Fr. Cassian Newton: Criminal Investigations and Civil Suits

Date Published: 05/16/2007
Publication: Pokrov

The information below is an excerpt from documents about Father Cassian Newton (formerly known as Virgil Miller Newton) prepared by International Survivors Action Commitee with help from Wes Fager and the Oakland Institute. Pokrov is grateful for their contributions of documents to our files.

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Fr. Cassian Newton

The following 1983 civil suits/criminal investigations immediately preceded Newton’s resignation from Straight, Inc.:

1. May–Michael Daniels sued Straight, Inc.-St. Petersburg for driving him insane.
2. May– In a trial in which Miller Newton testified, Fred Collins was awarded $220,000 for false imprisonment.
3. August–Newton and Straight, Inc.-St. Petersburg settled separate suits with Arletha Schauteet and Hope Hyrons.
4. August–Martin Brashears, an adult, sued Straight, Inc.-Atlanta for false imprisonment.
5. September–Larry Williams sued Straight, Inc.-Sarasota.
6. September–Benson Williams sued Straight, Inc.-Sarasota. The charges included beatings, pulling him by the hair, hanging him from a bedpost by his underpants, and torture.
7. September–Florida state’s attorney office for Sarasota County released a damning 600 page criminal investigation of Straight, Inc.-Sarasota including statements from current/former counselors of kidnapping, false imprisonment, threats of being court ordered unless the client voluntarily enrolls, enrolling clients who were not drug dependent, hair pulling, grabbing clients around the neck, and throwing clients against walls. Straight, Inc.-Sarasota voluntarily closed so the state dropped its investigation. Principal investigator, assistant state attorney David Levin would later say ” . . . it was child abuse and torture, directed by Miller Newton.”
8. September 3–a boy named Charles was brought to Straight, Inc. Charles had been kidnapped in Albuquerque, New Mexico by two private detectives hired by his mother, and placed in leg irons. A Florida judge later ordered his release because proper commitment procedures had not been followed, and because the judge found no evidence of drug addiction or abuse.
9. October–Michael Keen sued Straight, Inc.-St. Petersburg for false imprisonment.
10. Jacqueline A. Stallings sued Straight, Inc.-St. Petersburg for physical assaults and false imprisonment. She eventually won case #83012161C1 after the court decided that Straight, Inc. committed a “malicious act” against her.

Miller Newton and his Kids program, 1983 – Present: On November 15, 1983 Newton and his wife Ruth Ann resigned from Straight, Inc. In May 1984 Newton opened Kids of Bergen County (KBC) in Hackensack, N.J. — a Straight-like program. He later started the Straight-like franchise Kids Center of America with centers in El Paso, Texas, Salt Lake City, Utah and Yorba Linda, California.

By 1985 county prosecutors were receiving complaints of abuse. Between 1987 and 1988 Texas officials found kids being hit, pushed, assaulted, deprived of sleep, soiling their pants, and denied bathroom privileges at Kids of El Paso. At the California franchise, authorities found that kids were being denied bathroom privileges. When that facility closed in 1989, Straight, Inc.-Southern California began operating from the same building.

In April 1989, the Bergen County prosecutor’s office found black eyes, strip searches, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and denial of the right to leave when some clients reached the age of 18. One third of the clients at KBC were Canadian. Newton withdrew his application for a license just days before a public hearing in 1989 saying he intended to move to a new location in Bergen County. By 1990 Bergen County prosecutors had accumulated a considerable caseload of complaints against Newton’s program when Newton changed the program’s name to Kids of North Jersey and moved to Hudson County. Newton continued to operate under a special license for his unique program for another ten years in spite of mounting charges of child abuse–including criminal convictions of four of his counselors and additional criminal charges against one of his already convicted counselors.

