Sue Scheff often refers to herself as an “advocate”, claiming that she just wants to help children. Sue Scheff uses the slogan “parents helping parents”, publicly stating that the purpose of her organization is simply to avoid the dangers of abusive programs. Critics, however, question her commitment to the welfare of children, her honesty, and the ethics with which she conducts her business.
Many of these critics congregate at Fornits.com, a largely unmoderated discussion board mostly dealing with the various issues relating to the so-called “troubled teen industry”. With a large percentage of her critics in one location, as well as much information Sue Scheff would most likely rather not exist, it’s no small wonder she hired Reputation Defender. While Sue Scheff (with her 38 and counting, cross-linked splogs) has been relatively successful keeping positive (but not necessarily accurate) information on top, attacking Fornits directly ended badly for her, resulting in both a further infuriated forum populace and an embarrassing analysis of the letter she sent to GoDaddy in an attempt to take down Fornits.
What are some of the specifics regarding what these Fornits people are upset with Sue Scheff about? Aren’t they just a bunch of crazies or WWASP supporters defaming Sue Scheff? To explain some of that requires some understanding of how the “troubled teen industry” works in the United States. Individuals known as “educational consultants” often take money (so-called “finder’s fees”) to refer “troubled teens” to programs (also known as “Emotional Growth Boarding Schools” among many other names). Some might think this an unethical conflict of interest; however at the moment this practice of “kids for cash” is completely legal. Although some educational consultants do investigate where they send kids, many do not, and with little risk and the offer of large sums of money, there is not exactly a huge motivation to do too much investigation. In any case, there is no sure way to know whether or not a consultant is taking money for referrals. Some, educational consultants continue to refer to abusive programs even after finding out about their history. Some educational consultants even defend programs well after they are shut down for abuse or sued. It is alleged by many that Sue Scheff falls into the last category. Although she recently has distanced herself from the term “educational consultant” Sue Scheff has been known to refer to herself as such in the past, even exaggerating her qualifications. Sue Scheff is a woman who gives advice on parenting to others, and claims to be able to judge if a child needs placement — and yet sent her own daughter to WWASP’s Carolina Springs Academy for her involvement in Wicca.
While recently, Sue Scheff has admitted at taking “donations” from programs and private entities, multiple parents allege they were told that she did not receive any sort of compensation at all from programs for referrals. This directly contradicts her own sworn testimony in the WWASP vs. PURE trial, where it is revealed she recieved compensation for referrals from Red Rock, Cedar Mountain Academy, Sorenson’s Ranch, Hilltop Ranch, among a host of others. Although Sue Scheff claims that these were merely donations if the school wanted to pay, an email sent on Sue Scheff’s behalf to a program by Marie Peart, an employee of PURE, states, “Sue is starting to make some noise about not referring to you if we don’t get paid”. Clearly there were consequences if a school did not pay up, even if there was no official “contract” as Sue Scheff claimed in her defense.
What she often neglects to mention is that she rarely if ever visits or investigates programs herself. She claims she has other parents help her out in this endeavor. Even if that is partially true, it would be bad enough (considering many programs make a mint off fooling parents for a living); however to investigate at least one program, Sue Scheff asked her “friend”, Gayle Palmer/Degraff, the admissions director at Red Rock at the time, to investigate another School. While this might seem fine to people not familiar to this industry, many on sites such as Fornits know her name well, along with the name of the girl, Michelle Sutton, whose death she allegedly covered up.
Scheff often claims that she started her organization, PURE after discovering her child was abused at a WWASP facility. What she doesn’t often mention is that she once referred to WWASP schools, even after starting PURE, which originally stood for “Parents Universal Referral Experts” and later renamed to “Parents Universal Resource Experts”.
Even worse, Randall Hinton, who admitted on video tape to pepper-spraying kids over three times a day and used to work at WWASP’s notorious “Tranquility Bay“, used to be one of PURE’s references on Sue Scheff’s website. This reference was available on archive.org’s version of PURE’s site until she recently blocked archiving. Thankfully, a copy exists on Fornits.com. Sue claims in her defense that at the time she started PURE, she wasn’t aware of the abuse her daughter endured in Carolina Springs (she claims she became aware around march of 2001). While this may be true, she continued to receive moneys from WWASP well into 2003, and many critics claim the sole reason she stopped referring to WWASP was becuase she allegedly got caught scamming the referral system and decided to go into competition by starting PURE.
Apparently, what goes around comes around, and complaints about Sue Scheff and the programs she refers to have been steadily flowing in since. Red Rock Canyon (now defunct), a wilderness program she referred to, for example was shut down by the state
after the death of Katie Lank. At Whitmore Academy, a school that Sue Scheff referred to and still defends, a girl was allegedly tied down and raped by Mark Sudweeks (co-owner), according to the parent of the victim who does not wish to be identified publicly. There have been many allegations of abuse against Whitmore Academy since. Although Whitmore Academy was shut down by the state based on licensing issues, criminal charges against it’s owners were pressed, to which the owners copped a plea bargain. Keep in mind the owners had already been thrown out of Mexico and had been accused (now convicted) of animal cruelty in Canada. There is also an ongoing civil lawsuit against the owners, Mark and Cheryl Sudweeks. Despite all this, Sue Scheff continues to defend Whitmore Academy, blaming it all on one bad parent with a grudge and a secret.
Now there is a Lawsuit filed against Sue Scheff by the Green family, accusing Sue Scheff of unethical business practices in her association with Focal Point Academy, and the school itself of neglect and abuse. Among other things, the complaint alleges:
“20. In April, 2006, Scheff also represented that she was not a licensed educational therapist, and therefore was not paid for her work, and that she was only making referrals based on the interests of the children.
2I. Scheff in no way disclosed that she was being paid for referring R.G. and others to Defendant Focal Point on a per-child basis. Contrary to Scheff’s misrepresentations, Defendant Horlacher later disclosed that Focal Point Academy pays Scheff money for each student she refers to the school.”
A cynical mind wonders: Given her history, who or what will she blame this on? Who will believe her this time? Perhaps the Washington Post will write another piece on Reputation Defender and Sue Scheff — this time from a slightly different perspective.