Investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the Kaufmans forced the residents to work for them in the nude, punished residents by taking away their clothes, and used a painful stun gun on at least one resident. Authorities also accused the couple of failing to provide any mental health treatment for the last 15 years, but continuing to bill Medicaid anyway.
The horror of the situation was compounded, making the story, if anything, even more horrific, by the fact that the abuse went on and on for years and years and nobody would stop it. Nobody.
The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services didn't follow up on reports of abuse -- when they investigated in the 1980s, the Kaufmans sued them. SRS settled out of court. After that, they didn't try any more investigations.
Medicaid investigators finally broke the case. In 2001, they came to the home with a search warrant, looking for fraud. They found over 100 hours of videotape showing sex acts and abuse. Even then, the state did nothing.
Finally, the Medicaid investigators turned to Kansas's Protection and Advocacy Agency, the Disability Rights Center, which could bring federal lawsuits, and finally the case against the Kaufmans moved forward.
To reporters' credit, they've not let go of the story. Even in this day of big media and news coverage focused on celebrities and the latest Fox News brouhaha, some of them focus on the issues. I think maybe even jaded editors can't get over the fact that nothing was done, even though the victims tried again and again to call for help.
The Wichita Eagle's Ron Sylvester begins his Nov. 14 story like this:
In 1988, a woman who lived at the Kaufman House in Newton began trying to report abuse that included locking her and other mentally ill people nude in seclusion.
It was 17 years before the owners of the home were made to answer for their actions. ..
Like many others, the woman -- who now lives in Colorado and has controlled her severe depression enough to repair her marriage and home-school her teenage son -- wonders why it took so long.
"In schools, or wherever, if a child tells about abuse you check it out, whether you believe they're telling the truth or not," said the woman.... "Well, no one checked this out."
Sylvester writes that "investigations into the Kaufman House became mired in years of bureaucratic tangles. Complaints were passed between different state agencies, unable to coordinate efforts, leaving loose ends that would take years to tie together." He reports on a bill now introduced into Kansas legislature as a result of the case, which would create an "Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Unit to oversee four agencies, which now act independently and rarely work together. Plus, it would provide funding to prosecute criminal abuse and neglect -- something that doesn't presently exist."
Problems with "turf battles," writes Sylvester, caused complaints about abuse, when they did surface (as they did repeatedly) to "bounce between KDHE, SRS and law enforcement agencies in Butler and Harvey counties for the next 16 years. No one put their files together to try to shut down the Kaufman House." Read the entire story, though -- it's a real revelation of bureaucratic bumbling and ineptitude.
Earlier coverage had explained that when residents dared complain they were often not believed -- they were considered "delusional." Talk about a Catch-22.
And the Kaufmans are a real piece of work as well. Seems the state was scared of them. Arlan Kaufman sued the state at one point when the state tried to check out abuse allegations. That had a chilling effect on things, it seems.
Yesterday, The Kansas City Star's Mike McGraw shed more light on reasons behind the inaction. His story in the Kansas City Star will possibly bring you to tears: Even the federal investigators -- called in by Kansas's Disability Rights Center, the state protection and advocacy agency (the hero in this sad tale, because they were able to bring suit under federal law) -- couldn't get the case jump-started:
the primary federal investigators in the case were reportedly so frustrated by years of delays by the U.S. attorney and state officials that they "shopped" the case to various state and federal prosecutors before federal charges were finally brought....
The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas finally took the case last year - two years after it initially declined it...
The 2002 decision by the office of Eric Melgren, the U.S. attorney for Kansas, not to prosecute the case is well-documented... But Melgren declined to specifically discuss that decision....Asked why it took state and federal officials so long to prosecute and close the facility, Melgren said, "Mr. Kaufman was a remarkably pugnacious individual."
The state's fear of another suit by Kaufman, it seems, kept people locked in a horror-house for decades.
It's too bad disabled peoples' lawsuits for rights don't have a similar chilling effect.
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