Hawaii officials would like to talk to Challenger President Stephen Cartisano, who has been running his wilderness therapy program on the island of Hawaii.
The problem is, they can't find him."They've basically been hiding out from us," said Tom Farrell, deputy Hawaii attorney general. "We do have people looking for them."
The Hawaii attorney general's office and the Department of Human Services have been investigating Cartisano since Nov. 9, when they were informed by the press that Cartisano might be operating in Hawaii.
Cartisano left Utah shortly after being forced out of business largely by the state office of licensing and the Kane County attorney's office, which filed negligent homicide and child-abuse charges against Carti-sano and his company.
"We've confirmed they've been operating since Oct. 19 (in Hawaii) but we've not been able to locate any of the children or speak with Mr. Cartisano," said Farrell. "We're very concerned about the safety of the children."
Farrell said he believed there are six or seven teenagers currently enrolled in the Challenger program, a 63-day wilderness survival odyssey intended by Cartisano to straighten out wayward youths.
The state will soon be taking legal action against Challenger, said Farrell, refusing to be specific. "We believe their operation is illegal. The operation of any wilderness-therapy program is illegal in this state and we'll take vigorous action against any group that tries to operate here."
Cartisano has not obtained any of a number of state licenses that would be required for its type of program, Farrell said.
"They don't even have a general business license. They can't even sell a bar of soap.
"Even if they were a wonderful program and didn't have any of the problems that they have in Utah, they still would be illegal."
Judging from descriptions he has heard of the program, Farrell said Challenger should have child-therapy licensing and pyschological licensing at the least.
The company, if it operates in Hawaii the same as it did in Utah, would also be in violation of Hawaii's compulsory school attendance laws.
"And Challenger is not a school because they haven't been licensed to be a school."
Farrell said law enforcement has been informed of sightings of Cartisano and his program on the island of Hawaii. "They move around, though, and could be any number of places."