For latest developments, click here.
For the official PumpGate web site, click here.
To follow PumpGate through the courts, click here.
Meet the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs are US Ambassador to Italy Melvin Floyd Sembler, AO and his wife Betty Sembler, known in some cirlces as Mrs. Ambassadorable. Ambassador Sembler is a multimillionaire who has made his fortune building and managing shopping centers. Mel Sembler is a shrewd businessman used to getting his way. Like most politically appointed ambassadors Mel Sembler bought his way in. The Semblers run a foundation for national and international drug policy. That foundation is the Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF). DFAF used to be called Straight, Inc.
Straight was the world's biggest juvenile drug treatment program in its day. On his web page for the US Embassy in Rome Ambassador Sembler boasts that he and Betty successfully graduated 12,000 kids at Straight. At his Senate confirmation hearing Mr. Sembler boasted that he and Betty had saved 12,000 kids from drug addiction. Where did a shopping center magnate get his idea to run a juvenile drug rehabilitation program; and why are so many of his former graduates now renouncing their graduate status? The Semblers got the idea of Straight from The Seed, a program which treated one of their teenage sons. A 1974 Senate report likened the Seed's methods to those of North Korean brainwashing. Former Straight graduates are renouncing their graduate status in droves because Straight is a destructive, mind-control cult which uses Communist Chinese thought reform techniques--some of which are not even used by the most traditional newage cults like spitting in a child's face or making him soil his pants. Of course Straight used the more traditional techniques too, like total confession, food and sleep deprivation, isolation, love bombing, deception and so forth. Over forty former clients from Straight and its spinoff programs have committed suicide. None the less, Straight was a popular program due to endorsements from prominent people like Nancy Reagan and former president George H. W. Bush.
Straight is a synanon
(more commonly called a therapeutic community) where clients (in this
case kids) help in their own recovery. But Straight was rejected
by the Therapeutic Communities of America. Straight claimed to be Toughlove.
But Phyllis York, the founder of Toughlove, denounced Straight's
brutal methods. Straight claimed that it was only interested in saving
"kids;" yet it marketed almost exclusively to "white kids"
whose middle class and above parents could better pay Straight's steep
bills. From 1976 to 1993 Straight took in nearly $100 million doing that.
Meet the defendant. The man in the photo on the right is the defendant Ray Bradbury (second from left). The photo shows Mr. Bradbury, along with several others, picketing Mel Sembler's house in 2001. When Mr. Bradbury was a teenager in the early 1980s he visited his sister who was a client in Straigth-St. Petersburg, Florida. Straight would not allow Mr. Bradbury to see his sister until he agreed to an interview. At that interview he says he was kept captive until he agreed to sign himself in for a 14 day observation. [That stunt cost Straight $220,000 for falsely imprisoning Fred Collins, a honors engineering student at Virginia Tech who had stopped in to visit his brother. A federal jury found in his favor for false imprisonment. The story made 60 Minutes.]
Eventually Bradbury says he succumbed to the extortion, entered Straight, was brainwashed and sexually abused while there. After Bradbury graduated from Straight, like so many other graduates, he became a Straight counselor, thus making Straight a cult in that one never leaves. One day, while boasting to a man about how he was saving children from the ravages of addiction, the man explained to Bradbury that what he was doing was classic Chinese thought reform (brainwashing). Stunned, Bradbury researched brainwashing, and then worked seven long years to close Straight. He finally did in 1993.
Take the quick tour of Straight's abuses:
But as Straights closed around the country, some Straight officials opened their own second-generation Straights. For example on the very day Straight-Orlando closed in 1992, Michael Scaletta, the director of Straigth-Orlando, took over the clientele in a new program called SAFE. Read the sidebar story about SAFE that tells the story of Jeff Henschel who, according to the Orlando Weekly, alleges, "He was thrown into the 'time-out room,' which he describes as a cold, urine- and bloodstained, concrete-floored closet." The photo inset is Ray Bradbury protesting SAFE in 2000.
Another second-generation Straight Bradbury has visited is Growing Together. Read the sidebar police report that alleges that a client woke up in a bedroom and was sodomized by his old comers who held the boy's body down while one tried to put his penis in the youth's mouth.
Last year Reverend Doctor Miller Newton, Straight's former national clinical director, settled with a former client for $6.5 million for abuses she sustained in his second-generation Straight in New Jersey called Kids. The New Jersey Law Journal has labled the Straight method medical quackery.
