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2nd letter raising school abuse concern emerges as cops told to take action

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A SECOND letter raising concerns about allegations of abuse at the Academy of Ivy Ridge years before it closed has emerged – as police are instructed to look back through old case files in search of overlooked reports.

Earlier this week, The U.S. Sun revealed New York’s State Education Department sent a letter to Ivy Ridge’s director, Jason Finlinson, in August 2006 accusing the troubled teen facility of “serious deficiencies” in its academic services and health and safety protocol.

A letter written by Rep. George Miller in 2003 pleaded with the Attorney General to investigate Ivy Ridge and other WWASPS facilities

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A letter written by Rep. George Miller in 2003 pleaded with the Attorney General to investigate Ivy Ridge and other WWASPS facilities
An investigation has been opened into the Academy at Ivy Ridge following the explosive Netflix exposé

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An investigation has been opened into the Academy at Ivy Ridge following the explosive Netflix exposéCredit: Netflix
The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping aired on Netflix on March 5, documenting the horrific treatment students endured

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The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping aired on Netflix on March 5, documenting the horrific treatment students enduredCredit: Courtesy of Netflix

The Education Department said it made the assessment during two visits to Ivy Ridge’s campus in Ogdensburg, New York, and specifically gave cause for concern about the faculty’s restraining training and practices.

Ivy Ridge closed of its own accord three years later, in 2009, after being fined by the New York State Attorney General’s Office for issuing fake diplomas and following years of bad press, which caused enrollment numbers to plummet.

The letter’s existence raises questions as to what the state knew about Ivy Ridge’s disturbing practices and whether anything was done to investigate the “deficiencies” cited by the Education Department.

Now, The U.S. Sun has uncovered the existence of a second letter – written three years earlier – urging the US Attorney General to investigate Ivy Ridge and all other programs affiliated with the scandal-ridden World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS).

Written by congressional Democratic Representative George Miller in November 2003, the letter urged then-AG John Ashcroft to take immediate action and investigate allegations of child abuse, human rights violations, and fraud at all of the 11 WWASPS facilities then in operation across the US and aboard.

To emphasize his request, Miller cited a series of articles published by the New York Times describing “an ongoing practice of physical and emotional abuse of children” in WWASP facilities, including physical restraint, solitary confinement, and denial of medical services.

“There have been serious allegations that hundreds of children have been mistreated or neglected and their legal rights have regularly been flaunted,” wrote Miller, a senior Democratic member on the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“There are also hundreds of parents who assert that they were drawn into the program by misleading advertising.

“We believe that the Department of Justice should investigate whether federal laws concerning child abuse and neglect, interstate commerce, or unfair or deceptive advertising have been broken by WWASPS or those operating these facilities.”

Miller cited numerous accusations of abuse at various WWASPS facilities, including in Utah, California, and South Carolina.

Ivy Ridge founder Jason Finlinson is fired from his job after scathing Netflix documentary reveals abuse at cult school

“Given this extensive and consistent pattern of abuse, I am very concerned that the health and welfare of hundreds of children may be in jeopardy,” continued Miller.

The letter sparked a chain of correspondence between Miller and Ashcroft’s office, which lasted until September 2004.

In a correspondence dated May 11, 2004, Miller drew Ashcroft’s attention to a criminal investigation in New York, concerning a WWASP facility near the Canadian border: Ivy Ridge.

“Last week the state Attorney General’s Office in New York began a criminal investigation into possible ‘improprieties’ within WWASPS facilities following the alleged assault of a teenager while being transported to a WWASPS facility in New York near the Canadian border,” wrote Miller.

“In addition to New York, criminal investigations into abuse and assault have taken place in Utah and Montana.

“The investigation in Montana resulted in a former staffer pleading guilty to felony criminal endangerment.”

IGNORED PLEA

In the Ivy Ridge case, two men, Leonard Faulstick and Timothy Hurd, were accused in March 2004 of assaulting a 17-year-old boy while escorting him to the facility.

