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Romney campaign says top fund raiser with links to 'abusive schools' resigned on his own
Jason Rhyne
Published: Thursday September 6, 2007

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A spokesman for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney slammed an earlier report from Radar Online that claimed the candidate's Utah finance committee co-chair, who is the co-founder of an education group facing allegations of child abuse and fraud, was asked to resign his position at the urging of the campaign.

Romney spokesman Stephen Smith, in a Thursday email to RAW STORY, said that although top fundraiser Robert Lichfield was no longer a part of the campaign, the decision was his alone.

"Robert Lichfield resigned on his own accord from the Romney campaign and is not a part of any campaign or finance activities," said Smith.

The campaign's comments contradicted statements from the president of Lichfield's Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP), Ken Kay, who told Radar that Romney has asked Lichfield to stop all fundraising activities for the candidate's campaign.

In June 2007, Lichfield was named in Utah federal court papers filed by the families of 133 children who have attended schools connected to WWASP--a complaint which asserts the children "were subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse," according to Radar.

Among the allegations include charges from one plaintiff, Chase Wood, who claims he was fondled, locked in a dog cage and forced to eat his own vomit while a student at the Cross Creek Center for Boys. Lichfield founded the school in the late 1970's.

"Gov. Romney has asked Mr. Lichfield to step down and not be involved in any more fundraising until the lawsuit is resolved in the positive, which we are confident will happen," Kay told Radar.

"Ken Kay is not a part of the Romney campaign in any capacity whatsoever," Stephen Smith told RAW STORY. "Kay has not served on the Utah finance committee and is not a Romney donor. He has no standing to make the claim that he did."

The campaign's spokesman also distanced Romney from Lichfield, saying "We have accepted contributions from tens of thousands of individuals across the country. And Lichfield has donated to numerous Republican candidates and committees."

Previously, Lichfield has been the target of a New York class-action lawsuit for fraud, filed against him in 2006, claiming a school operating on Lichfield-owned property--and for which he has provided consulting services--admitted students even though the school was not accredited by the state.

As Utah's biggest political donor, Lichfield raised nearly $300,000 for the Romney campaign at a February fundraiser and he and his family have contributed an additional $17,000 collectively.

Todays news comes a week after Randall Hinton, a former counselor at the Cross Creek Center and other WWASP-affiliated schools was convicted of false imprisonment and third degree assault for slamming a student's head into a stairwell at Colorado's Royal Gorge Academy.

According to Reason Online, Lichfield isn't the only member of Romney's fundraising apparatus with a link to purported teen abuse.

Mel Sembler, the Romney campaign's national finance co-chair and former Republican party campaign finance chair during the 2000 election, created a network of treatments programs for trouble young people called Straight Inc., in 1976.

Reason cites a 1990 article in the Los Angeles Times which reported that California officials investigating Straight Inc. found teens "subjected to unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation...and interference with living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting."