Steve Cartisano, founder of a desert wilderness program forced to shut down earlier this month amid allegations of child abuse, is in Hawaii "helping to set up a new program," he said Saturday.
The embattled director of the Challenger Foundation said that he will not be an owner of any such program. "I have no part, I have no ownership in any new programs," he told the Deseret News in a phone interview from Hawaii. "If I'm involved in a program, it will be as an employee."Cartisano said he was in Hawaii "looking into helping someone set up a new program."
Mitch Barker, an attorney for the now-defunct Challenger II program, said Saturday that a new treatment program known as Challenger 5 will open Oct. 19 in Kona, Hawaii.
"(Cartisano) will not be an owner, officer or director," Barker said, adding that other former Challenger II employees may be involved with the new program.
Barker said the Hawaii program is "a similar type of program" as Challenger II and there "may be some of the same people involved."
He also said that Challenger 5 will be similar to Challenger II "in a lot of ways," in that troubled youngsters will work through their problems in the wilderness.
Hawaii officials said they have no record of registration for Challenger 5, nor has Cartisano registered as an officer of a corporation there.
Cartisano is under a court order from a federal bankruptcy court not to engage in wilderness-type youth programs in any manner without first notifying the U.S. Office of the Trustee in Salt Lake City.
M. John Straley, assistant U.S. bankruptcy trustee, said Friday that Challenger had not asked to resume its program.
Straley said that Challenger could form another corporation in a different state as long as it didn't use the name Challenger or transfer any of its assets to the new program.
Peter Kuhn, an attorney with the trustee's office, said reports that Cartisano may be doing business cause "grave concern."
Information about a new Hawaii-based wilderness program surfaced after a Tennessee woman called the Challenger Foundation's Provo telephone number to ask about enrolling her daughter and was told the girl could join a group in Hawaii in mid-October.
Terry Evans, Knoxville, Tenn., said she was told the cost would be $16,000 and that other youths were already enrolled. Evans said in conversations with the staff that the program was always referred to as "Challenger."
Evans contacted the state Department of Human Services, which Cartisano claimed has been "making allegations" about him.
Cartisano said Saturday he would add a complaint about the department to his lawsuit against the state. "Some day they're going to learn to get off my back," he said.
Utah's Challenger program opened in 1988. But problems with the program, including allegations of abuse, prompted the Utah Legislature to amend the law dealing with treatment programs in January.
On June 27, Christen Chase of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., died of exertional heat stroke while hiking in the Challenger program. Cartisano and his former field director, Lance Jagger, were charged with negligent homicide, but charges against Jagger were dropped when he agreed to testify against his former boss. Cartisano is awaiting trial on the charge.
Earlier this month, Cartisano's Utah business license was revoked and Challenger II was closed amid allegations of child abuse.