Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Finally, Kanakuk Kamp sex scandal may receive national attention

It has been about four years since the Turner Report broke the story of the arrest of Kanakuk director Pete Newman on sex charges involving several underage boys.

After all of this time the story, which to this point developed into numerous lawsuits and the arrest and conviction of a Kanakuk counselor on different charges, the story may finally be ready to shed its regional label and receive nationwide attention.

Veteran Kansas City Star reporter Judy Thomas detailed Kanakuk's problems in a report Monday,

While the report does not break much new ground, it still brings an important story to a wider audience, since it has been picked up by national wire services.

After my initial reporting on Kanakuk, I wrote the following post July 13, 2012, shortly after the Penn State scandal hit:
It has all of the earmarks of a national scandal.

A godlike figure, Joe, in charge of the fate of hundreds of young people. In the late ‘90s, one of his trusted assistants is charged with inappropriate activities with underage obys. The assistant is allowed to keep his job and continues his illegal, predatory activities.

When the assistant is finally brought to justice, a decade after the warning signals were sounded, the people at the institution gather around the godlike figure and mercilessly hammer at anyone who suggests that Joe might have anything to do with the evil that occurred on his watch.

I am not writing about Penn State, but the Christian sports camp Kanakuk, with its main location in Branson, Missouri. I was not describing the evils of Jerry Sandusky, but those of former Kanakuk camp director Pete Newman, and the godlike figure is not the late Joe Paterno, but the very much still in control Joe White, a nationally known motivational speaker connected with Promise Keepers.

The Kanakuk scandals began with Newman’s 2009 arrest on multiple charges involving sex with teenage boys over a 10-year period.

The crimes were described in the Taney County Sheriff’s Department report:

"Between 2005 and 2008, Pete Newman became a close friend of his by attending family dinners, sleepovers, bible studies, taking vacations together and writing letters. Pete would hold one-on-one sessions with (the boy) in Pete's hot tub (at Pete's residence) and would request they be naked. Pete would discuss life's struggles with (him) and talk about masturbation. Pete would explain that if (the boy) would masturbate with him in his hot tub then there would be no lust and therefore (the boy) would not be sinning."
The boy told Roberts he and Newman masturbated together 10 times over a four-year period.

The sex went further than masturbation with another teenager, according to the report. After beginning with the masturbation sessions with the 13-year-old, the report said, "Pete started masturbating (the boy) and (the boy) would then masturbate Pete." That led to oral sex when the boy turned 15.

Newman allegedly used the hot tub trick on a 14-year-old, again resulting in mutual masturbation sessions.

When the Sheriff's Department began contacting former campers from other states, they heard more disturbing stories. Parents from Tennessee told the deputy their son, who was 14 at the time, reported engaging in the same type of activity with Newman.

Roberts described Newman's tactics, saying Newman became close to boys aged 11 to 15, hung out with them, gained their parents' trust, then beginning slowly with the hot tub and leading to sexual experiences. Roberts referred to it as "the grooming process" used by sexual offenders.

Sexual assault charges were also filed against Newman in Durango, Colorado, though those were dismissed after Newman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve two life sentences plus 30 years.

The questions about what Joe White knew and when he knew it were spelled out in two lawsuits filed against Kanakuk, one in Taney County and the other in a federal court in Texas.

Among the allegations in the Taney County petition:-Kanakuk officials received sexual misconduct reports about Newman as early as 1999. (He remained in Kanakuk's employ until 2009.)

-Kanakuk's cost-saving policies encouraged employees recruiting campers in the off-season to stay with families, providing opportunities for Newman to zero in on potential victims.

-Kanakuk promoted Newman as a "camp director, devoted husband, loving, beloved friend and mentor to youth" long after being made aware of sexual misconduct allegations. Camp officials also allowed Newman to "continue to promote himself all over America as an expert on teenage sexual purity."

-Newman had one-on-one Bible studies with boys in his hot tub.

-Newman used his unrestricted access to Kanakuk facilities to lure underage boys to the facilities during the off-season for sexual purposes.

-Newman bombarded the plaintiff, referred to as "John Doe, J. G." in the petition with phone calls and letters and engaged in phone sex with him.

-Newman had sexual relations with boys in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. (Not mentioned was Colorado)

-At a "Purity Conference" in Memphis, Newman engaged a group of boys in sex talk, telling them what it was like to "have sex with a woman now that he was married."

-Newman invited the plaintiff to a conference in Oklahoma where he tried to get the boy to engage in sodomy, was turned down, and finally convinced him to engage in a mutual masturbation session.