Police there say the teen was beaten while in cuffs after he grabbed the steering wheel of the car and caused it to crash.

The men, who pleaded not guilty, were contracted by a company called Teen Escort Service to transport the teen to Ivy Ridge.

WWASPS officials denied any wrongdoing, noting Teen Escort was not affiliated with their organization, but was one of three approved transport services that it recommended to parents.

The outcome of the case is unclear. The New York State Attorney General’s office has been contacted for comment on the matter.

Miller has also not yet returned a request for comment.

In another letter in 2004, Miller referenced an incident involving an Ivy Ridge student

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In another letter in 2004, Miller referenced an incident involving an Ivy Ridge student
Students at Ivy Ridge were subject to physical punishment for incredibly minor infractions

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Students at Ivy Ridge were subject to physical punishment for incredibly minor infractionsCredit: Netflix
A letter obtained by The U.S. Sun shows officials raised concerns about conditions inside the school as early as August 2006

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A letter obtained by The U.S. Sun shows officials raised concerns about conditions inside the school as early as August 2006Credit: Pacer
The State Education Department raised particular concerns about health and safety, as well as restraining practices

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The State Education Department raised particular concerns about health and safety, as well as restraining practicesCredit: Pacer

Miller’s months-long correspondence with Ashcroft led to a dead end, with the Attorney General declining to investigate WWASPS citing a lack of jurisdiction.

The unearthing of Miller’s and the state Education Department’s letters has stoked anger among former students at Ivy Ridge, who believe officials could and should have intervened to close the school over various alleged abuses, including psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.

Countless allegations of abuse at Ivy Ridge were shared earlier this month in a three-part Netflix documentary series, The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnappings.

In response, the St. Lawrence County district attorney Gary M. Pasqua held a press conference on Monday, announcing his office has received dozens of reports of physical and sexual abuse since the show aired, which his office and local law enforcement are now investigating.

In an interview with The U.S. Sun, Pasqua said his office was none the wiser to the Education Department and Miller’s letters warning about alleged abuses at Ivy Ridge.

However, he pledged to thoroughly investigate each and every report that lands across his desk, and hold any wrongdoers to account to the full extent of the law, should any reported crimes fall within the statute of limitations.

“I can’t really speak to what was done regarding those letters,” said Pasqua.

“I took over the office in 2018, so back then when those letters were sent out I wasn’t here.

“But what I have asked is the local police and sheriff’s department to go back through old files that might not have made it to the district attorney’s office at the time, so we can go through them and see if there were allegations that weren’t followed up on or those that for whatever reason didn’t make it to the DA’s office.

“Any time a child is abused – whether that’s physically or sexually – we are going to take that seriously and do everything we can to get justice for that child – anything within our powers.”

New York State had knowledge of a problem; child abuse is the business of anyone who knows — and they knew.

Cynthia LaneIvy Ridge Student

Pasqua added that his office’s phone has been ringing off the hook and his email has been inundated with messages from former students and concerned members of the public.

But he promised every relevant tip and report would be responded to and followed up on.

“Every voice will be heard,” he assured.

Two former Ivy Ridge students told The U.S. Sun they are encouraged by the DA’s announcement that officials are finally investigating historic abuse allegations at the school.

However, they believe more could have been done sooner, and that Ivy Ridge should’ve been forcibly shut down by authorities years ago.

“We are grateful that the DA made a statement that his office will investigate these allegations and will take action, if possible, for the benefit of survivors,” said ex-student Cynthia Lane.

“But, the statement that the office was not aware of issues at the Academy at Ivy Ridge, beyond the riot in 2005, brings up the question of other evidence within New York state. 

“I fear, just as before in 2006, there will be another systemic failure by those in a position of power and with the capability of taking action.

“How can one government department state that there are legitimate concerns for the health and safety of children, and there is not a documented follow-up investigation?

“Where were social services?” asked Cynthia.

“That could have been all it took to shut Ivy Ridge down 3 years before they closed from a lack of profit and enrollment. Three years to save countless children from abuse and trauma.

