THE REHAB:
Former Elan residents cite pattern of abuse
By Peter Moore - Greenwich Post

Accusations of physical abuse and humiliation bestowed upon Michael Skakel during his stay at the Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine might lend credibility to the possibility of an alleged confession for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley being forced out of him at the facility, according to a true-crime book on the case.

The grand jury ruling which recommended Skakel's arrest on Jan. 12 is believed to have come at least largely form the testimony of several former Elan students who claimed Skakel made incriminating statements about the murder around 1978 while at the then-mental health treatment facility (now private boarding school for troubled teens). Testimony from former Elan staff members was ruled inadmissible last year after a long debate by both prosecution and Skakel defense attorneys over doctor-patient confidentiality proceedings. Elan's owner Joseph Ricci had first used the doctor-patient privilege defense in 1998 in his refusal to testify before the grand jury.

Excerpts from the epilogue of "A Wealth of Evil," by Timothy Dumas, a true-crime book on the case and E-mails exchanged between the Greenwich Post and former Elan students this week cited significant physical abuse having taken place at the school in the 1970's. One student, now living in Arizona, spoke to Greenwich Post Tuesday and asked not to be identified.

The male student, a claims adjuster for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said that when Michael ran away from Elan in the fall of 1978, he and two other students were flown down to Westchester County Airport and driven to Greenwich to pick Michael up at his Belle Haven home and bring him back to Elan in restraints.

According to the student, Michael then received an all-day "general meeting," which was described as an opportunity for Elan students to yell, scream and vent their hostilities towards a rule-breaker or one with a bad attitude. The student said the general meeting included Michael being put into "the boxing ring," one of Elan's therapeutic tools which includes actual gloves and headguards. A student would be forced to fight one Elan resident after another in one-minute rounds until staff determined the student had enough and had given in sufficiently.

The E-mail from the student reads in part: "In the [general meeting] that Michael received for splitting, he went about 10 [sic] or twelve rounds in the ring until his nose was probably broken, with snot and blood all over the stage floor of Elan three [one of the facility's residential units]. He was then given a house spanking -- He got three [to] five swats with a nasty wooden paddle by about forty or so residents. I saw his naked rear end after the fact, it was bloody, and bruised."

In a telephone call Tuesday evening, the student said that Michael being "spanked with a paddle" was probably a light way of saying "flogged with a board." The student said that a spanking of that extent was unusual and quipped that maybe Joseph Ricci "didn't like the way Michael looked at him." "A Wealth of Evil" cites Skakel family friend Ben Works as telling Greenwich Time that any alleged confession came from Elan students "beating the pulp out of Michael" in the boxing ring.

"Because this was under duress -- what was essentially torture over time -- whatever they thought was a confession they wrung out of Michael is absolutely meaningless," Works said.

In another excerpt, Dumas asks Skakel's attorney Michael Sherman: "Might this be a preview of the defense -- Michael coughed up a few words in order to stop the beating? Mickey Sherman nodded 'It's a rational explanation as to why Michael would make any such utterance,' [Sherman said]. `And again I don't believe he ever said, 'I did this.'' Mickey wouldn't say however whether Michael claimed he was beaten at Elan. 'I don't want to confirm or deny that. Let's just say this was not Camp Grenada for him.'"

Two men quoted in "A Wealth of Evil" who attended Elan with Skakel acknowledge that Michael Skakel was once in the ring, but not during a general meeting in which Ricci allegedly told Elan students that Michael was at the facility for the murder of Martha Moxley. Michael is said to have also received this general meeting for running away from Elan.

However Michael is said to have escaped twice from Elan in November 1978. Therefore, the former students' account in "A Wealth of Evil" and the account given to the Greenwich Post Tuesday could both be true if the general meeting where Skakel received the boxing ring and spanking took place after he was returned to Elan from his second escape in December. But both former students quoted in the book, Chuck Seigan and another student who was referred to in the book by the pseudonym Arthur Conrad, said that Skakel's ring appearance was not a "beating."

"Michael was never beaten [in Elan]. I'll tell you that out front," Seigan said. "They knew who his father was, and they didn't want to mess with his father."

"Arthur Conrad" is quoted as saying, "Don't get me wrong, there was physical abuse at Elan. But Michael was never beaten in his life."

The former Elan student now living in Arizona said he could not recall Michael making a direct confession to the murder of Martha Moxley under duress.

"I remember something about a discussion about Martha Moxley two or three times," the former student said. "We all knew he was there because of some trouble with a neighborhood girl."

Whether or not Michael's primary reason for being at Elan was because of Martha Moxley's murder, it is known that the final straw in sending Skakel to Elan was drawn in March of 1978. Michael had been arrested for multiple violations after allegedly almost running over a police officer while driving drunk and subsequently engaging police in pursuit. In an agreement arranged by his lawyer at the time, Thomas Sheridan, the charges were dropped on the condition that Michael attend Elan for at least six months.

According to former Elan student Ken Zaretsky, who graduated the facility's therapeutic program in the early-to-mid 1970's, it was not unheard of for a student to be "broken down" in order to address his "areas" (an Elan term for therapeutic issues) as Skakel might have been. From the recollection of his own stay at Elan, Zaretsky recalled the case of Jeff Cassano, a student who Zaretsky says was given an estimated 72-hour special "encounter group" where students vent their hostilities through screaming and confrontation. Zaretsky said Cassano had allegedly not addressed his issues for being at Elan sufficiently in his eight or nine months at the school. In these types of marathon groups, Zaretsky said, different students would rotate in and out to confront the subject.

"He split about a month later," Zaretsky said in reference to Cassano. For years, the Elan School has been cited for its controversial forms of treatment, though a recent Elan graduate indicated that many more humiliating aspects have been taken out of the facility's concept in recent years. In 1991, "Duck in a Raincoat," an unauthorized biography of Joseph Ricci was published, written by Maura Curley, a former employee of Ricci's at the Scarborough Downs racetrack which he also owns. According to an "Elan Survivors" Internet home page, the Elan of 1975 is characterized as a treatment facility whose bizarre practices include "...evidence of physical abuse, forced labor, spankings, being forced to fight one another in a boxing ring, senseless ditch diggins, handcuffing children to the tables, pouring mixtures of food and human feces onto residents' heads, denial of food and recreation, improper medical care and a total lack of privacy." The web page also quotes what the creator claims to be a study done by investigators which states:

"In short, our Illinois team members found the Elan program abhorrent to all accepted standards of child care. The treatment model seems predicated on suspension of each child's liberties; they become automations who conform to acceptable behavior patterns after they find it hopeless to resist the will of their 'masters.'"

In a July interview, Ricci declined to comment on Elan's past reputation as an abusive treatment facility, but when asked if Elan is anything like the alleged Elan of the 1970's, he replied, "Of course it's not like that today." Ricci spoke of students taking trips during the past month for sailing, fishing and white-water rafting and said that Elan's teacher-student ratio is 1:8.

"Clearly [the program] worked for Michael Skakel, didn't it?" Ricci said. "He's gone 30 years [sic] and never had a problem with the law ever again."