FOX10 News Investigates: Part 2: Saving Youth Foundation - FOX10 News | WALA

FOX10 News Investigates: Part 2: Saving Youth Foundation

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The sleeping quarters of children in the Saving Youth Foundation. Three people affiliated with the facility have been charged with aggravated abuse. The sleeping quarters of children in the Saving Youth Foundation. Three people affiliated with the facility have been charged with aggravated abuse.

Three people accused of abusing children at a residential facility in Mobile are headed to trial. The new allegations stem from a long history of controversy surrounding the operation and its owners. 

An application that was filed in 2013 to establish the Saving Youth Foundation as a non-profit corporation in Mobile.  The application is on file with Probate Court in Mobile, and the Secretary of State in Montgomery.  It's the only document FOX10 News was able to locate for the residential facility for troubled teens.  One of the  SYF leaders recently indicted for alleged abuse was personally named in a federal lawsuit involving another boot camp facility in Mississippi. That was just before he came to the Alabama gulf coast to open up a similar business with the other two defendants. 

"He started choking me. He picked me up from the floor and started choking me. He started stomping me on my back.  I still have nightmares about it every night," William Vargas said.

Vargas told Miami television reporter Bob Norman he was beaten by drill instructor William Knott.  
The alleged abuse happened at the Christian based facility that was then called Restoration Youth Academy.

Knott has been the focus of complaints from other teens. It apparently started at another facility in Lucedale, where Knott worked.

The Bethel Boys Academy and the dormitories that once stood on land on Mill Street Extension in Lucedale, Mississippi are now gone, but the people in the surrounding community still remember the controversial facility and, its chief drill instructor, William Knott.
"Bathrooms, shower houses, they had rec rooms, everything was built right here.  We just tore all these slabs up back in the winter," Lee Gibson explained. 

Gibson said the Bethel Academy closed about 10 years ago. He doesn't know if the allegations of abuse were true, but he does remember the tough drill instructor.

"They was kind of rough on them," Gibson said.

Another neighbor Donnie Barry said kids often ran away from the home. Sometimes they ran to nearby homes including his.

"They wanted somebody to help them, the guy was mean to them you know. But, you couldn't get involved with it, personally you couldn't get involved," Barry said.

The allegations in Mississippi resulted in a federal lawsuit against the academy and William Knott. In 2006 a judge issued a 900 thousand dollar judgment for the boy, who according to the civil complaint was the victim of torture. 

A few years later Knott along with John Young opened RYA in Prichard.

The operation moved to Mobile in 2013.  

Mobile County Health Department officials say the owners never received the required clearance from the health department to serve food. 

There is no city license on file for SYF.  City spokesperson, George Talbot  told FOX10 News the facility might not need a license if it was under DHR for example.  But, DHR said SYF was not affiliated with the state agency.  And in fact, it was DHR that shut it down and removed the children in March.  

While the workers at state run facilities are licensed and accredited, Young told a Miami station that didn't apply to his business.

"Because we're a Christian based program, we're not required to have a state license with our program," Young said.

But a state official told me even church run facilities are required to file for exemption, which according to the State Department of Revenue, SYF has not done.  I also checked with the IRS which said it had no record of any exemption for the business. 

"I thought I was doing the right thing for him, you know," Michelle Simmons said.

Simmons said she paid more than a thousand dollars a month to keep her son in the facilities care.  She says she didn't find out about the alleged abuse until she took him out last year. 

"I had no inclination anything was amiss there," she said.

But Lakesha Peters said the allegations have not shaken her faith in Saving Youth Foundation, or its pastor who is now charged with abuse, along with two others. 
According to Peters one of the teens removed from SYF has been back since the facility was shut down.

"He came back to tell Bishop Young what an impact he made on his life.  It was like a Tuesday night bible study, not just on Sunday.  It was a Tuesday and he came back on Sunday, and we've seen him ever since then," Peters said.  

John Young, William Knott, and Aleshia Moffett are all scheduled to go on trial in February.  The teen residential facility that was shut down in Mobile is not the only one to come under criticism in the country.  We'll take a look at  what's being done in other areas to protect children from potential  institutional abuse in part three of our FOX10 News investigation. 

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