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Two men detail their claims of abuse at a place where young children were sent for help

Men talk about claims of abuse at place where children were sent for help
Men talk about claims of abuse at place where children were sent for help 04:59

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Patients, some from the Chicago area, at a residential treatment center in Arkansas claim in a recently filed lawsuit that they were sexually and physically abused when they were children. 

The facility, called Lord's Ranch, is now shuttered for unrelated reasons, but some of those now suing are sharing their stories. The former owner of the Ranch denies the allegations.

One man who did not want to be identified was 15 when he was sent to the Ranch. He was one of hundreds. He said he was sent there after getting into trouble in his neighborhood.

"You become a product of your environment," said the man.

He says he was sent away from the neighborhood gangs to the remote town of Warm Springs, Arkansas -- to a sprawling, secluded, and spiritually-based ranch. He was supposed to get rehabilitated and schooled. But he says the beautiful setting hid horrific abuse.

He claims the worst abuse was perpetrated by a man he should have been able to trust the most -- the head therapist, Emmett Presley.

The former student alleges the first time Presley started to do something inappropriate was before basketball practice in the 1990s. The then-teen was changing into his uniform when he says Presley suddenly showed up.

Presley's accuser in the lawsuit filing says, "He would try to help, help me apply this like ointment, and I would just like look and be like, 'OK, why are you in here right now?'"

During a phone call with the CBS 2 Investigators, Presley said the accusations were absolutely false.

Another Chicago man who is also part of the suit says the same therapist sexually abused him, too.

He said Presley "grabbed my pants and pulled it down... and exposed me."

He alleges it happened soon after arriving at the Ranch in the early 1990s. He was just 10.

"He took my innocence," said this other man.

Again, Presley denies all the abuse allegations.

But this second accuser says the abuse went on for years.

"Until I was like 15 or 16 when I can fight and really defend myself," he said.

These two men are among eight John Does now coming forward claiming in the civil suit filed in the Eastern District of Arkansas that abuse occurred at the Ranch in the 1980s and 1990s -- children either sent there through the juvenile justice system, their public schools, or by child welfare agencies. 

Chicago attorney Martin Gould says the list of victims coming forward has grown since his firm Romanucci & Blandin, along with The Gillispie Law Firm in Arkansas, filed a federal lawsuit last month.

"We represent over 45 former residents," said Gould, claiming that "this was sex-trafficking funded by state and local governments."

Gould says he expects to file suit on behalf of the others in the coming months.

The Ranch's owner, Ted Suhl, was convicted of unrelated federal bribery charges in 2016. The Ranch was then closed. President  Donald Trump later commuted Suhl's sentence.

"I believe there were probably hundreds of former residents that were sexually, physically, and/or emotionally abused at this facility," alleges Gould, who described the different operations that sent children to the Ranch. "Illinois DCFS was sending them, Chicago Board of Education, the Audy Home, Henry Horner Center."

There is no evidence that any of those organizations were aware at the time of the allegations laid out in the lawsuit.

He said staff from the Ranch would be sent to Chicago to hand out pamphlets about its program.

Along with the accusations of sexual abuse, the two men say security guards physically abused some children.

"I've definitely been restrained," said the first man we interviewed. "Their restraint method was to lay you face-down flat. They would grab your arms from behind. It helps you lose air, definitely, like you could pass out from it. But also, you can break a limb, too, as well."

He says that as children there, they also quickly learned that speaking out caused them more problems, so many kept quiet. These men talk about being threatened and say they and others were kept at the Ranch even longer than they were supposed to be. They both say they never went to the police.

While Presley is named in the civil lawsuit, neither he nor anyone else has ever been charged with a crime.

The second man we talked to became emotional about how this experience deeply impacted him.

"Traumatized me, for one," he said. "Man, it hurt."

When the first man was asked what justice would be for him, he said, "I would say justice is definitely holding that place accountable."

Again, Emmett Presley said during a phone call that the accusations made in the lawsuit were false. The attorney representing ranch owner Ted Suhl called the accusations meritless and said the Suhls strongly deny these false allegations and look forward to their day in court. 

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