Camp Tracey Subject of Sex and Physical Abuse Charges Again

This story courtesy of Florida News Daily.

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By R.L. Worthington

“On a 160-acre farm, our girls and boys enjoy the unique experience of living as a farm family… Camp Tracey is a children’s home dedicated to the salvaging and changing of the lives of at-risk youth.”

Those words are part of the website description of Camp Tracey, the church-run facility for troubled youth located in northern Baker County. But those idyllic words don’t tell the scandals of sexual and physical abuse that have plagued the camp since the 1980s.

Camp Tracey Children’s Home was started in 1982 by Rev. Wilford McCormick under the auspices of Harvest Baptist Church in Jacksonville. The camp website calls itself “an integral and inseparable ministry” of Harvest Baptist Church.

Six lawsuits by former students have been filed since 2003 against the camp and Harvest Baptist Church citing repeated sexual and physical abuse by staff and senior residents. All have been settled out of court by the church for an undisclosed amount.


The church has denied all allegations.

Those lawsuits were not the first time Camp Tracey’s methods and operations have been in question. Complaints began almost immediately when the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services investigated child abuse allegations in 1983 by three camp runaways. The State Attorney’s Office cleared the camp at that time.

In 1987, a Baker County Grand Jury issued a report on Camp Tracey after years of physical abuse allegations. Their report criticized the camp for excessive corporal punishment and noted that physical restraints such as ropes and handcuffs were not to be used.

(Scroll down for more information on past allegations and the grand jury report)

Now new allegations of sex acts between students and abuse from a long-time camp employee, coupled with new arrests, have brought the camp back into the media glare.

The recent trouble began more than a month ago when investigators with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office began looking into allegations of sex crimes involving several students at the camp. During the course of the investigation, it was discovered that seven juvenile students ages 14 to 17 were possibly engaged in sexual activity with each other.


Legally, this is not in violation of the law since the boys were all juveniles and sex was consensual. But, during questioning, another student named Ben Lewis, was discovered to be 18 making him an adult legally and making any sex acts with the other students unlawful.

Lewis, a student at Camp Tracey for several years, was questioned about the allegations and admitted he had engaged in sexual activity with a 14-year-old juvenile. Lewis stated that he and the other student had been discussing the idea of having sex for a few days and one day while working on the farm they “went into the woods, removed each other’s pants and proceeded to masturbate each other.”

Lewis stated that he “really didn’t see what the big problem was” and said he was unaware that this was illegal. He was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct on a minor.

While interviewing the juvenile residents regarding the sex allegations, it was revealed that the dorm father, John Edward Wilson had been abusive to students.

Several of the students said Wilson, 46, would become physically abusive when he became angry. One victim reported that just a couple of days before “Brother John” came over to him and started choking him before slamming his head into the wall. Others told similar stories.

The police reports notes that a boy who witnessed the attack stated that Wilson had an anger problem that all of the juvenile residents are aware of and when he gets angry with his wife or one of the boys, he will take it out on all of them.

Wilson was investigated for nearly identical charges in 2003 when his adoptive son ran away and contacted the BCSO citing abuse. Those charges were deemed unfounded and were not pursued.

A warrant for Wilson was signed by Judge Joey Williams on June 30 and Wilson was taken into custody. He denied the claims of abuse, but refused to answer any questions until he had a lawyer.

The Department of Children and Family Services was contacted regarding the abuse and it is expected they will also conduct an investigation.

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LAWSUITS

The lawsuits detailing sexual and physical abuse filed by former residents of the facility all raise similar abuse allegations about Camp Tracey.

• May 2003 – Kirk Griffin filed suit naming former counselors Cedric McCormick and Robert Hood in “repeated acts of sexual abuse” against him while he lived at Camp Tracey between 1988 to 1992 when he was 12-16 years old. Harvest Baptist Church, headed by Rev. Wilford McCormick, Cedric’s older brother, was also named as a defendant.

Griffin said he was forced to perform oral and anal sex with two camp counselors two or three times a week. In the lawsuit he said the counselors befriended him, gained his confidence and “used the position of authority granted to them by Harvest to satisfy their perverse desires.”