According to the petition, the plaintiff was first seduced by Newman on Feb. 7, 2003, and then again the following day at K-Kountry in Taney County, at an area known as "The Pit," a foam pit next to the gymnastics equipment.

In the summer of 2003, the petition says, Newman lured the children with a yellow jeep into "spending time with him on Kanakuk property."

Kanakuk officials and Newman are charged with fraud, negligent supervision of a minor, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent infliction of emotional damage, breach of duty in loco parentis (serving in place of the parents) and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

It was the Texas lawsuit that placed Joe White’s role in a darker light.

The father of a child who was victimized by Pete Newman says White,a nationally known Christian motivational speaker, encouraged him to send his son to Kanakuk following a speech at a Promise Keepers meeting in Irving, Texas.

"Defendant Joe T. White appeared and lectured at a Promise Keepers event at Texas Stadium in Irving Texas. (The father) attended this event and heard (his) presentation advocating Christian values." White spoke of Kanakuk Kamp and distributed literature, and later sent letters and Internet messages to him, his wife, and other parents encouraging them to send their children to the Missouri camp.

When their son was sent to the camp, the lawsuit said, Pete Newman, the camp director, sexually molested him, "appearing nude with an erection in a hot tub for Bible studies with (the boy) as Newman masturbated himself, he masturbated (the boy) and had the boy masturbate him."

The abuse included games of naked truth or dare, and having the boy spend the night in Newman's living quarters, where he was sexually abused.

"At other times, Defendant Newman's inappropriate behavior and sexual abuse of (the boy) occurred in the presence of other Kanakuk Kamp personnel." The child was in the camp during the summers of 2005-2007.

The petition goes into specifics about White's prior knowledge of Newman's perversions:

"At least as early as 1999, Defendant Joe T. White, Kanakuk Ministries and/or Kanakuk Heritage, Inc. knew that Newman, in the nude, was riding four-wheelers at the 'kamp' with nude 'kampers,' who were minor children entrusted to the care of Defendants. In response to this sexually inappropriate behavior, Newman was placed on probation."

That was not the last time Newman's perverted antics were known to White and Kanakuk officials, the lawsuit charges. "In or about 2003, a nude Defendant Newman was streaking through the 'kamp' property with nude minor 'kampers.' Although this conduct came to the attention of Defendants Joe T. White, Kanakuk Ministries, and/or Kanakuk, Heritage, Inc., again Newman remained on staff in easy reach of his future victims, including John Doe I."

The lawsuit charged White and Kanakuk with negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, and unfair and deceptive practices, negligent infliction of emotional distress.

That case is scheduled to go to trial in the summer of 2013.

Where the Kanakuk case differs from Penn State is that Newman is not the only person connected with Kanakuk to be charged with sexual crimes involving underage boys.

Lee Bradberry, 22, Auburn, Alabama, pleaded not guilty Thursday in Taney County Circuit Court to two counts of statutory sodomy, two counts of sexual molestation and single counts of sexual misconduct and attempted statutory sodomy, with all onf the incidents taking place in June 2011 with boys aged, 9, 11, and 12.

A third person connected to Kanakuk is scheduled to plead guilty July 27 in Orange County, Florida to a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation, again involving underage boys.

Edward L. Ringheim, a former Universal Orlando employee, allegedly treated young men to free trips to Universal Studios by using his employee pass, one of the victims told authorities

Parents also let Ringheim accompany their children to Kanakuk's Branson facility according to published reports. Investigators say he brought about 30 kids to Kanakuk for summer camp over a four-year period.

The scandals surrounding Kanakuk have been almost ignored outside of local media.

Kanakuk, of course, is not the only sports camp, Christian or otherwise, to run into problems with sexual predators on staff. The April 1 Cape Cod Times reported that Camp Good News, which was shut down last year due to a sex scandal, took a proactive approach this year, bringing in an expert to talk to the staff.
Next month, (Rick Braschler) will also offer a workshop to teach camp leaders and others in the community willing to pay $100 how to protect children from predators. But the training goes beyond criminal background checks and establishing protocols to report abuse."We need insight into how does a person with bad intent infiltrate an organization and then gain trust so they can follow through on their bad intent," Braschler said.

The same day the newspaper ran that interview with Braschler, who is the risk management director for Kanakuk, Lee Bradberry was arrested.

Why isn’t anybody covering this story?


Available now at Amazon.com, Spirit of Hope, the story of the city of Joplin, during its journey from tornado to triumph. From the authors of 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado.

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