Straight, Inc., the Judges and Cops 

by Wesley Fager,  (c) 2000,  All Rights Reserved 

"If my own daughter had a drug problem, I wouldn't hesitate to lock her up in the trunk of my car and take her to Straight myself."
Fairfax County, Virginia Juvenile & Domestic Relations Judge Michael Valentine, from his bench, September 1989


"It�s [The Seed] a miracle . . . It is the most fantastic program in the United States . . . the only genuine help available.�
Judge Alfonso Sepe of the Dade County, Florida criminal court


"How much is the Turk paying you to set my father up, Captain?" 
The police captain turned to him. He said to the two burly patrolmen, "Hold him." Michael felt his arms pinned to his sides. He saw the captain's massive fist arching toward his face. He tried to weave away but the fist caught him high on the cheekbone. A grenade exploded in his skull. His mouth filled with blood and small hard bones that he realized were his teeth.
From The Godfather

Straight could have been closed down by the state of Florida in 1978 after HRS official Bob Marshall investigated 30 allegations of abuses at Straight. Assistant chief John H. Dale, Jr of Florida''s Bureau of Criminal Justice Planning and Assistance later confirmed that many allegations of abuses had indeed been substantiated. Bob Marshall had publicly confirmed that on January 18, the day before a substantive HRS report was to be released, that he had received a call from Secretary of Health William J. "Pete" Page, Jr. and it had been decided to publicly announce a smaller, two page report and to announce Straight would get an interim license while it made several program changes. It has been confirmed by Mel Sembler, Straight board member John White, and a spokesperson for Secretary Page that Straight officials had contacted Page complaining about the HRS investigation of Straight. Bob Marshall was fired. [See James T. Russell, Sheriff Genung and the Dale Report.]

During Marshall's investigation a citizen's group called Parents Associated Inc. had been formed by a minister named Askew to investigate HRS' investigation of Straight. Prominent on PAI's board was Circuit Court Judge Jack Dadswell. Pinellas-Pasco County Circuit Court Juvenile Judge Jack E. Dadswell, who had had two of his three children in The Seed, had once remarked that [Art] Barker had a right to be "cocky" because The Seed "brought back my son." Judge Dadswell served on the Pinellas County Executive Committee to open The Seed-St Pete.(1) "Straight is probably the most intensive behavior modification program I know of," Judge Dadswell is quoted as saying in March 1977. By 1978 a Straight promotional brochure quotes Judge Dadswell calling Straight, "the most effective rehabilitation program in Florida." [Another Pinellas County judge whose son "shot amphetamines into his arms" had enrolled his son in The Seed.](2)

It was Pinellas County state's attorney James T. Russell,  accompanied by Pinellas County Sheriff Don Genung,   who had gone to Fort Lauderdale in the early 70s to look at The Seed which led to The Seed coming to Pinellas County.  On September 6, 1973 James T. Russell introduced Art Barker to the Pinellas County Bar Association luncheon  declaring that The Seed was the county's answer to the drug incarceration problem.  State attorney James T. Russell became a Seed Advisory Board member,  along with Lieutenant Governor of Florida Tom Adams,   Tampa Mayor Dick Greco,  County Judge James B. Sanderlin and Circuit Judge William L. Walker,  and Sheriff Genung.    Richard Mensh, at one time Russell's chief assistant prosecutor, is the brother of former Straight board member attorney Myron Mensh;  and  Allen Allweiss,  one of Russell's assistant states attorneys,   was on the Straight board of directors.  Later when Art Barker had problems with federal funding for the Saint Petersburg Seed  states attorney  Russell,  Sheriff Genung,  and and Republican Congress Young met with Bob DuPont in attempts to get that money for The Seed.  [See Criminal authorities investigating Ray Bradbury.] 

