The Kaufman House
Some of you may remember hearing of Arlan and Linda Kaufman, the Kansas couple who operated an institution of sexual slavery and abuse under the pretenses of a group home for the mentally ill. For those who are unfamiliar, their abuses were many. Arlan was a social worker and Linda a nurse. They operated an unlicensed group home for twenty years in which their principle methods were sexual abuse and forced labor, no mental health care was offered and the families and Medicare were billed for their services. From USA Today:
Federal prosecutors contended the Kaufmans controlled the lives of mentally ill residents, including deciding who could wear clothes. They were found guilty of forcing residents to masturbate, fondle each other and shave each other’s genitals — activities that Arlan Kaufman videotaped.
and from the Topeka Capitol Journal:
Agents were startled to discover 34 videotapes that captured sights and sounds of the Kaufmans’ approach to addressing mental disease.
Two written summaries of contents of the videotapes…confirm Mr. Kaufman was shown on one tape urging patients to masturbate and urinate in front of other patients. On another tape, Mr. Kaufman instructed patients, male and female, to shave pubic hair of clients of the opposite sex.
The camera caught patients and Mr. Kaufman discussing sexual fetishes and fantasies, the summaries say…According to reports, Mr. Kaufman is shown touching the genitals of male and female clients. A group of patients was filmed hula-hooping in the nude, the summaries say.
According to the reports, a male patient was videotaped while forcing objects up his anus. Mr. Kaufman is captured on tape urging a client to stick a paint brush up his urethra, a summary says. The taping caught a group discussion of sex toys and group massage, during which Mr. Kaufman said, “I’m just going to enjoy watching you.”
The list goes on but it’s virtually impossible to address frankly without appearing to play to the shock value of it all. It is enough to say that for twenty years, these two people engaged in some truly life-destroying behaviors. On top of that, they did it all under the pretense of offering help to people in various states of emotional distress and extremely vulnerable states of mind, often turning their own traumatic events against them. They then intimidated their residents into silence and charged victims’ families and Medicare for the abuses.
The fact that it happened is bad enough, that it continued for so long is beyond understanding. They originally opened the house in 1976 as college housing, later converting it into a treatment residence for those with diagnosed mental illness or emotional problems. One must wonder what sparked the move to a new kind of home. Given the end result, it may not take a whole lot of wondering. You’d be hard pressed to find a collection of people as discredited, unprotected and vulnerable as those regarded as mentally ill in America — the perfect victims, from the position of the Kaufmans. While this is outside of the realm of conceivability for most, it is still largely true that, collectively, we don’t care what you do to “them” as long as you take them off our hands.
There are, however, agencies in place to keep things like this from happening. So where were they? In 1986, Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) informed the Kaufmans that they were required to become licensed as they were providing “residential services, therapy for the residents [and] medication distribution”, according to the Testimony to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. The Kaufmans chose to sue the SRS. The SRS backed off. Kansas Supreme court upheld the ruling that the Kaufmans were to be licensed but the Kaufmans made no move to do so and the state made no move to make them — so the abuses continued.
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said the record shows SRS bungled opportunities to deal with alleged misconduct by the Kaufmans.
“Those agencies that are designed and given the mission to protect the vulnerable failed,” he said.
SRS Secretary Gary Daniels said the state agency he leads didn’t deserve full blame for a case that “slipped through the cracks.”
“Everyone who was involved,” Daniels said, “at some point or other had some responsibility to jump up and down and yell, ‘Foul!’ “
It wasn’t until a bus full of schoolchildren reported seeing a group of farm workers working outdoors in the nude that an investigation was ordered. The findings were, of course staggering as twenty years is a long time to amass evidence.The Kaufmans were convicted of 30 federal charges including forced labor, involuntary servitude, health care fraud, Medicare fraud and false representation for which Arlan was sentenced to 30 years, which at his age of 69 is essentially a life sentence. Linda was sentenced to just 7 years due to her defense team’s claim that she was as controlled by her husband as anybody, thus making her a victim too. After serving about two thirds of her sentence, district judge Monti Belot saw fit to add to her sentence, upping it to 15 years. From the Associated Press:
Trial testimony had indicated a stun gun was used on a resident’s genitals. Belot found while reconsidering sentencing that it should be considered a dangerous weapon. He also found that a large number of residents were vulnerable victims and added time for obstruction of justice.
“I appreciate being given the opportunity to consider a new and appropriate sentence for defendant,” Belot said Monday.
The Kaufmans’ family objected to the increased sentence in a written statement:
Contrary to public opinion, these convictions arose out of poor judgment, but not malice. It is disappointing that the Judge did not give more weight to that fact. Imprisoning a 66-year-old, non-violent woman for 15 years accomplishes nothing.
I wonder what imprisoning all of those people and abusing them ever accomplished. Prison will surely be a kinder place for the Kaufmans than their house was for all of their victims, falling far short of any kind of measurable justice but that’s the system. We present ourselves as a civilized nation and sometimes that just means people don’t get what they truly deserve.