The founder of the Challenger Foundation, a controversial wilderness therapy program, has arrived in Hawaii to defend Challenger V.
Steve Cartisano, whose Challenger II program was forced out of Utah, said Saturday that a $10 million lawsuit filed Friday alleged malicious prosecution by Deputy Attorney General Tom Farrell.On Thursday, authorities acting on an order by a state judge raided a Challenger V camp on Molokai and evacuated nine participants aged 12 to 20.
In a temporary restraining order, Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra said "any child participating in Challenger may, at any time, be subject to physical injury, neglect, or even death."
Challenger V also has filed a response to Ibarra's order. A hearing on the federal action was scheduled for Monday.
Cartisano, who has described himself at various times as Challenger V's president, owner, founder or consultant, said the allegations were "trumped up."
Last fall, Challenger II was shut down by Utah officials who refused to renew its business license. Cartisano also is facing charges of negligent homicide in the June 27 death of Challenger student Kristen Chase, a 16-year-old Florida girl who died of heat strike while on a desert hike, and nine other counts of child abuse.
The Challenger V participants were located on the desolate north side of Molokai and shuttled by helicopter to the Molokai police station, where they were given food and checked by a doctor. Some of the students showed some bumps and bruises but were otherwise not seriously injured.
"Man, did I walk into a storm here," Cartisano said of his arrival Friday in Hawaii. He said he has spent several months in Mexico helping disadvantaged Mexican teenagers in conjunction with the Roman Catholic Church.
Hawaiian officials said in their lawsuit that Challenger was violating the state's mandatory school attendance laws, practicing psychology without a license, operating without a state business license and had no license to practice therapy.
Cartisano said Challenger V has broken no law and was being persecuted because of bad reports from Utah officials.