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Reformatory CP - January 2002
St Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri, 6 January 2002
Allegations By A Former Student Lead To Charges Against Minister
Religious School Was Unregulated By The StateBy Matthew Franck
Of The Post-Dispatch
For the better part of three years, the Rev. Joseph Intagliata has been transforming an abandoned religious compound into his vision of a place where wayward boys can conquer their demons and find Christ along the way. His ministry began small, with just $20 in the bank, a shoestring lease on a property nobody wanted, and an incorrigible teen-ager whose parents were at their wits' end.
As of last summer, Intagliata said, his Hope Baptist Church and Boarding School was just beginning to fly. The boarding facility was enrolling eight boys at $1,100 a month. Parents, he said, were delighted with the results, and Intagliata -- or Pastor Joe as he is called -- was thinking of tripling his enrollment.
But now Intagliata is facing allegations of abuse stemming from an incident involving a 16-year-old boy in August. After getting a complaint from the boy, state and local officials raided the school and removed all eight boys. In the past five months, Intagliata said, he has been barred from reopening. On Friday, Intagliata learned that he must appear in court Monday to face charges stemming from the allegations.
Phelps County prosecutor Ken Clayton said that formal charges had not yet been prepared but that he would charge Intagliata with a felony. He and the Phelps County Sheriff's Department are not providing details on the matter. Clayton did say the incident involved a boy who suffered severe cuts after attempting to escape the school by smashing a chair through a window. Once at the hospital, the boy accused Intagliata of child abuse. Records from the Missouri Department of Social Services indicate that a state review found probable cause of abuse.
Intagliata says the state has accused him of severely bruising the boy by paddling him. He says that his punishments involve little force and that he believes the boy may have bruised himself to get out of the school. Intagliata says he is a victim of a system that defines biblical forms of discipline as child abuse and lends credibility to the thinnest of allegations. "They are violating our First Amendment rights," he said. "We are a church, and we are practicing our religion the way we see fit."
Hope Baptist isn't alone in its bout with the law. In October, officials raided Heartland Christian Academy in northeastern Missouri and removed more than 100 children. School officials are accused of excessive paddling and forcing students who misbehaved to shovel manure. Heartland, which was founded by millionaire Charles Sharpe, has fought those allegations with a top-flight legal team. In November, a judge ruled that the children should be returned to the school as the court cases proceed.
Intagliata says he has virtually no money to defend himself or any source of income beyond what the school provided. The school is literally a mom and pop operation, run by Intagliata, his wife, children and a few graduates of the program. Intagliata previously headed a small congregation in West Virginia. He gave that up when he heard of a piece of property south of St. James with a modest lease and enough space for a group home. The complex was built in the 1970s by a now-defunct religious sect. It includes a gymnasium, and a dormitory with room for more than 100 beds. Intagliata was slowly converting the place into a sort of ranch, where boys learned to tend animals and garden as well as some carpentry and other professional trades. The school has enrolled children largely through word of mouth, and most were not Baptist. Intagliata said juvenile judges had begun referring boys to the center.
Intagliata, who has no formal education in child therapy, shuns professional psychiatry for lacking the moral grounding he said only Christ can provide. Under Missouri law, his religious school is sheltered from all forms of state oversight. Since the schools are not even required to register with the state, officials say they often don't even know a school exists until allegations are made by a child. When that occurs, the state is free to investigate and seek to shut down schools if operators are guilty of abuse.
For years, people like Ruth Ehresman of Citizens for Missouri's Children say they have sought legislation requiring the religious schools to become licensed. She said many more cases of abuse would likely turn up if officials could periodically inspect facilities. Pastors like Intagliata, she said, can proclaim their religious liberty, but ultimately they are accountable to the same definitions of child abuse as all Missouri citizens. Ehresman hopes the incident at Hope Baptist catches the attention of lawmakers. "It's certainly an example of the need for more oversight, " she said.
Intagliata said any such regulation would make it impossible for him to practice his religion. He says corporal punishment is part of those beliefs. Still, he said he has often gone weeks without paddling a child. He admits he wasn't prepared to handle the boy who would ultimately try to escape. He said the boy was uncontrollably violent and needed to be paddled on the day of the incident. Intagliata said he always knew that he ran the risk of being accused of abuse by disgruntled boys. But he said he was surprised that officials were taking the allegations seriously.
Two parents who sent their boys to the school say they have no doubt of Intagliata's innocence. "Let me put it this way, I have seven children and I would trust all of them to Pastor Joe 100 percent," said Richard Trimble of Pittsburgh, whose son was the first to enroll at Hope Baptist. Greg Lyytinen of Springfield, Mo., said he had sent his son to several other facilities before finding Hope Baptist. At one state-licensed home, he said, he paid upwards of $15,000 a month. Lyytinen said he would take his son back to Hope Baptist in an instant if he could. "I believe in him, and I believe in his ministry," Lyytinen said. After his son was removed from the school this fall, Lyytinen immediately enrolled him at Heartland without thinking twice about the abuse charges at that school.
St Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri, 12 January 2002
Charges Are Dropped Against One Worker At Christian School
Nine employees of Heartland Christian Academy in Bethel, Mo., still face criminal counts in child abuse casesBy Matthew Franck
Of The Post-Dispatch
A prosecutor has dropped all child abuse charges against a worker at Heartland Christian Academy, a boarding school for wayward youth where nine employees are still facing criminal counts.
The school's founder, the Rev. Charles Sharpe, went on the offensive at a news conference Friday, accusing investigators of launching a "witch hunt" against the school and its employees. "We believe a terrible atrocity has been committed here," he said. "We just want to put this all behind us."
Sharpe is an insurance tycoon who has spent millions of dollars to build Heartland, a religious community with more than 16,000 acres in Lewis, Shelby and Knox counties. The Heartland Christian Academy currently enrolls about 125 wayward youth, many with criminal backgrounds. The school's reliance on corporal punishment has led to abuse allegations. In June, five workers were charged with felony child abuse for allegedly forcing children to shovel manure as a punishment. In August, four workers were charged with excessive paddling of a 16-year-old student.
The charges dismissed this week involve a separate incident in which employee Jason Flood was accused of hitting a boy in the ear causing his eardrum to burst. Heartland lawyers presented an affidavit Friday presumably written by the boy in which he takes the blame for the incident and says he was suffering from an ear infection. The Lewis County prosecutor dismissed the charges this week but could not be reached for comment. Second Judicial Circuit juvenile officer Michael Waddle, who helped investigate the charges, would not comment on the matter. In the past, Waddle has said he believes children are unsafe at Heartland.
In October, officials from the Division of Family Services raided Heartland and removed its 115 children. Sharpe, who hired a team of lawyers, has since resumed operations and won a court injunction against raids. Flood said the criminal charges destroyed his reputation and have kept him from assisting the youths he loves. "I was a role model to them," he said. "It was like taking a father away from his children." He now will return to work at the school and has already made contact with the boy involved in the incident.
Sharpe and two Heartland attorneys at the news conference were indignant in their criticism of law enforcement officials - particularly those in Lewis County. Sharpe has retaliated against the county by moving more than $7 million of his Sharpe Land and Cattle Co. operations to adjacent Knox County. Sharpe has filed a civil lawsuit against Lewis County officials seeking damages for temporarily closing the school. Missouri is one of a handful of states that do not require residential religious youth facilities like Heartland to be licensed and regularly inspected.
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