among them Samantha Monroe, who was enrolled in 1980 at age 12 and claims she was starved, raped, and confined in a closet.
No such tough love for Sembler, who went on to become finance boss of the Republican National Committee and was recently hailed by George W. Bush as “my buddy.” He’s already helped Libby raise $2 million to avoid a stint in the federal pen.