| Kids of Bergen County was a controversial
drug rehab for kids ranging in age from 12 to 24. It thrived during the
1980s when the War on Drugs was at it's height and parents were terrified
of losing their children to drugs and alcohol.
Virgil Miller Newton III resigned his position as Clinical Director of Straight in 1983. He called himself Dr. Miller Newton but the "doctor" part is still up for debate. He had a degree in Anthropology and later received another degree in Psychology from an alternative school in Boston, Massachusetts without attending any classes. He was asked to resign from Straight amid allegations of abuse and insurance fraud.
A parent of a "child in need" contacted Newton and donated money to start a program in their area of New Jersey. Newton chose the affluent area of Bergen County. He acquired an empty warehouse in Hackensack, NJ through the owner of the neighboring building (Timeplex) and called it Kids of Bergen County. All it needed was a few offices, some intake rooms, an infirmary, bathrooms and a couple of group rooms. The main group room was a huge, empty room with a cold, hard tile floor and high ceilings with florescent lighting. This room, he filled with blue chairs.
Newton staffed Kids with former graduates of Straight, Life, and The Seed. He called himself the President and Clinical Director and appointed his wife, Ruth Ann Newton, assistant Director. A support group for parents of problem teens known as "Tough Love" as well as other support groups began spreading the word of Kids of Bergen County. This was all Newton needed. He soon had clients to sit in those blue chairs.
Starting out with a small group of kids, Kids of Bergen County later grew to a group of over 175 at a time. If a child was brought in that did not appear to have a drug or alcohol program the families were not turned away. Those children were diagnosed as "behavior problems" and admitted. Newton also accepted children with eating disorders. Not just life threatening anorexia and bulimia but also overweight teens he called "overeaters".
The teens spent seven days a week at the building, up to 18 or more hours a day. There were five "phases" of the program and kids on 1st and 2nd phase were not allowed to go to school. They were not even allowed to read. They sat in the blue chairs facing forward, back straight, with their hands on their knees. On 1st phase children did not live at home. They stayed with other clients on higher phases of the program and were only allowed to talk to their families twice a week for five minutes at a time. They were called "newcomers" but sometimes 1st phase lasted for over a year. On 2nd phase the kids lived at home but still spent all day at the building. At this point they were called "oldcomers" and took 1st phasers home with them and children were fully responsible for other children. A lot of abuse occurred in the "host homes". On 3rd phase the clients returned to school or were allowed to get a job but still had to spend time at the building every day. They were not allowed to have any contact with people not in the program. On 4th phase days off were allowed. They still took 1st phasers home with them but they were able to start to develop friendships with other clients of the same sex. Clients were also allowed to watch T.V. on 4th phase. On 5th phase clients were allowed to talk to other 5th phase clients of the opposite sex and day off excursions could be co-ed as long as the ratio of boys to girls was uneven. After graduation there was six months of aftercare and no dating was allowed for five months.
Abuse ranged from verbal to physical with clients being restrained for hours at a time on the hard floor by up to five other teens. The staff members were just children themselves and completely unqualified to be responsible for such a large group of kids. The only qualification to be on staff was to be a graduate of the program. Most had not even finished high school. There were no degrees in counseling. Humiliation and bullying were accepted treatment tactics.
After a while Newton started to recruit families from El Paso, Texas. In February of 1986 he chartered a plane and took 19 kids to Texas and opened Kids of El Paso. He used the El Paso group to recruit families from Southern California. He opened Kids of Southern California in Yorba Linda in March of 1988. Then in 1989, he opened Kids of Greater Salt Lake in Utah.
Over the years TV shows and investigators looked in to the program. Some were permitted to enter the building, ask questions, and film. Nobody was permitted to speak with the reporters except the graduates. Eventually, the states began investigating reports of abuse and false imprisonment in California, Utah, and Texas. Kids of El Paso and Kids of Southern California shut their doors in 1989 due bankruptcy. The legal battles to fight claims of physical abuse, false imprisonment, and mind control proved to be too much. Kids started coming to NJ from all over. A few months after that Salt Lake closed it's doors. In spite of all the investigations and inquiries the New Jersey program stayed open. About a year after an airing of "West 57th St." Bergen County Prosecutors went in and pulled people out who were over 18 and asked them if they wanted to leave. Some did, some did not. The prosecutors repeated this action a few months later.
Shortly after this investigation Newton shut down the building at 80 Commerce Way in Hackensack and began looking for another building. The clients were sent to what they called "Satellite Homes" where 7-20 or more kids and staff would meet and have group sessions at family's homes. He was also seen by a former parent to be holding open meetings in a church in River Edge, NJ. He relocated to an empty warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. He changed the name from Kids of Bergen County, to Kids of North Jersey. Secaucus is an industrial town with mostly minorities. He knew he could get Medicaid funding there. The State of New Jersey gave Newton a special certificate to operate from the Commissioner of Health and Human Services.
New Jersey knew that Kids was a controversial program and proceeded to have state officials check it out. They found numerous counts of insurance fraud and many major insurance companies had already stopped funding. Families desperate to keep their children in Kids were putting third mortgages on their homes. New Jersey launched a Medicaid fraud investigation in 1999, which was Newton's demise. During this time, R*b*cca Ehrl*ch was in the process of suing Newton and his team of psychologists for $4.5 million. She won that suit in 2001. Her attorney was Phil Elberg. Elberg took on Newton again in 2003 winning a 6.5 million dollar settlement for former client L*lu C*rt*r, who spent 13 years in Kids of Bergen County and Kids of North Jersey.
Newton now resides in Madeira Beach, FL. He has converted and been ordained a priest by the Antiochian Orthodox Church. His pastoral name is Fr. Cassian Newton. He attempted counseling children in FL but they refused to give him a license.
Newton taught religion and psychology at St. Petersburg Junior College for a while. He was "let go" in 2000 when they learned of his background. He also attempted to lead a retreat for the church in Pennsylvania but was again advised that his services were not needed after the organizer heard about his past. Newton has been stopped dead on nearly every turn since leaving New Jersey. What Virgil Miller Newton III never took into consideration while brainwashing children and destroying families was that the children he was abusing would grow up. They are adults now with very strong opinions about what happened to them as children. There have been many suicides by former Kids and even parents because these families were irrevocably damaged. But there are also many, many kids that have gone on to lead very productive lives despite what they went through as teenagers. We are the ones that will make sure that no one ever forgets.