February 4, 2007

KIDS of N.J. to pay $3.75M in patient's suit

KIDS of N.J. to pay $3.75M in patient's suit

by Kibret Markos

A Clifton man has won a $3.75 million settlement against a now-defunct clinic that became synonymous with abuse and neglect, his attorney said Friday.

"It's strange to be in a situation where you actually confront evil," attorney Philip Elberg said Friday. "And this is what it was: a noxious program run by a fraud."

Antonio Carrera had sued KIDS of New Jersey, a mental-health clinic for troubled teens that was shuttered in 1998 by the state after a series of beatings, sleep deprivations and other abuses came to light.

Carrera, who was 14 when he began treatment in 1994, said he was physically and emotionally abused during his five years at the center, which operated in Secaucus and Hackensack.

Attorneys for the clinic and its owner settled the case shortly after the trial began in Jersey City two weeks ago, making Carrera the last of five North Jersey residents who have obtained more than $16 million in damages, Elberg said.

Three others -- from Wanaque, Wayne and Jersey City -- as well as a former Garden State resident now living in Kansas City, Mo., were able to collect close to $12 million since 1999.
Carrera's treatment was the product of a cult-like boot camp where hundreds of extremely vulnerable children were brutalized in the name of treatment, Elberg said.

An investigation by The Record in 2000 found that KIDS of New Jersey, owned by a former Methodist minister, Miller Newton, prevented patients from going to school, reading books, receiving mail or making phone calls. Only limited contact was allowed with parents.

Rebecca Ehrlich, the Wayne resident who won a $4.5 million settlement, had told The Record that the so-called treatment actually made her mental condition worse. Newcomers had no privacy and were constantly followed around, even in the bathroom, she said.

More recently, another former patient, Nick Gaglia, made an independent film of his experience at the clinic, where he said he was physically abused and alienated from his parents until he carried out a daring escape on the George Washington Bridge.

"[Newton] was, in fact, a real-deal cult leader," Elberg said.

Stephen Ryan, the attorney for Newton and KIDS of New Jersey, didn't return a phone call Friday.

Newton, who lives in Florida and goes by the name "Father Cassian Newton," couldn't be reached.

Craig Combs, the attorney for former medical director Zisalo Wancier of Closter, a co-defendant in the case, did not return a phone call.

No one answered the phone at Carrera's home.

Licensed as a "partial-care provider," KIDS of New Jersey came under the scrutiny of the state Department of Health and Human Services in the late 1990s, amid a push for more supervision and stricter licensing of such facilities.

Allegations had surfaced that some of these clinics, among other things, lured clients from boarding houses by offering them cigarettes and candy.

An inspection later revealed abuses at the program. The clinic's license was subsequently revoked.

"We had never come across anything like this before," a human services official said at the time.

"We were pretty repulsed by it."

Elberg said he was disappointed that only a small number of clients were able to collect damages. The rest went to psychiatric hospitals and rehab centers as soon as they left Newton's clinic and didn't tell law enforcement authorities until the statute of limitations had elapsed, the attorney said.

The settlement amount will be paid by insurance companies. Newton was covered by malpractice insurance the entire time that he ran the clinic, Elberg said.

Article: NJ Media Group
E-mail: markos@northjersey.com

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