A Utah faith based halfway house for probationers, jail releasees and homeless men, called the House of Refuge, turned out to be a house of horrors for those who lived there.
On February 2, 2006, state licensing officials shut down the church-operated shelter citing it for 13 different state violations. Robert Ferris and Steve Sandlin are pastors of the Central Christian Church in Salt Lake City. They also owned and operated Transmetron, an unlicensed telemarketing company which they ran out of the church basement.
Transmetron phone lines were manned by House of Refuge residents, some of whom were paid as little as 28 cents per hour for their labor.
Some of the men living in the House of Refuge were homeless. Others were ordered there by judges or state agencies, including the Department of Corrections.
Joe Rupp was ordered into the program by the court. For the first three and a half weeks I was there, I believe I was making 58-cents an hour, he said.
Resident James Auston said, My pay? Im making $1.28 an hour, working up to 50 hours per week.
House of Refuge residents were forced to sign contracts which stated that all their pay would be donated back to the program. Residents surviving the program for six months would get a love offering, a partial refund on their donated wages. At least one resident, Leo Duran, was kicked out of the program just days before his six months were up.
When he threw me out, I had to go back on the streets, live with my friends and start over, said Duran.
Auston said Pastor Steve would consistently ...stand up and threaten, Well just put you back in jail, contact your probation officer. He threatens us with jail all the time.
What theyve done is exploit these clients, said Ken Stettler of the Department of Human Resources. Theyve been working them in a private company thats owned by the pastors and basically paying them nothing.
KSL-TV originally launched the investigation which culminated in separate investigations by the Labor Commission, the Division of Consumer Protection, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Commerce.
The Labor Commission ordered the pastors to begin paying its workers minimum wage. The Consumer Protection Agency discovered that Transmetron was not a registered business.
Health concerns surfaced when it was discovered that at least one kitchen worker had Hepatitis C and more than one kitchen worker had no Food Handlers Permit required by the state.
Licensing investigators found milk containers well beyond their expiration dates.
The House of Refuge was served a revocation notice on February 2, 2006. Citations included not relinquishing reports requested by Licensing Investigators. Reports indicate that pastor Sandlin verbally abused and, in at least one instance, physically assaulted a resident. The assault was originally filed with local police but was later withdrawn by the resident, under pressure from Sandlin.
House of Refuge operators are charged in the Revocation Notice with Emotional maltreatment, bullying, teasing, provoking or otherwise verbally or physically intimidating or agitating a client. Specifically, residents who did not adhere to the Born Again philosophy were teased, bullied and verbally abused for having different views.
Also cited were substandard intake evaluation policies for incoming residents, inadequate training for staff, inconsistent rules and administrative policies, insufficient fire drills and emergency procedures.
As being someone who has employed the men from the House of Refuge, I am finding all of this very concerning, said Christian business owner Royal O. Fackrell. ...my father, the business I work for, and myself have paid at least a couple of thousand dollars to the House of Refuge for the men's work.(sic)...I cannot express enough the betrayal and anguish that is in my heart for those men.
Apparently, the local Food Bank felt betrayed too because it cut off donations after it found out the pastors were charging residents for their meals.
In another part of the state, Beaver County Sheriff Kenneth Yardley is being investigated for claims that he used prisoners, from the jail, to renovate his house.
Chett Pearson and Clayton Myers said that in 2000, Yardley, who had recently divorced, would take them out of the jail in the morning, drop them off at his home, then pick them up later in the day and return them to jail.
Pearson said he didn't mind the work at first. He just came in and got us and hauled us up there and said, This is what were gonna do. We didnt care it got us out of the jail cell.
But later Pearson would tell investigators Kenny Yardley is a good friend of mine. I hate to incriminate him but this bulls____ is wrong.
Yardley would occasionally buy the two tobacco and then order them not to smoke in plain view. Sometimes he would pick the prisoners up and bring them back to the jail for lunch; other times he would bring them burgers. On at least one occasion the sheriff gave the two the keys to a county-owned pickup truck and let them drive themselves to and from work.
Utah has a work-release program for prisoners but it requires a judge's approval. Neither Pearson nor Myers was approved.
Pearson and Myers said that their activities did not go unnoticed by jail employees who voiced concern over their lack of supervision. Others would make comments like, Where's my free labor?
Gary DeLand, executive director of Utah's Sheriffs Association said that Yardleys actions are so obviously inappropriate that most county jails never bothered to address the issue.
We also dont have a regulation that says you cant paint inmates orange and hang Christmas decorations on them, said DeLand. DeLand is among the US prison officials who set up the Iraqi prison system after the US attack and invasion of that country, including the Abu Ghraib prison.
Sheriff Yardley declined comment.
Sources: Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret Morning News, KSL-TV
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