Like so many Straight survivors Bradbury is not so sure that Straight ever completely closed, and even if it did, he wants to make sure no existing programs which use Straight's therapeutic method, are abusive. So since Straight closed in 1993, and perhaps even before, Mr. Bradbury has being going through Mr. Sembler's trash looking for any data that will help him document Straight's crimes, and also looking to see whether Mr. Sembler has any financial or other ties to any of the new Straights.
Bradbury's purpose for going through Sembler's trash might have been to monitor Straight and the new Straights, but Ray Bradbury says he has found some items through the years that he just wasn't prepared to find. Take for instance classified documents. Last year Bradbury told a television interviewer that he had found things in Ambassador Sembler's trash that he thought would have major national security implications. But Bradbury wasn't telling what those items were. That is not until last month when Lenny Englander, Sembler's attorney, pressed him to file a court document, a public document, describing exactly what those materials are. What Mr. Bradbury filed, if proven to be true, is shocking. He claims that he has found records of travel times of very high-level government officials including former President Bush, arrival and departure times at airports, tail numbers of aircraft used and sometimes even the names of pilots. A would-be terrorist's dream sheet!
Another unusual item Bradbury says he found in Sembler's trash was a penile pump that the ambassador had discarded. Mr. Sembler's attorney has admitted in court documents that the penile pump had in fact belonged to his client and he is demanding it back. Attorney Englander claims that the device was prescribed as a medical device for prostrate cancer. (Attorney Clark Brewster, who represents Sapulpa Oklahoma District Judge Donald Thompson in his case for allegedly masturbating on the bench with his penis pump, claims the judge's pump was given as a gag gift for his 50th birthday.)
For several years Mr. Bradbury stored the items he has retrieved from Sembler's trash. And then one day last year Mr. Bradbury did a most remarkable thing. He advertised for sale on eBay, the penile pump. Why? He says he did it to bring attention to the plight of Straight survivors. Indeed, drawn by this most unusual item for sale, people have learned about Straight
The law suit.
It's difficult to find any data on this bizarre trial other than court documents because Lenny Englander persuaded circuit court Judge Walt Logan to issue a "Temporary Injunction Without Notice" to silence Ray Bradbury. The "Without Notice" clause means that the circumstances were so extraordinary that there was no need to advise Bradbury that the court was going to conduct a hearing to decide his fate without his knowledge.
Nine months before
Lenny Englander got the same judge Walt Logan to issue a "Temporary
Injunction Without Notice" to gag another Pinellas County man--Manny
Gonzalez. That gag made it to USA Today. The state of Florida is suing
a big furniture company named Kane's Furniture for fraudulent business
practices. The Better Business Bureau has reported on Kane's. And a man
named Manny Gonzalez used to run a web page that told of the problems
at Kane's. Judge Logan silenced Gonzalez, denying him his Constitutional
right to defend himself, basing his decision on the fact that Kane's
is a trademark and that Gonzalez used the name Kane's in the name of his
The Florida Holocaust Museum was founded by former Straight Foundation president Walter Loebenberg. Mel and Betty Sembler are or have been board members and their attorney Leonard Englander is on the board of directors of the Florida Holocaust Museum. This past February the Florida Holocaust Museum held an event. On the dinner committee was Mel and Betty Sembler's son Greg and his wife Elizabeth; former Straight board member and former acting director of the Florida Holocaust Museum Dr. Bruce Epstein and his wife Amy, Craig Sher (CEO of Sembler Company) and his wife Jan (who is on the board of trustees for the museum); board trustee member Jim Soble who is legal council for Sembler Company and his wife Ann; Irwin Novack of Kane's Furniture and his wife Patty; and Judge Walt Logan and his wife Lin!
Not surprisingly people knowledgeable about the sins of Straight have been protesting the Florida Holocaust Museum. In an related story members of the Uhuru, a political group seeking social justice for blacks, has been protesting one Sembler built and managed shopping center claiming racism. The Uhuru and the Straight crowd have combined for one protest at Ambassador Sembler's American residence.
The Semblers' attorney says that Ray Bradbury has no motive, that "this guy exceeded all sensibilities here?" But Bradbury does have a motive, of that there is no denying. Is PumpGate just another SLAPP suit to hide the truth about what happened at Straight. In the final analysis the question won't be who was wronged here: Mel and Betty Sembler or Ray Bradbury? The question will be who was wronged here: Mel and Betty Sembler or 50,000 American kids? And that is what PumpGate is all about.
Read these related stories:
To learn more about the Straight cult, visit:
To learn more about Straight's controversial cofounder Melvin Sembler read his unauthorized biography at: