Monday, July 23, 2001

Teens removed
from camp

The move comes after
allegations of abuse surfaced

Staff and news reports

The founder of a defunct home for troubled youths in Molokai has been linked to a similar rehabilitation center in Samoa where 23 American and Canadian teenagers have been removed because of allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse.

Allegations from the teens at the Pacific Coast Academy over the past three weeks "were very serious and were coherent, credible and consistent," said James A. Derrick, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Samoa. Complaints are being investigated by police.

According to promotional material, troubled youngsters attend the academy's private school, receive therapy from counselors and work in the community.

Academy spokesman Dave Parker denied the abuse allegations.

"These kids are liars, manipulators, drug addicts, and you don't expect them to tell the truth," Parker said. "And they would do anything to go home.

"The things that they've said are not true. But you don't blame them for wanting to go home."

The Samoa Observer reported the rehabilitation center is owned by Steve Cartisano, who gained notoriety in the late 1980s after founding Challenger Foundation, a successful adolescent "wilderness therapy" program.

He was banned from operating such teen-reform survival camps in Utah following the death of 16-year-old Kristen Chase. She died of heat exhaustion in 1990 while on a forced hike in a Challenger camp in Kane County, Utah.

That same year, Cartisano started the Challenger Foundation wilderness-therapy program in Hawaii without the knowledge of state licensing officials. Police found nine teens in remote Wailua Valley on Molokai, and an officer described it like a "prison camp," according to local news reports. The youths were unhurt but hungry, foraging on fruit and eating oats, lentils and rice. The state filed a lawsuit to shut down the program, and a judge indefinitely suspended operations.

Cartisano was acquitted of criminal charges in Chase's death, but 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.

Most of the teens at the Pacific Coast Academy in Apia, Samoa, are from the southwestern United States, Derrick said.

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