In 1973 Pinellas-Pasco Juvenile Circuit Court Judge Jack A. Page had bragged that he ordered kids he thought had a drug problem to The Seed "on a daily basis." In January 1974 Judge Page had said that many kids fight going to The Seed because of bad publicity. "There's a lot of flack about The Seed in the drug culture right now," he had said. "The kids are brainwashed into believing that The Seed is a horrible place where you are beaten and starved into submission. But we know in most cases everything turns out alright," said Judge Page. In August 1975 Judge Page remarked, "It's [The Seed] the best program I've ever seen for the right type of youngster, who could take the pressure." In 1977 Judge Page commented that "Straight seems to have the same effect as the Seed, but without the "pressure tactics". "I haven't had kids revolt like they did with The Seed," he said. "And there have been almost no complaints from parents and kids." "It is an attitude program, not just a drug program. It teaches self respect and traditional values and gives teenagers a strong sense of responsibility. It would be good for all types of delinquents, not just drug abusers," Judge Page had said.

Judge Page shared the Circuit Court's juvenile bench with Judge William L. Walker who served on the Executive Committee with Judge Dadswell which had brought The Seed to St. Petersburg in the first place. Judge Walker along with County Judge James B. Sanderlin served on The Seed's Advisory Board. [A Judge Sanderlin served on the Florida Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.] It was Judge Walker who let the cat out of the bag when he publicly stated that "few know what treatment occurs behind its [The Seed's] doors." Though he did plan to meet with Art Barker saying, "I think I can help him with the court's view." Judge Walker admitted in 1973 that persons had been sent to the Fort Lauderdale and to the Pinellas Seed for offenses other than drugs. In 1973 he admitted that 46 juveniles had been sentenced to The Seed while Clearwater Criminal Felony Judge David S. Patterson noted that only 3 or 4 adults had been sentenced to The Seed. The Seed was licensed in St. Petersburg in July 1973 and by September Judge Page announced that about 150 kids had already been sent by the courts to the St. Petersburg Seed.

Largo Municipal Court Judge Richard Moritz once gave one youth charged with loitering the choice of The Seed or an illegal jail term--twice that allowed by law. The youth spent 2 hours in The Seed and demanded to be sent to jail. Fort Lauderdale Judge James Balsinger and Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael E. Zeal were board members of the Fort Lauderdale Seed. In 1973 Circuit Court Judge Harry Fogle said he sentenced one kid to The Seed but had worded the order that the kid would be released when his probation officer and parole officer felt he was ready. The Seed had problems with that telling the judge they would decide when the kid would leave so Judge Fogle refused to send any more kids there. The Seed refused to accept a girl named Carolyn as part of her probation from the Clearwater courts unless the judge modified the order to state that she would have to complete the program. In other words the judge was not allowed to sentence her to 3 months in The Seed in lieu of 3 months in jail. She had to stay in The Seed until The Seed said she was ready to leave. The Clearwater judge agreed.(3) Archie McCrimmon was skilled at fixing cars. He was called in from paid jobs to fix things at The Seed. He had been told that he would go to jail if he did not make it in The Seed so he stayed. Finally after a year and a half he spoke with his parole officer who told him he could leave The Seed any time he wanted!

Marketing to Judges. One way to sign up judges was to get their own kids in the program and convince them that Straight, or The Seed, had saved their kid's life . Another way was to hold market meetings to actively recruit judges. After all, Straight is a private prison, and the more inmates judges can send it, the more money it makes. M. Riddile, Straight Springfield's founding director, stated in deposition in 1983 that he had approximately 18 kids in the program who had been court ordered from New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland. He stated that Bill Richardt of The Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court in Fairfax had visited Straight, and that Straight had been in contact with Fairfax Judges Valentine and Fortkort. In the late 1980s all the juvenile probation officers for Fairfax County, Virginia attended a Straight meeting. Former Fairfax Judge Donald Crounse had to file a Writ of Habeas Corpus in order to visit his own sons, one of whom had been court ordered to Straight (in lieu of jail) by Fairfax Judge F. Bruce Bach. James Wright, a Maryland resident, fled Straight St. Petersburg after being court ordered there in lieu of jail by Montgomery County, Maryland Circuit Court Judge Stanley Frosh. Wright was eventually captured and kidnapped in Maryland by a vigilante posse of Straight parents who tied him up and attempted to transport him back to Florida. He escaped along the way in Virginia and sued. On of his cases was tried by the same Judge F. Bruce Bach who had committed one of Judge Crounce's kids to Straight.(4)
