“New York State had knowledge of a problem; child abuse is the business of anyone who knows — and they knew.”

Eddie Curley, who attended Ivy Ridge between 2005 and 2006, similarly asked why state officials didn’t intervene to close down the school years before it voluntarily did so itself, despite raising concerns about the conditions inside.

“The state of NY to my knowledge never did a subsequent investigation regarding these allegations rather allowing the school to operate for an additional 3 years until lack of enrollment finally shuttered its doors,” he said.

“New York State not only knew there was a problem, they failed us children miserably.”

FLOODGATES OPEN

During his press conference on Monday, Pasqua urged any former students of the academy who suffered abuse or who believed they were victims of a crime to come forward with their stories.

However, not all calls received by his office have been constructive.

“I ask the public that if you were not included in [Ivy Ridge], I do urge, please do not reach out simply looking for information. Please do not reach out asking what we are doing. Please do not reach out giving us advice or providing suggestions about how we should conduct the investigation,” he urged.

“Reaching out to law enforcement, whether it’s by phone or through these emails, is not going to help our investigation.

“If you do not have first-hand information, it is simply going to deter and distract law enforcement from helping those individuals who were there. So I ask, please do not reach out in those instances.”

Pasqua added that his office has been contacted by ex-Ivy Ridge staff and other individuals seeking assistance from law enforcement to deter harassment because of their involvement with the facility.

The individuals seeking help were not named.

The school’s former director, Jason Finlinson, was fired from his position at a Utah-based construction firm last week mere hours after the documentary’s release, The U.S. Sun exclusively revealed.

Layton Construction confirmed Finlinson had been employed as a safety manager but was fired on March 7.

Timline of events: Academy at Ivy Ridge

  • 2001: Academy at Ivy Ridge is opened by Jason Finlinson in Ogdensburg, New York
  • 2003: Congressman Rep. George Miller urges the US Attorney General to investigate Ivy Ridge and the 10 other WWASP facilities in the US and aboard over allegations of “an ongoing practice of physical and emotional abuse of children”
  • 2004: Attorney General declines to investigate WWASP, citing a lack of jurisdiction
  • 2005: Male students plan and carry out a riot at the school to protest inhumane living conditions; 12 were arrested and numerous others escaped but were later caught
  • 2006: New York’s Education Department writes to Finlinson and voices concerns over “serious deficiencies” in Ivy Ridge’s education practices and health and safety protocol
  • 2006: The state determined Ivy Ridge to be a behavior modification center, not a school, thus barring the facility from issuing student diplomas. The school was later fined
  • 2009: Ivy Ridge closes its doors for good, following years of bad press which caused enrollment numbers to plummet
  • 2024 (March 5): A three-part documentary series made by Ivy Ridge alumn Katherine Kubler is released on Netflix, exposing countless claims of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse
  • 2024 (March 7): Jason Finlinson loses his job as a safety operations manager at a Utah-based construction facility
  • 2024 (March 9): Ivy Ridge’s abandoned campus is listed for sale for $850k
  • 2024 (March 11): St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary M. Pasqua announces dozens of physical and sexual abuse claims at Ivy Ridge are under investigation
Eddie (second from right) attended the Academy at Ivy Ridge between 2002 and 2003 when he was 17

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Eddie (second from right) attended the Academy at Ivy Ridge between 2002 and 2003 when he was 17Credit: Courtesy of Eddie Curley
Julie Peysakhova spent 12 months at the school, which left her psychologically scarred

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Julie Peysakhova spent 12 months at the school, which left her psychologically scarredCredit: Julie Peysakhova
Academy at Ivy Ridge shut its doors in April 2009

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Academy at Ivy Ridge shut its doors in April 2009Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

When pressed on what led to Finlinson’s termination, the company declined to comment further, citing internal policy.

Another ex-Ivy Ridge staffer to fall under mounting scrutiny online in the documentary’s wake is Amy Ritchie, the former director of the girls’ program.

Ritchie is currently employed as a mental health therapy aid at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg, New York, state records show.

