Mel Sembler: The Money Man

In Institutional Child Abuse, Mel Sembler, politics, programs, Straight, Inc. on October 9, 2008 at 1:34 pm

(Note- Mel Sembler and his wife Betty Sembler were co-founders of one of the United States’ most notorious juvenile drug treatment centers, which became well-known during the infamous ‘drug war’ which was begun by Richard Nixon, and revved up by Nancy and Ronald Reagan. Sembler’s program used methods likened to the brainwashing methods used in the Korean War on the prisoners-of war.)

One of the most revealing articles I’ve read about  Mel Sembler was the May 1997 Florida Trend Magazine, written by David Villano entitled “The Money Man.” (click on this link to read the article in its entirety)

Here is a quick summary of the article, but it is recommended that when you get a chance, read this article in its entirety by clicking on the link above.

This article begins with Sembler in his office conducting another day of fund-raising. Raising funds of at least $100,000 dollars a person for the Republican Party. This article covers the years of Sembler beginning with 1948 through to present day. Sembler was born in 1930, but because he never seems to acknowledge the early years of his life, people seem to assume there might be something in those years he is ashamed of.  He seems to start the story of his life with 1948, the year he enrolled in Northwestern University. This is also where he met his “future”- wife Betty Schlesinger. This article explains how Sembler began working as an account executive for a Kansas City ad agency, then moved to running a business for his father-in-law, then eventually going into building strip malls in Tennessee, which eventually led him to move to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1968.

In 1973, Mel & Betty discovered one of their sons was smoking pot. They called this act pure selfishness. They enrolled him in a drug rehab, where he “kicked the habit.”  (However, this article does not mention that the name of that juvenile drug treatment program was called the SEED, Inc. In 1975 The SEED’s methods were likened to that of the Korean War prisoner-of-war camps, by Senator Sam Ervin in the publication called, “Individual Rights and the Role of the Federal Government in Behavior Modification.)

In 1976, when the SEED, Inc. (supposedly) closed, the Semblers decided to open a new juvenile drug treatment program which they called Straight, Inc.  The first Straight, Inc. program was opened in St. Petersburg, Florida, but soon other branches were opened across the country. The article claims this is where Sembler got his “entree to national politics.”

In 1979, Sembler received a request (from his sister in Houston, TX) to host a fund-raiser for George (H.W.) Bush. He did and established a close relationship with him which has lasted.

In 1980, Sembler claims he was the one that got the attention off of Nancy’s Adolfo purchases for the White House, by suggesting she take up the anti-drug crusade. He says that her “anti-demand campaign” the one where she says, “Just Say NO!” came from him.

1986 – Sembler toured the world as president of the 33,000 member of the International Council of Shopping Centers and used this trip to campaign against drugs among other things.

1989 – Sembler was awarded the coveted position of Ambassador to Australia by Bush.

1993 – Sembler was accused of pressuring Florida State officials and lawmakers to override the HRS Department’s recommendation not to renew the operating license of Straight, Inc. (based on complaints  and reports of use of excessive force, sleep deprivation and withholding of food and medications. Of course, Sembler denies any wrong-doing.

Later in 1993 – Sembler claims the program was losing $500,000 per year and decided to close Straight.

Seeing the complaints as a challenge motivated them to continue their crusade against drugs, and Betty Sembler founded an organization to oppose state-level proposals to decriminalized marijuana, such as the CA. Proposal 215.

In 1996 – Sembler says he encouraged Dick Cheney (former defense secretary) to run for president.  He raised funds for Cheney, but when Cheney withdrew from the 1996 race, he was contacted by five presidential candidates to work with them (within 48 hours of Cheney’s withdrawal)

In 1997 – Sembler was appointed RNC Finance Chairman.


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