Straight and the ACLU

Since Straight violates human rights it was always in court battles with the ACLU.  Not surprisingly Straight  always wins in Florida state courts.  Click here for that predictable story.

Anthony S. Battaglia. Through the years Straight hired many attorneys to handle its various legal matters including attorneys to represent it in its many civil suits for accusations of abusing children. As far as can be ascertained by an outsider, Straight never had a corporate attorney as such but then there was a bevy of attorneys on the board of directors to help on legal matters. Attorneys like Jay Synder and Joseph Garcia, plus, to a lesser extent, attorneys Guy Perenich, Allen Allweiss, Ray deMember and Myron Mensh. But the attorney who was not a Straight board member who perhaps handled more Straight affairs than anyone else would have been Anthony Battaglia.

Anthony S. Battaglia is a very prominent and successful attorney in the Tampa Bay area and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America. In 1989 he was named chairman of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce Task Force to establish a Federal Court House in St. Petersburg. When George Bush was in Florida in 1994 campaigning for his son Jeb who was running for governor, he stayed at the home of Fred Bullard (Fred B. Bullard, Jr. has been Battaglia's business partner.) It was Anthony Battaglia who had defended former Pasco County Circuit Court Judge Richard Kelly, then Republican Congressman, in the FBI Abscam sting. Congressman Kelly, the only Republican Congressman to be convicted in Abscam, had been brought into Abscam by Gino Ciuzio whom authorities believe to be a soldier in the Bonanno crime family.(5) One business venture that Straight co-founder Joseph Zappala teamed-up with Anthony Battaglia was BFZ Development, Inc. Another was the Great Crockett Lake Ranch SALE. In the 1970s Anthony Battaglia and his wife, Straight co-founder Joseph Zappala and his wife, two other couples, and another man bought 973 acres of rural land in Pasco County known as Crockett Lake Ranch for less than $1 million. Fifteen years later it was worth about $2.5 million when the partners asked the county to re-zone it part residential, part commercial. The county planning commission said no to commercial, but maybe to residential, provided the owners or potential new owners would pay for an impact study on roadways if declared residential as the owners or potential new owners would be the immediate beneficiaries of a re-zoning. But then four months later, the county, inexplicably decided to re-zone it residential/commercial as the owners wished. The property jumped from $2,000 - $3,000 an acre to about $10 million overnight. If sold to a single buyer, it would be one of the biggest land deals in Pasco County history at that time. County appraiser Ted Williams remarked that the county may have serious financial problems planning and paying for all the new development that has been approved.

Anthony Battaglia successfully represented Straight when it sued the state of Florida giving parents the right to force their children into drug rehabilitation without a court order. Battaglia represented Straight in at least one of its civil suits with a former client claiming abuse. His law firm donated $5,000 to Straight in the 1987-88 business year. It was Battaglia who represented Straight when Straight negotiated with NBC News in the late 1980s to not broadcast a segment that was critical of Straight. When Straight board member Melvin Gross and Diversified Health Services got into trouble for allegations of fraud schemes against the elderly, it was Anthony Battaglia who defended Diversified.(6) Battaglia has served on the Republican National Committee. Among the Republicans that Joseph Zappala had contributed $140,000 to between 1985 and 1988 was Congressman C. W. "Bill" Young, the man who had set up the meeting between Robert DuPont and James T. Russell to get federal funding for The Seed. When Congressman Young was sued for allegedly helping to cover up a story that his niece had been sexually molested by her grandfather, he was represented by Battaglia. Battaglia even represented state attorney James T. Russell (Seed Advisory Board) and his assistant Allen Allweiss (Straight board) when they were sued by a psychiatric hospital. Anthony Battaglia spoke at Russell's retirement in 1992.  Russell had run for his office as a Republican in 1988.

