Archive for Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Caretakers found guilty of enslaving residents

Couple convicted on 30 counts in servitude case

November 8, 2005


— The married owners of a group home for the mentally ill have been convicted of enslaving its residents, forcing them to work naked and perform sex acts, and illegally billing their families and the federal government for therapy.

Arlan Kaufman, 69, and his wife, Linda, 62, were convicted of 30 federal charges - including health care fraud, Medicare fraud, forced labor and holding clients in involuntary servitude - in their treatment of residents at the Kaufman House Residential Treatment Center.

Linda Kaufman was acquitted of making a false representation and writing, while her husband was convicted on the same charge, for a total of 31 convictions against him.

The Kaufmans' bail was revoked and they were taken into custody after the verdicts were announced. They showed no emotion as the 13-page verdict was read. The couple briefly hugged and kissed before being led away from the courtroom to the Sedgwick County Jail by marshals.

Jurors began deliberating Thursday and reached a verdict Monday afternoon. They will return to the courtroom Tuesday to hear further arguments before deliberating on a forfeiture verdict. Prosecutors are seeking $289,727 in forfeiture.

Federal prosecutors contended the Kaufmans controlled the lives of mentally ill residents, including deciding who could wear clothes. They were found guilty of forcing residents to masturbate, fondle each other and shave each other's genitals - activities that Arlan Kaufman videotaped.

The Kaufmans face up to 20 years in prison for each of the conspiracy, forced labor and involuntary servitude charges; up to 10 years for each of the health care fraud charges; and up to five years for each of the other charges.

"Justice is about speaking for those least able to speak for themselves," said U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren. "Today has been a great achievement for justice."

Melgren said the convictions came from a wealth of evidence and the "courage of victims who took the stand in the face of their oppressor of years."

Linda Kaufman's attorney, Steve Joseph, said he would not comment until after sentencing. Thomas Haney, the attorney for Arlan Kaufman, also declined to comment.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, noted it took more than 20 years for the Kaufmans' victims to get justice.

"We hope justice today will become full justice through sentencing," said Nichols, who is representing 11 former residents in civil litigation.

Melgren credited Attorney General Phill Kline for pushing the investigation. The attorney general has said his office could not prosecute the case because the state's statutes of limitation for most of the charges had run out.

But his office coordinated an effort with Newton police, Nichols' group and the federal government before FBI agents swarmed into Newton, closed Kaufmans' facilities and arrested the couple.

Kline, who was in court Monday, said it was important for the state to pass stricter controls of group homes for the mentally ill, particularly conflict of interest issues that allowed the Kaufmans to be landlords, guardians and service providers at the home.

The Kaufmans incorporated their unlicensed treatment center in 1980 and ran it until their arrests in October 2004. Their crimes dated to 1984.

The servitude counts arose from manual labor the residents did at the Kaufmans' farm and from their part in the videos, which prosecutors called "stomach-turning." According to the indictment, the Kaufmans created the videos to sell them.

In closing arguments, Justice Department civil rights lawyer Kristy Parker said residents were turned into "uncompensated actors in a never-ending pornographic movie."

But Arlan Kaufman, whose social work license was suspended in 2001, insisted the residents' behavior was voluntary. He testified that he videotaped the residents so they could see themselves more objectively when their judgment was not so clouded or emotionally charged.

Arlan Kaufman's attorney, Tom Haney, argued that video footage of the alleged crimes proved nothing other than successful treatment. He urged jurors to look at the tapes and see how happy the residents were.

"It was therapy. No one was harmed. They were helped," he said in closing arguments.

Joseph argued prosecutors had no solid evidence against his client. He noted that in one of the few videos that showed Linda Kaufman, she was sitting in a therapy session reading the newspaper and did not even look at the nude resident.


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