A Tragedy

In February 2013, two of our guys ran away from LUC Ranch. The police were called immediately, but neither they nor we were able to find them. Staff from LUC spent many hours, first impeding them before they ran away and then searching for the two boys afterward, even though they were ordered by DSS licensing personnel not to do so. The two boys found an unlocked home about 2½ miles away from the Ranch where two elderly people lived but happened to be gone. The boys consumed a lot of alcohol while in the house and mixed that with other substances which left them in an impaired mental state. The couple came home while the boys were still in the house. There was a struggle, and the couple did not survive.

In February 2015, the three sons of the deceased couple sued LUC Ranch for negligence and alleged that LUC Ranch and Ken and Sheila Ortman were responsible for the actions of the two boys. At the trial, in March of 2017, the plaintiffs were given 6½ days to present their case. LUC Ranch was given 2½ days to defend ourselves. Eighteen supporters of the ranch (Ranch graduates, neighbors, employers, school counselors, volunteers, boys’ parents, former and current staff, etc.) testified during our short time to defend the Ranch. Many other people volunteered to testify for the Ranch, but we did not have enough time for all of them to do so. The jury deliberated less than two hours before informing everyone that both LUC Ranch and the Ortmans were “not guilty” of all charges against them. The plaintiff’s attorney first appealed to the judge and then to the Missouri Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court has supported the judge’s and the jury’s decision that LUC Ranch and the Ortmans were “not guilty” of negligence or abuse.

There were investigations of this incident by the Sherriff’s office, by the Missouri Division of Social Services, and by our liability insurance company that came to the same conclusion right after the incident. However, we were told that the result of those investigations was not admissible at the trial because “those conclusions might prejudice the jury.”

The current director of Missouri DSS in our area and even the plaintiff’s expert witness testified that every adolescent childcare facility in Missouri, and probably in the nation, has runaways and experiences the same allegations against them that the attorney for the plaintiffs said was unique only to LUC. The DSS director, under oath, testified in court that LUC Boys Ranch has a perfect record relating to every conclusion to every investigation into hotline calls: all have been unsubstantiated (not guilty of abuse or neglect). Tens of thousands of hotline calls are made against childcare facilities every year in Missouri alone. According to our DSS licensing agent, LUC received so small a number of calls that every hotline against LUC Ranch was always investigated all throughout our history. Significantly, the final conclusion from every investigation for every hotline call for over 37 years of LUC’s existence has been: “unsubstantiated for any abuse or neglect”—therefore clearing LUC Ranch of any negligence or abuse EVERY time for over 37 years. By law, all “unsubstantiated” conclusions are not to be made public because the allegations were without a factual basis. However, DSS illegally listed the hotline allegations (all unsubstantiated) as substantiated. Administrative personnel from Missouri DSS have admitted that they made mistakes in not clarifying that all the allegations have been unsubstantiated, but no DSS person is taking responsibility for the mistakes.

Repeatedly through the years, we objected to DSS illegal procedure, and repeatedly we were told that DSS would correct their mistakes, but they never did. Because DSS made these false allegations in public, the attorney for the plaintiffs was allowed to use those unsubstantiated allegations to support his case while LUC was told that we could not say that the allegations were unsubstantiated and illegally placed in public view because “those conclusions would prejudice the jury.” The attorney fighting against LUC has made many false and misleading public statements about LUC Ranch, even when he knew there were no facts to support his allegations. He has not been truthful in what he reports in court case documents, in newspaper articles, and on television spots.

Because we were ordered by the judge to give out names and addresses of former boys, the plaintiff’s attorney, defying privacy laws, proceeded to contact as many of these boys as he could find connections to. Several of these boys and/or their parents called to tell us of his unethical practices. When a former boy, who did not complete our program, is pressured at a needy financial time, it is hard to resist the pressure.

Out of the many former boys and staff that the plaintiff’s attorney contacted, five of the boys could not resist the temptation of receiving large sums of money and so filed suits of their own against LUC Boys Ranch. The plaintiff’s attorney convinced them, at his own financial gain, to file allegations of abuse and/or neglect against LUC and the Ortmans to make his case look better. All of those allegations had already been investigated by the OHI unit of Missouri DSS at the time of the alleged incidents. Every allegation was proven to be unsubstantiated against LUC, the Ortmans, and all other staff. However, when a suit is filed, we still have to fight it and prove our innocence. Insurance companies know that it’s sometimes cheaper to agree to a settlement than to pay for the attorney costs and other costs to fight a suit. As the attorney for the boys saw that the credibility of his cases was disintegrating rapidly, a settlement was made, through mediation, on four of the five suits. Some of these boys’ parents had even volunteered to testify for the Ranch and against their son because they knew who was telling the truth. One of the boys bringing suit against us was used as a witness at the murder trial, and it was proven that he lied under oath. It is discouraging for us to see our reputation harmed by unethical and dishonest tactics, but encouraging to see how fast a jury saw through the lies when they knew the facts. LUC has favored going to trial on all of the cases because the truth is on LUC Ranch’s side.

LUC Boys Ranch is looking into alternatives on how to clear our record and regain our honest reputation. We have been blessed to have hundreds of volunteers help at the Ranch every year. They live with us, eat with us, work with us, and interact with our boys continually. Many of the parents of our boys do the same. That interaction is another layer of protection that LUC has so there could be no secrets at the Ranch. The Bible relates in John 1:46 that Phillip is asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth. Phillip immediately answered, “Come and see.” He was sure that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed good, and we know that as well. If some people believe all of the lies about LUC that have been made public, those people may also be wondering whether anything good could come out of LUC. My response to those people is: “Come and see.” We have nothing to hide. We welcome the chance to be able to explain what we do and how we do it.

Several years ago, the head of a large psychiatric hospital in Chicago and a Juvenile Officer went on a fact-finding trip to evaluate who they thought were the top youth residential programs in the nation. They stayed with us for 2½ days to evaluate the educational, vocational, spiritual, recreational, psychological, physical, and social aspects of our program. At the end of their nationwide tour, we received a kind letter in which they wrote: “The LUC Ranch Program is second to none.” The two evaluators were particularly impressed with the extensive interaction our boys have in society when we work for other people, when we volunteer for numerous causes, and when volunteers come and work here. They felt our program was extremely open and transparent.

LUC Boys Ranch welcomes any visits or calls for clarification. If you have any questions, call LUC Boys Ranch at 417-779-5374 and ask for Ken Ortman. Thank you for your interest in knowing the truth about LUC Boys Ranch and in what God is doing here.