In Pinellas/Pasco County, Florida the Judicial Nominating Commission of the Sixth District nominates, for the governor's consideration, persons for appointments to judgeships. Anthony Battaglia was chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission in 1988 and 1989. The year before, in 1987, attorney Walter A. Fullerton, III, a partner in Battaglia's law firm, and a former assistant states attorney, was appointed as a Pinellas County judge. In September 1992 Michael L. Hastings, a shareholder with Battaglia's law firm, was named to the Judicial Nominating Commission. In 1993, Howard P. Ross of Battaglia, Ross, Dicus, and Wein was appointed chairman of the civil trial certification committee of the Florida Bar. From his web-page biography Mr. Ross states that he is "available to serve as a voluntary Trial Resolution Judge" in Florida. Mr. Ross had once proposed to the St. Petersburg City Council the construction of the "Ambassador Pavilion", a monument in stone to immortalize Melvin Sembler and Joseph Zappala!(7) In 1993 Battaglia became the Pinellas-Pasco representative on the Florida Bar Board of Governors.

COPS. You recall that in 1978 Parents Associated Inc. had been formed to investigate HRS' investigation of Straight; that separate investigations of Straight by James T. Russell, by BOCJPA, and by HRS had led to no disciplinary action against Straight, but that HRS' principal local investigator, Bob Marshall, had been fired; and that prominent on the BODs of Parents Associated Inc was Circuit Court Judge Jack Dadswell. Also on the BOD of Parents Associated Inc was the chief of police for the Saint Petersburg Police Department, Chief Mack Vines, who would become the police chief of Dallas, Texas where Straight happened to operate another treatment camp. In 2001 Saint Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker re-hired former Police Chief Mack Vines even though Vines had been fired from his job as Chief of Police for the Dallas Police Department after being arrested and charged with perjury in 1990. He had been accussed of lying to a panel which was investigating the firing of a white officer who had shot and killed an Hispanic person. A jury acquited Vines, but the matter kept him from other top police jobs including the chief's job in neighboring Tampa. But Mayor Baker quickly fired Chief Vines after he described the arrest of a black man to 40 detectives stating that the man was "resisting significantly to the point of almost like an orangutan." [See James T. Russell, Sheriff Genung and the Dale Report.]

Former Acting Chief Waymire is a founding director of Straight. Mr. Waymire had been director of the City Office of Crime Prevention.    In fact during the planning stages before Straight opened Mr. Waymire and the other planners often met at the City Office of Crime Prevention.(8)   One allegation that had surfaced during the 1978 investigations was whether the nephew of Straight's director, Saint Petersburg police officer Ronald K. Hartz, had exceeded his authority with a Straight client. In a now familiar pattern, the allegedly threatened youth was kept apparently isolated from the outside world, until he was interviewed by Chief Vines and reported that Officer Hartz had not threatened him, consequently Chief Vines did not charge Hartz.   

In 1973 Lt. Mac Vines of the Saint Petersburg Police Department, later its chief of police, said he agrees 80% with what The Seed is doing. Only problem, it�s "too secretive" and "some youngsters appeared to be confessing to drug habits they didn�t have." He says he heard one kid confess to using so much stuff, that if he did it, "he would have been horizontal." Yet both he and Raymond Waymire, who would be acting police chief before Vines got the job and would be a founding director for Straight, admitted to a reporter, that if a kid flees The Seed they will pick him up and return him there. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/16/73, section D.]    When Straight-Detroit closed Straight officer Helen Gowanny opened Pathway Family Center outside Detroit in Southfield.  Dr. Isaiah McKinnon,  retired Chief of Police for the City of Detroit,  is an honorary board member of Pathway.  

