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Survivors of boarding school for troubled teens expose shocking abuse in new docuseries

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A new docuseries chronicling abuse of troubled teens at the hands of New York’s Academy at Ivy Ridge has prompted a wave of new police reports from former students and a police investigation into the now-shuttered boarding school.

Netflix’s “The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping” follows director Katherine Kubler and her former classmates as they visit the site of the school that closed in 2009. Student files, including Kubler’s, were all still at the abandoned site, giving the students more insight to process what happened to them.

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They said they spent years isolated from their families and were “treated like prisoners, undergoing mental, physical and sexual abuse,” according to the series.

The former students claim they underwent abuse ranging from abduction from their homes, strip searches, starvation, sleep deprivation, corporal punishment and solitary confinement. Meanwhile, they said, they received no formal education.

Kubler, pictured at 14 years old with her father, Ken, said that she was abducted by two men, placed in handcuffs and taken to the program for troubled teens after she was expelled from boarding school for having alcohol. (Netflix)

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Teens in the program were reportedly not allowed to smile, speak or have any communication with the outside world. Phone calls and letters to parents were closely monitored, and any attempts to tell their loved ones about the abuse they endured would be intercepted and punished.

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Victims said they were “brainwashed” by a program that painted them as drug-addicted, manipulative and hopeless — and that still-existing programs for troubled teens throughout the country use the same damaging methods.

Abandoned Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg, New York

Katherine Kubler and a group of her former classmates visit the abandoned school where they said they were physically and psychologically tortured. Along with chilling graffiti, student records — including their own — were left behind at the quickly-shuttered school. (Netflix)

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Several former students reported sexual abuse at the institution, which filmmakers called an “open secret at Ivy Ridge.”

“They dehumanize the kids, that these kids are liars, manipulators, and they use that to create compliance,” one interview subject said.

Kubler and her classmates described mandatory endurance exercises called “seminars” — in one, they would spend about an hour screaming and slamming towels wrapped in duct tape on the ground. If they stopped the exercise, they said, they were sent to a new seminar meant to break them.

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The Academy at Ivy Ridge

St. Lawrence County, New York, District Attorney Gary Pasqua said new reports have been pouring in since the documentary aired on March 5. (Netflix)

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Two former students who attended the program for 22 months when they were 15 years old said that they had to sit on a chair and repeat the words “palms up, palms down, palms together, palms apart” while acting out the instructions with their hands for eight uninterrupted hours.

In high school, Kubler said, she found herself “drinking, smoking, sneaking out at night… typical teenager stuff.” 

She was expelled from her boarding school during her sophomore year in 2004 for having alcohol and assumed her father would pick her up. Instead, her parents had arranged for two men to abduct her and take her to Ivy Ridge.

Kubler said the trauma she endured there followed her for the rest of her life, with one college roommate telling her that she “[didn’t] need to explain the program to everyone [she] met.”

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Katherine Kubler

Filmmaker Katherine Kubler said she was forever changed by her 15 months at the school. (Netflix)

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“They really drill into you this complete sense of shame, and that you’re this horrible person for being there, so I felt like I had this disclaimer I needed to say to people,” she said.

The St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s office and state police said at a Monday press conference that complaints of abuse at the school near Ogdensburg have been pouring in every day since the series first aired on March 5.

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District Attorney Gary Pasqua urged the public not to call the DA’s office to harass staff or inquire about the investigation. He also asked that the public not trespass on the abandoned Ivy Ridge property. 

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“I understand the reaction that is going to come from watching some of the things that were on those videos. But it is not a reason, it does not give you a free pass to go and harass anyone, whether it be a person or a business,” Pasqua said. “Please. Let us do our job.”

Former staffers of the school have also been harassed and even threatened with violence, Pasqua said. 

The documentary claims that staff members at the school were untrained and had no credentials — neither did those who created the program itself, according to the three-part docuseries.

In the last episode of the series, titled “Follow the Money,” filmmakers explored where the profits from these programs went. Robert “Bob” Lichfield founded the Worldwide Association of Speciality Programs and Schools, and the Academy at Ivy Ridge was one of more than 25 boarding schools or youth programs affiliated with the Utah-based group worldwide.

The organization made millions each year until it dissolved amid legal battles over abuse allegations, according to the docuseries.

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“There are glimmers of hope, but these places are like Whac-a-Mole,” Kubler said. “You get one shut down, and it’ll open again under a new name… sometimes in the same building with the same staff.”

The Netflix film advocates for the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which calls for more thorough accountability for these programs. The proposed legislation would formally ban the use of restraints and seclusion, designate a group to make recommendations on the length of students’ stays and collect outcome-oriented data on students at least six months after they are sent back home.

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Connecticut

Prominent Restaurant Closing, ‘Thank You’ Celebration Planned: CT News

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Prominent Restaurant Closing, ‘Thank You’ Celebration Planned: CT News


Patch AM CT brings you the breaking and trending news stories from all across Connecticut each weekday morning. At any point, you can find your local Patch and catch up on those stories here. Thank you for reading.

A restaurant, part of a prominent group with several locations in the state, will close later this month, the owners said, but a thank-you celebration is planned first.>>>Read More.


After being damaged by one fire, the same building was destroyed by a second inferno, and, now, police are investigating.>>>Read More.


More than 40 people were arrested early Monday morning as Yale and New Haven police cleared a student-led, pro-Palestinian tent encampment.>>>Read More.

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A woman is dead and three other people were injured in a crash, according to state police.>>>Read More.


Several area fire departments called to the scene of the fire.>>>Read More.


Authorities are still desperately searching for Mya’s four other babies.>>>Read More.


Other top stories:


The Patch community platform serves communities all across Connecticut in Fairfield, New Haven, Middlesex, New London, Hartford, Tolland, and Litchfield counties. Thank you for reading.

