Monday, October 03, 2005

 

Couple's trial will air sordid details


Wichita, Kansas - In 1998, no one in Kansas billed Medicare more for group psychotherapy than Arlan Kaufman.

Yet Kaufman, a licensed social worker, billed for only nine patients in two residential homes that he and his wife, Linda, ran in Newton. The provider who trailed Kaufman in Medicare billing had 52 patients.

That caught the attention of Ryan Filson and Dan Coney, special agents for the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Three years later, federal officials raided the Kaufmans' private home, looking for evidence of Medicare fraud. Among the more than 400 items seized were videotapes.

The images on those tapes shocked prosecutors, who bring the Kaufmans to trial this week at the federal courthouse in Wichita on charges of enslaving the mentally ill residents who lived with them for more than a decade. Prosecutors contend the Kaufmans abused the residents for sexual pleasure.

The accusations proved unbelievable for some who knew the Kaufmans.

The couple, in their 60s, raised three successful children, doted over their grandchildren and religiously attended the Faith Mennonite Church. Their two residential facilities at 321 W. Seventh Street and 119 W. Eighth Street had been operating for 20 years.

Arlan Kaufman had solid credentials. He'd helped start the social work program at Bethel College, a private institution that prides itself on producing doctorate-level scholars. Nine out of 10 graduates of the program that Kaufman started go on to get licenses.

But Kaufman fought efforts by the state to make him license the Kaufman House Residential Treatment Center. He took his case all way to the Kansas Supreme Court, where he lost.

The Kaufmans didn't get a license. Instead, they insisted they weren't operating a group home. They were merely landlords. Arlan Kaufman had been appointed the legal guardian of one woman.

None of that was unusual. Similar homes operated under similar circumstances -- unlicensed -- throughout Kansas.

But prosecutors say Kaufman House residents weren't being taken care of.

Not so, said Tom Haney, a former assistant U.S. attorney from Topeka now defending Arlan Kaufman.

"We are looking forward to going to trial and completing the factual history -- rather than rumors and speculation and innuendo," Haney said. "We had a lot of that so far."

• • •

The Medicare billing bothered federal agents Filson and Coney. The Kaufman file reached them after local and state investigators had run into dead ends.

The Butler County sheriff looked into the last local complaint, in which a school bus driver called on Nov. 8, 1999, to say that some of her children spotted folks running around naked on a farm near Potwin. The Kaufmans owned that farm.

Arlan Kaufman would tell investigators some of his residents were "naturalists," practicing social nudity. The investigators kept hearing about "nude therapy" inside the Kaufman home. But the Kaufmans said they did nothing of the sort.

Investigators from the sheriff's office, police and social services had tried to get details by interviewing the residents. But the residents weren't talking. Prosecutors say the Kaufmans exerted control over residents. Outsiders were rarely welcome.

Something strange seemed to be going on, but no one could build a serious case.

By the time Filson and Coney got the files, they looked into Medicare billing for this "nude therapy." When prosecutors had Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the state's Medicare carrier, examine Arlan Kaufman's billing, they found he had more claims than providers who had five times the patients. The agents obtained the 2001 search warrant for the couple's home at 1461 Grandview.

Out of the first batch of videotapes, some went to the state licensing boards, whose members were so outraged they yanked Arlan Kaufman's social worker license and Linda Kaufman's license as a registered nurse.

The Kaufmans are expected to say at trial that they surrendered their licenses because they were tired of fighting the government.

Still, the Kaufmans faced no criminal action. At least one assistant U.S. attorney in Wichita dropped the case without charges.

In fall of 2004, the file landed on the desk of Tanya Treadway, assistant U.S. attorney from Topeka specializing in health care fraud. She suspected there might be evidence not only of Medicare fraud but also of violations of Kaufman House residents' civil rights.

Treadway paved the way for the FBI to search the Kaufman home again Oct. 26, 2004. This time, the haul included videos, audiotapes, documents, books and computers.

The Kaufmans were arrested that day. The charge: involuntary servitude.

Lisa Krigsten and Kristy Parker, former Kansans now working as civil rights prosecutors in Washington, D.C., joined the case.

Treadway has told judges that what prosecutors found on the videotapes is stomach-churning.

They show Arlan Kaufman engaged in a sexual act with a woman for whom he was a legal guardian, Treadway told U.S. District Judge Monti Belot this past week. "They show close-ups of buttocks and genitals. They are pornographic."

• • •

The government's case, detailed in court papers, describes a life of abuse inside the Kaufman center:

The Seventh Street house was a "seclusion" home, to where the Kaufmans banished their patients for not following treatment, prosecutors say. The government contends that some stayed there many days, without clothing, locked away from even a bathroom.

Residents didn't go nude voluntarily -- their clothes were taken from them, prosecutors say. They were choked into complying with demands, the federal case says, adding that one man was tortured with a stun gun, shot in the genitals.

"The houses were perpetually infested with rodents and cockroaches," prosecutors wrote in a summary of their case filed with the court. "The plumbing leaked, the electrical wiring was faulty, and the bathrooms and kitchens were filthy."

When questioned by state authorities about the conditions, the Kaufmans blamed the residents. Then, prosecutors say, the couple would turn around and tell the residents that they faced prison or a lifetime in an institution if they ever revealed what went on inside the house.

The farm visits, prosecutors say, were part of the Kaufmans' work program. Residents would be forced into nude labor, including tearing down a barn, repairing barbed-wire fences and unloading cement bricks from a pickup truck. The labor ostensibly repaid the Kaufmans for debts incurred by the residents.

Group sessions are said to have included "massage therapy," in which Arlan Kaufman would videotape residents fondling themselves and each other.

Defense lawyer Haney intends to call experts to testify about how such therapy can help people with aberrant sexual practices.

Prosecutors say the Kaufmans went beyond any recognized therapy.

One video, prosecutors say, shows Arlan Kaufman ordering a woman to "to get down on all fours, bark like a dog, and raise her leg as if to urinate on a fire hydrant."

The government also contends that the Kaufmans produced some videos to swap with a nudist colony in Cypress Cove, Fla.

Prosecutors told the judge they're confident that the videos will show "that the nude group activities that occurred at Kaufman House had virtually none of the characteristics of legitimate group therapy."

U.S. VS. ARLAN AND LINDA KAUFMAN

• The defendants: Arlan Kaufman, 68, and Linda Kaufman, 61, of Newton.

• The charges: 33 criminal counts, including forced labor, involuntary servitude, health care fraud, mail fraud and obstruction of a federal audit.

• The trial: Scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Wichita before Judge Monti Belot.

• The prosecution: Tanya Treadway, assistant U.S. attorney, Topeka; Richard Hathaway, senior litigation counsel, U.S. attorney's office, Topeka; Lisa Krigsten, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Washington, D.C.; Kristy Parker, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Washington, D.C.

• For the defense: Tom Haney of Topeka for Arlan Kaufman; Steve Joseph of Wichita for Linda Kaufman.

• What's next: More than 70 potential jurors from across central Kansas will be summoned to Wichita. The final panel will consist of 14 jurors, including two alternates.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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