An interesting thing happened after the  chief of police for Saint Petersburg investigated HRS' Bob Marshall under his role as a private citizen.   One of his assistants,  Lt David Milchan, who had headed the Youth Services Division of the St. Petersburg Police Department, had frequently referred families to Straight.   In fact he was on the  Straight Advisory Committee.  Well it seems he just got tired of being a police officer after all those years of service.  No he didn't bother retiring.  He just up and quit and took a job with HRS.  So now Straight had managed to get Bob Marshall fired for investigating Straight   and get a  former board member working for HRS to boot.   Well after a bit David Milchan decided that he wanted to be a policeman after all,  and so he went back to law enforcement.  But not as a mere lieutenant.  He went to Saint Petersburg  Beach which is the city of residence for Straight co-founder Joseph Zappala and,  in 1981,  was given the job of Chief of Police!   The Saint Petersburg Beach Lions Club annually awards the Joseph Zappala Policeman of the Year Award.  Terry Hensley, a former police chief of Saint Petersburg Beach, became the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation (formerly Straight Foundation).  

The United States Small Business Administration used to ensure that minorities got their fair share of government contracts. But these days they've expanded their scope. Look what they're sponsoring in Florida, for example. If you are a business in Florida and are willing to set up a Drug-Free Workplace Program or an Employee Assistance Program you get a 5% discount on Worker's Compensation premiums and you get "Preferred Vendor" status when competing on State of Florida contracts. In other words if your company competes with another company for a state contract and you have a DFWP and he doesn't--you get the contract. Now chances are your business is running hotels or running a computer service and you don't know anything about DFWP or EAP policies and procedures. So who do you pay to set a program up for you. Well click here and if you're in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area Betty Sembler at the Drug Free America Foundation (formerly the ninety million dollar Straight Foundation charity which has been criticized by the federal government for treating white kids almost exclusively) will take your money and set up a program for you.

But if you're not in Florida you might want to call BDA--Bensinger, DuPont and Associates. BDA is owned by the former head of the DEA Peter Bensinger and Straight's former high-priced mouth-piece and paid consultant Robert DuPont. Besides being a U.S. delegate to Interpol, Mr. Bensinger has been chairman of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Did you ever wonder who trains all them DEA agents? Not only is Betty Sembler and the Drug Free America Foundation willing to service you and take your money through the federal government's Small Business Administration, but she trains DEA agents through the Big Business Administration and I mean the U. S. Department of Defense through the MCTFT or Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training program. According to MCTFT literature, the MCTFT is "in the forefront of counterdrug training for local, state and federal officials and their cooperative multijurisdictional counterdrug task force efforts. In cooperation with all the nation's HIDTAs, RISS, JTF-6, over twenty state narcotic officer's associations, the U.S. Military and a multitude of local, state and Federal agencies, MCTFT trains tens of thousands of law enforcement officials in hundreds of courses, conferences and satellite broadcasts each year."

The MCTFT is an international anti-drug training program funded by the U. S. Department of Defense through the Florida National Guard. The influence of Betty Sembler and the DFAF is obvious,  everywhere. By-passing Cal Tech, Berkeley, Duke and MIT the MCTFT is strategically located in Saint Petersburg, Florida, minutes away from Betty's house, at that world renowned hall of academia, the Saint Petersburg Junior College on whose staff is Father Doctor V. Miller Newton who perhaps is sitting, waiting for President George W. Bush to authorize the likes of him to run a juvenile drug rehab program once again. Betty Sembler is on the MCTFT Advisory Board along with Florida's drug czar James McDonough, the head of Florida's state police (FDLE) James T. Moore, the head of Florida's national guard Major General Ronald O. Harrison, and of course the the Sheriff of Pinellas County Everett S. Rice. There are a few board members outside of Florida. Captain Donald R. Martin of the Virginia State Police holds the international chair  [the Virginia State Police Association has sponsored PANDAA, an anti-drug organized founded by some Straight parents in Virginia], Aldine N. Moser, Jr., Executive Director, National Sheriff's Association, Robert Stewart, Executive Director, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and a few others.

