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Utah-based troubled-teen schools subject of lawsuit

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys representing 350 former students and 150 of their parents have renewed their claims of fraud, breach of contract and allegations of abuse against a Utah-based organization running schools for troubled children.

The lawsuit filed last week in 3rd District Court against the World Wide Association of Specialty Schools jump starts claims of damages filed back in 2006 in federal court — a case dismissed at that level because of jurisdictional issues.

Tenets of the case, however, remain the same, alleging the umbrella of schools charged thousands of dollars a month in tuition but failed to deliver on educational promises and psychological treatment plans.

In addition, the suit outlines of host of abuses students say were perpetuated on them while in the care of the schools, including:

• Unsanitary living conditions

• Being kicked, beaten, thrown and slammed to the ground

• Sexual abuse

• Chained and locked in dog cages

• Forced to lie in urine and feces as a method of punishment

WWASPS, owned by Utahns Robert Lichfield, Brent M. Facer and Ken Kay, has been the subject of multiple lawsuits and investigations over the years resulting from allegations always flatly denied and rejected by its attorneys.

Multiple ancillary programs and services are alleged to be part of a network that supported schools operating in Mexico, Jamaica and throughout the United States, including Utah.

Some of the schools have been criminally investigated by state or local authorities, including an expansive probe by the New York Attorney General's Office of Ivy Ridge Academy near the border of Canada and the United States.

At the time of a 2005 settlement reached in that case, New York state attorneys said Ivy Ridge was behind one of the largest educational fraud cases in the history of the state. The school was ordered to partially reimburse tuition costs of parents and to refrain from advertising that it offered educational diplomas because it was not an accredited institution recognized by state officials.

Casa by the Sea, another specialty school, was shut down after a raid by Mexican officials in 2004.

Ivy Ridge was operated by a Jason Finlinson, said to be Robert Lichfield's, son-in-law, and Casa by the Sea was operated by Narvin Lichfield, Robert Lichfield's brother.

Such relationships also go to the heart of this latest lawsuit that alleges a network of related, or closely related individuals, operating in a single enterprise that "skimmed such large amounts of money off the amounts paid by parents that little was left to provide services and care for the children at the boarding facilities."

Attorney Windle Turley, of Dallas, Texas, said he is hopeful that the restructured lawsuit will move forward in state district court and give his clients a forum to air their complaints.

The plaintiffs seek a court order a jury trial and unspecified damages.

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