• June 2003 – A second lawsuit echoed allegations raised by Griffin’s claim. Jason Berglund’s lawsuit said his abuse beagn shortly after he arrived at Camp Tracey in 1993. It notes that “he was continuously subjected to extreme physical abuse and was forced to engage in anal and oral sex by those placed in charge of him.”

• June 2005 – Three lawsuits were filed by brothers Joseph and Jeremy Holt along with Morris Shedd Jr. All said they were at Camp Tracey between 1989-1996 because of problems at home or school and say they immediately began facing sexual and physical abuse that continued until they left.

The Holt brothers lawsuit alleges Arthur Houde, the camp’s spiritual adviser and boys’ dean, would force them to perform sex acts. In addition, they faced assaults by older boys. Shedd names Cedric McCormick as his abuser. The lawsuits allege physical abuse including beatings, hard labor, denial of food and shocking with an electric cattle prod.

Circuit Judge Aaron Bowden had recently thrown out the Holt and Shedd lawsuits saying repressed memory and dissociative amnesia, which the men said blocked them from reporting the abuse earlier, are not generally accepted conditions in the scientific community. Their attorney was to appeal that decision, but according to Times-Union staff writer Paul Pinkham who spoke with Magolnick today, the church has also settled these lawsuits out of court.

• June 2005 – A sixth lawsuit filed by former resident Wayne Francis alledged similar abuse during the same time frame as the preceeding lawsuits. It also has been settled with Harvest Baptist Church.

Joel Magonick of the De la O, Marko, Magolnick & Leyton law firm in Miami, has represented each of the former residents.


GRAND JURY REPORT

The 1987 Baker County Grand Jury report on Camp Tracey noted there was no qualified medical personnel on the premises and emergency medical procedures were inadequate and “woefully lacking.” The report also criticized that there was no qualified physical, mental, or psychological evaluation upon admission.

In addition the Grand Jury report cited:

•”There is no adequate system in operation to document medical injures for the review diagnoses or record keeping of cases of suspected physical abuse of residents.

•There is no procedure as does exist for other child and youth facilities for contacting of the state of Florida’s Health and Rehabilitative Service (HRS) Agency in cases actual or suspected child abuse on resident of Camp Tracey. The attitude of the management and staff of Camp Tracey is both resistant and opposed to this necessary protective review of the program operation.

•There is no individual knowledgeable nor trained in health or nutrition to review or oversee the preparation of proper meals.

•The educational program at Camp Tracey is sub-standard and frequently resulted in loss of grade matriculation of students when returning back to public schools. This has had detrimental consequences to the students.

•More disturbing findings noted that children residing at Camp Tracey should not be forced to work for private citizens and runaways should not be labeled “misfits” or given GI style haircuts as a disciplinary action. The report found that physical restraints such as ropes or handcuffs should never be used as “has been done at Camp Tracey.”

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Pastor Maximo Ake-Be Charged With Child Rape

This story courtesy of kgw.com.

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By Antonio Giedwoyn

Police last week arrested a pastor who allegedly raped children, authorities said Wednesday.
Maximo Ake-Be, 31, faces charges of rape, sodomy and sex abuse in connection with a series of sexual assaults dating back to 1998, said Portland Police Sergeant Brian Schmautz.

Ake-Be appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded innocent on all charges. A judge set bail at $4.5 million.

The investigation began when two alleged victims recently reported that Ake-Be sexually assaulted them between 1998 and 2000. During that time, the girls and their families attended The Peach House, a private in-home church located in the 5300 block of Northeast Hoyt Street.

The girls were approximately eight and twelve years old when the alleged abuse began.

In 2006, Ake-Be became the Senior Pastor of Iglesia De Dios, located at 400 South Pacific Avenue in Kelso, Wash.

Investigators believe there are additional victims, associated with either The Peach House Church or the High Praises Fellowship Church, who have not yet come forward.

Iglesia De Dios shares space with High Praises Fellowship Church in Kelso. No one affiliated with High Praises Fellowship Church is a suspect in the investigation.

Ake-Be is in the U.S. illegally, police said. Immigration has placed a hold on him.

He will appear in court again on August 13. Ake-Be’s wife told KGW she believes he’s innocent.