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Maine

Marijuana grow busted in Maine as feds investigate trend in 20 states

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Marijuana grow busted in Maine as feds investigate trend in 20 states


The high electricity consumption of a home, its cardboard-covered windows and odor of marijuana drew law enforcement’s attention to an illicit grow operation off the beaten path in rural Maine.

The bust of the home with a hidden grow operation and seizure of nearly 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of processed marijuana marked the latest example of what authorities describe as a yearslong trend of foreign nationals to exploit U.S. state laws that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use to produce marijuana for the illicit markets in the U.S.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating international criminal organizations that are operating illegal marijuana grows in about 20 states, including Maine, Attorney Garland Merrick Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee this week, in response to a question raised by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Federal law enforcement officials said there currently are about 100 illicit grow operations in Maine, like the one in Passadumkeag, about 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) north of Bangor, and about 40 search warrants have been issued since June.

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In Passadumkeag, Xisen Guo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China, has been accused of transforming the house into a high-tech, illicit grow operation, according to court documents unsealed this week.

He was ordered held without bail Friday on federal drug charges, making him the first person to be charged federally in such a case in Maine. A detention hearing is scheduled for Monday.

The Internal Revenue Service and Department of Homeland Security, along with the FBI and DEA and local law enforcement, are working together to get to the bottom of the illicit grow operations in Maine, Garland said.

The state legalized adult consumption of marijuana, but growers must be licensed by the state. The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy said Guo was operating an unlicensed operation, according to court documents.

The illicit grow operations across the U.S. began cropping up several years ago. In 2018, U.S. authorities arrested a Seattle woman, conducted raids and seized thousands of marijuana plants during an investigation of an operation with Chinese ties. Oklahoma officials learned straw owners in China and Mexico were running illegal operations after marijuana was legalized by the state for medical purposes in 2018.

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The legality of marijuana consumption and cultivation in those states tends to provide cover for illegal grow operations, which may draw less attention, officials said. The marijuana is then trafficked in states where it’s illegal.

This photo shows the seizure of 40 pounds of processed marijuana from a hidden grow operation in Maine. (Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

In Maine, U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee said thwarting illegal growing operations with international connections is a priority for law enforcement, “and we will continue to marshal every tool at our disposal in this effort as appropriate.”

Law enforcement officials know the tell-tale signs.

Police zeroed in on the Passadumkeag operation in part because of the home’s utility bills reviewed by deputies. After the home was purchased for $125,000 cash, the electricity use went from about $300 a month to as high as nearly $9,000, according to court documents.

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That’s consistent with heat pumps, costly lighting and other gear needed to grow marijuana, investigators said. The home owner, a limited liability company, upgraded the electric capability to double what is found in a typical Maine home, according to documents.

Guo’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press. Two others who were at the home at the time of the police raid in February were released and not charged.

McElwee said law enforcement — from local and county police to the FBI and DEA — are starting to make headway with “dozens of operations” shuttered over the last several months.

“The possible involvement of foreign nationals using Maine properties to profit from unlicensed marijuana operations and interstate distributions makes it clear that there is a need for a strong and sustained federal, state and local effort to shut down these operations,” she said.

Law enforcement officials also continue to investigate who is directing the operations and where the profits are going, she said.

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Massachusetts

RI Man Charged After Chase Ends At Newton MBTA Station

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RI Man Charged After Chase Ends At Newton MBTA Station


NEWTON, MA — A Rhode Island man accused of leading police on a multi-state, high-speed chase on Friday was eventually cornered by Newton police officers at the Riverside MBTA station and is now facing several charges, including those stemming from driving his car at police officers.

Newton Police Chief John Carmichael praised the officers involved in the pursuit and eventual arrest of the man “during a tense and unpredictable situation.”

According to Carmichael, Newton police responded early Friday night to a report of an unconscious man inside a red Mercedes at the train station, while being informed that a car matching the description had been involved in a police chase from Rhode Island into Massachusetts.

Find out what’s happening in Newtonwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Police said the high-speed chase was terminated because of the excessive speeds when the diver got off the highway in Norwood. As Newton officer approached the car at the Riverside station, Carmichael said the suspect was able to escape arrest but that police were able to contain him in the lot “potentially creating a hazardous situation on our roadways.”

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“Their strategy and quick decisions helped preserve public safety and prevent any injuries to our officers and other motorists,” Carmichael said.

Find out what’s happening in Newtonwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

He said Officer Kayla Donahue and Capt. Dennis Dowling followed the suspect behind several buildings and around the perimeter of the area before the man got out of the car and fled on foot to the MBTA tracks.

“Officer Donahue and Captain Dowling engaged the suspect in a foot pursuit and following a brief chase, they were able to get the suspect cornered between a fence along the Woodland Apartments and MBTA tracks,” Carmichael said. “Officer Donahue did an exceptional job issuing verbal commands to the suspect who repeatedly put his hands in his pockets as if to reach for a weapon.

“Officer Donahue and Captain Dowling exhibited incredible restraint and discipline in a very tense, unfolding situation. … All officers on scene and Officer Donahue did not hesitate to confront a dangerous suspect and take him into custody.”

Police said Emanuel Salmeron, 22, of Providence, RI was charged with failure to stop for a police officer, motor vehicle operation negligence, and two counts of assault by means of a dangerous weapon — which Carmichael said stemmed from driving his car at officers — and resisting arrest.

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“I am appreciative of our officers’ bravery, as well as the patience and tactics exhibited by all officers involved in (Friday night’s) incident,” Carmichael said. “This was an exemplary display of teamwork and professionalism.

“This situation ended in the best-case scenario and I extol all of our officers and dispatchers for a job well done”


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