In by-gone days we at the Oakton Institute have been openly critical of the US government's decision to host a federal program with international reach at a mere junior college. There is good reason to believe that that decision had been influenced because of MCTFT's ties to to America's First Family of the War on Drugs, Mel and Betty Sembler. In 2001 Florida state Senator Donald C. Sullivan (formerly secretary of Straight Foundation) proposed a bill to make Saint Petersburg Junior College a full-fledged university which subsequently it has become. It is now Saint Petersburg College and University Center. Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Crist, did we cause that? See more here.]


GOP fliers endorse two judges

Critics say the endorsements blur the line between party politics and non-partisan judicial campaigns.


� St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 1998

lorida judicial campaigns always have been non-partisan affairs . . . 

In two fliers, the Republican Party of Pinellas County urges residents to vote the party ticket, . . . Included in the list are Irene Sullivan, a candidate for circuit court judge, and George Brown . . . 


Betty will never forget the day when Jeb Bush turned to her in an adjoining box during George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention to tell her he had just declared August 8, 2000 Betty Sembler Day  in all of Florida. Nor will she likely forget her 70th birthday the next year when everybody gathered at Gratzzi's Italian restaurant to wish her well. Judge Irene Sullivan could only stay for salad and Saint Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who was at another nearby luncheon, did manage to stop in to say hello. (Judge Irene Sullivan is the wife of former Florida  state Republican Senator Donald Sullivan, MD who was formerly the secretary for Straight Foundation, Inc.  Attorney Rick Baker had been the local  campaign chairman for both Gov. Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush.  Jeb Bush appeared at a political fund raiser for him.)  Instead of gifts Betty had asked everyone to contribute to the Straight Foundation, Inc. which now calls itself DFAF.   When Mel Sembler opened his latest masterpiece, the Bay Walk shopping center,  and held a VIP party on November 16, 2000 Judge Irene Sullivan was on-hand along with Judge Bob Beach.  [St Pete Times, 11-19-2000].  

Be sure to read the chapter on "bullying the states" or Behind the Tallahassee Curtain to see how the Straights have been successful in the Florida state legislature and Florida state court system to empower parents with the authority to place kids into treatment with the effect of a court order.  Translation--if a Florida kid flees home and tells a police officer he has been battered by a parent at home the officer will contact social services and have them investigate the matter.  If the story sounds convincing,  the policeman will probably not take the child directly back to his home.  However,  if a kid escapes from a treatment program and tells a policeman he was abused in there the policeman will probably carry him right back as if he had escaped from juvenile prison and claimed he had been abused there.


1. St. Petersburg Times, March 4, 1973, p. 4B.

2. St Petersburg Times, January 26, 1973.

3. Senate Report, op. cit., p 194.

4. St. Petersburg Times, 1/23/74.

5. Greene, Robert W., The Sting Man Inside ABSCAM, E.P. Dutton, New York, 1981, pp. 6, 8, 10, 134, 216-218, 242-244, and others. Also the several articles about Abscam appearing in the New York Times from 1980 to 1981.

6. St Petersburg Times, 1988; Sept 14, 1992, section Business, p. 14; Sept 6, 1993, section Community Times, p. 4; March 16, 1992, Business, p. 16.

7. St. Petersburg Times, 9/27/91, section City Times/ N. Pinellas Times, p. 1.

8. St. Petersburg Times, 8-12-76, p. 8B.

This web page is offered as a public service and as an educational resource to those interested in learning about the potential dangers of abusive Straight-based synanons.   The page is the on-line publishing arm of the Oakton Institute for Cultic Studies.