Ritchie worked at Ivy Ridge between 2001 and 2008 and was accused in The Program of engaging in and enabling countless instances of physical and emotional abuse against young girls placed in her care.

In the documentary, numerous former female students also claimed they were groomed and sexually assaulted by a female staff member – who was not named – who allegedly went unpunished under Ritchie’s directorship.

Requests for comment about the allegations made in The Program have so far gone unanswered by Ritchie.

After leaving Ivy Ridge, she went on to become the residential program director at another controversial troubled teen facility, Sunset Bay Academy, in California, which has also fallen subject to numerous allegations of abuse.

At least two other former Ivy Ridge staffers work at St. Lawrence. Their names are being withheld until they can be reached for comment.

Every voice will be heard.

Gary M. PasquaSt. Lawrence District Attorney

Both of the staffers are men and employed as security and safety officers at the care facility, state records show.

The U.S. Sun approached the New York Office of Mental Health (OMH) about the employment status of Ritchie and the two men after information began circulating among locals and ex-students that they’d been fired within 48 hours of The Program airing on Netflix.

Justin Mason, a spokesperson for OMH, said he was unable to discuss the employment history of any current or former employees but offered the following written statement.

“OMH takes all allegations of abuse or neglect very seriously,” wrote Mason.

“All agency employees who have direct patient contact are thoroughly vetted, fingerprinted, undergo a criminal background check, and are cross-referenced against the Justice Center’s Staff Exclusion List and the State’s Child Abuse Registry before they are hired.”

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center is just a 15-minute drive from the now-abandoned Ivy Ridge campus, which was listed for sale for $875,000 last weekend.

HEADS WILL ROLL

Eddie Curley rejoiced over the news of Finlinson’s firing in a statement to The U.S. Sun last week and voiced hope that other ex-faculty will face similar repercussions.

But Curley called it “disheartening” to learn Ritchie and other ex-academy faculty have been entrusted with looking after vulnerable and institutionalized people since Ivy Ridge’s closure in 2009.

“These kinds of individuals should not be allowed near a public park let alone a hospital where if allegations were to be made [they] would likely not be believed anyway,” charged Eddie.

“They’ve moved from one silent [and vulnerable] group of victims to another.”

Julie Peysakhova, who left Ivy Ridge in 2006, also delighted in Finlinson’s firing and, like Curley, called for more sweeping measures against other Ivy Ridge staffers.

“After so many years of being told we wouldn’t be believed or we should just ‘get over it,’ it’s the most incredible feeling to know that not only are we believed, but we have real support surrounding us,” she told The U.S. Sun.

“Of course, I still believe they deserve legal repercussions more than anything. They are child abusers.

“But this is an amazing first step in holding those who are responsible for our abuse and trauma accountable.”

At its peak, Ivy Ridge had 600 students, all paying nearly $4,000 per month, allowing it to rake in over $20 million a year.

Students were subject to crowded living quarters, physical restraint for minor infractions, solitary confinement, brainwashing, and, in some cases, physical, psychological, and even alleged sexual abuse.

The school had a bizarre and convoluted points system designed to keep students in “the program” for as long as possible to ensure their parents kept shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition.

However, many of the faculty members weren’t even qualified to teach children, and the “diploma” that students received upon graduation from Ivy Ridge was worthless and not officially recognized by the state of New York.

All 11 of WWASPS facilities in the US and beyond have since closed.

However numerous similar schools are still in operation nationwide, with the industry drawing in profits of more than half a billion dollars per year.

Amy Ritchie, the former director of the girls' program at Ivy Ridge, has been working as a mental health therapy aid in Ogdensburg, New York

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Amy Ritchie, the former director of the girls’ program at Ivy Ridge, has been working as a mental health therapy aid in Ogdensburg, New YorkCredit: Netflix
Jason Finlinson, the former director at Ivy Ridge, was fired from his job at a construction company two days after the docuseries premiered

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Jason Finlinson, the former director at Ivy Ridge, was fired from his job at a construction company two days after the docuseries premieredCredit: Linkedin
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