The following alleged events occurred in Miller Newton’s “new” program, KIDS

1. In 1988 Larry Clay, a legal adult in his home state of Texas, was led out of Kids of Bergen County by an FBI agent with a subpoena.
2. Former Kids of Bergen County staff member Alexis Zdanow recalls an incident at the facility, c. 1988, where two clients who were brothers were taken into an intake room where he and others “threw ’em around, flung ’em around, but I was told by the higher staff, ‘You have to do that, you know, Doc Newton says it has to be done . . .'”
3. In 1989 CBS’s West 57th Street aired a damaging segment on Kids of Bergen County. Former staff member Christy Johnston said Newton told a staff member, “Bring her in here and scare her and if she hits you, hit her back.” She says they wound up rolling on the ground with Newton saying, “I’ll turn my back.”
4. Jennifer Woolston alleges in a sworn court deposition that she escaped from Kids of Salt Lake City in Aug 1989 [when she was an adult], but was later kidnapped by her mother, father, the male parent of another Kids client, and a police officer who told her she was under arrest for a felony. They took her to the male parent’s home, had her strip-searched and locked in a room. Later she again tried to escape by climbing from a window. Miss Woolston fell and broke bones in her feet and arms, dislocated her shoulder, and damaged cartilage and/or ligaments in both knees. She says she was denied medical treatment for an hour until program counselors arrived to take her to a hospital. The program released Woolston only after receiving a Writ of Habeas Corpus on Sept 21, 1989.
5. County prosecutors twice escorted clients out of Kids of Bergen County.
6. Tony Mitchele’s hospital records show he was bleeding from the scalp and having blurred vision after being dropped on his head during a group therapy session. When he became an adult Mitchele left Kids of Bergen County, but later staff member Tony Kozakiewicz was arrested for trying to kidnap Mitchele back into the program. According to former staff member Christy Johnston, charges were dropped after Kids of Bergen County promised Tony Mitchele that it would never take him back if he promised not to press charges.
7. In August 1990 (after the West 57th Street report on the facility) 20 county officials descended upon Kids of Bergen County questioning kids about abuse. Soon after, Newton moved his operations to Hudson County, New Jersey, changed the program’s name to Kids of North Jersey, but retained the old IRS identification number.
8. In 1993, at Kids of North Jersey, three counselors–Carlos Lugo, Michael O’Connor, and George Clemence–were convicted of beating 17-year-old Channery Soto. Michael O’Connor, who admitted to beating Soto, said that beatings were routine at the facility and that he had even been beaten himself. Judge Emil DelBaglivo–the Secaucus trial judge–publicly remarked that it was “almost unbelievable” that the director of the program, a man with “supposedly ” strong credentials, would allow and condone the use of violence. “We find the institution highly questionable and someone should look into it,” he said. “We think there’s something radically wrong.” Newton stayed; Judge DelBaglivo was transferred to another township.
9. Several people have alleged that Carlos Cenado broke his leg after a scuffle or fall during an escape attempt occurring at a Kids of North Jersey foster home. Several people allege that Cenado was sent to a hospital but not allowed to eat hospital food; rather food was brought in from the Kids facility.
10. Marilyn Kearns alleges that when she was 23 years old, she attended a sibling interview at Kids of North Jersey, preliminary to visiting her sister. She says she was held in an intake room for several hours until she agreed to sign up for treatment.

In early 2000 Miller Newton and his consulting psychiatrists settled with a former client of Kids of North Jersey for $4.5 million for abuses she endured. Her records show she was kept in the program for 6 years and physically restrained over 100 times. Her parents were only informed on 4 occasions. Shortly thereafter Newton closed his Kids program in New Jersey and is currently residing in Florida. Miller Newton has since changed his name to Father Cassian Newton.

Pokrov’s Note: In July, 2003 an additional $6.5 million was paid to Newton’s victims accouring to an article in the New Jersey Law Journal “
Drug Rehab ‘Cult Leader’ Settles Medical Malpractice Case for $6.5M”
by Tim O’Brien.

“Three carriers have agreed to pay almost $6.5 million to a woman who spent nearly 13 years — from age 13 to 26 — as a virtual prisoner of drug rehabilitation guru V. Miller Newton….”