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Archive for Thursday, October 6, 2005

Attorneys in servitude case tout videotape evidence

Newton couple accused of abusing mentally ill residents of care facility

October 6, 2005

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— Opposing attorneys in the trial of a Newton couple accused of abusing mentally ill residents in their care painted for jurors Wednesday vastly different pictures of the defendants and life at the care facility they operated.

But there was a common theme in both sides' opening statements: videotapes will ultimately prove their version of the facts.

Arlan Kaufman, 68, and Linda Kaufman, 62, face 34 federal counts, including health care fraud and holding clients in involuntary servitude.

In her opening statement, federal prosecutor Lisa Krigsten told a jury of seven women and five men that the Kaufmans abused and exploited the most vulnerable residents of the Kaufman House Residential Treatment Center in Newton.

Krigsten told jurors the abuse, which spanned more than 20 years, came as residents were forced to work in the nude at the Kaufmans' farm. Residents also were ordered to perform videotaped sexual acts for the entertainment and pleasure of the Kaufmans, she said.

"The defendants created a cover story for this work: they called it therapy," Krigsten said, adding that the couple then billed Medicare more than $216,000 for the so-called therapy.

Prosecutors laid out life at the "secret world of the Kaufman house," where the Kaufmans controlled every aspect of the residents' life, including who could wear clothes or have a cookie after dinner. In purported therapy sessions, residents were forced to masturbate, fondle each other and shave each other's genitals.

Punishment for residents at the house included weeks at a time in a "seclusion room," where those who broke the rules were forced to sleep naked on the filthy floor, Krigsten said. A stun gun was used on the testicles of one resident who got out of line, she said.

In one videotaped therapy session, a nude woman was urged to get on a kitchen table and spread her legs to show her vagina while the lens zooms in to fill the screen, Krigsten said.

"The abuse at the Kaufman House was no delusion," she said.

Defense's own video

But defense attorney Stephen Joseph, who represents Linda Kaufman, told jurors the video clips prosecutors plan to show are not representative of the sessions and show the worst of the worst. He says he plans to introduce several hours of videotaped therapy sessions into evidence that jurors can watch during deliberations that put some of those acts into context.

In the case of the nude woman on the table - a videotape that shows Linda Kaufman reading a newspaper in the background - the mentally ill woman had called Linda Kaufman the night earlier very disturbed because she imagined she had a penis growing in her vagina, Joseph told jurors.

"She did not lie, cheat or steal from the government or anyone else," he said.

Defense attorney Thomas Haney urged jurors to watch the videotapes very carefully and listen to what Arlan Kaufman is telling the residents in them.

"He is not a pervert. He did not make any movies - these are therapy sessions," Haney said. "They are not titillating. They are not sexual. They are not going to turn anybody on."

The residents had sexual delusions and the tapes are no more sexually stimulating than somebody going to the doctor, he said. The sessions were aimed at removing some of the shock value that some of the residents had been trying to achieve by exposing themselves in public.

He said the videotapes will not show Kaufman was a slaver, or that he beat residents or that he forced anybody to be nude.

"This was a boarding house - this was not a licensed mental care facility," Haney said.

Some residents even had jobs and cars, and many had lived there for years.

"They formed a family of consenting adults," Haney said.

Defense attorneys portrayed the Kaufmans as respected professionals who were married 40 years and raised three successful children of their own. Arlan Kaufman was even appointed by President Jimmy Carter once to a mental health care task force and served on a state committee that set standards for social workers.

"The question is not if Dr. Kaufman is a mainstream therapist, whether he was a good therapist or a bad therapist - but whether he committed a crime," Haney said.

In 2001 and 2004, state officials seized videotapes of nude sessions at the center. The sexually explicit videotapes prompted officials to suspend Arlan Kaufman's social care license in 2001 and Linda Kaufman's nursing license last year.

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