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  • Whitmore Academy owner facing charges in 4th District Court

By Myrna Trauntvein
Times-News Correspondent

The Whitmore Academy, located on Nephi's Main Street, is facing court charges in Juab County.

Last week, Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge filed seven misdemeanor counts of child abuse and hazing against co-owner Cheryl Sudweeks, 50.

"Cheryl Sudweeks was the primary actor. Mr. (Mark) Sudweeks has been in the background, coming in afterward, on the fringes and on the peripheral," Eldridge said.

Eldridge said, co-owner Mark Sudweeks has not been charged.

"We are still looking at some other things," said Eldridge.

The charges stem from alleged incidents which occurred during a period from April 2003 through November 2004 and involve four victims.

The evidence, said Eldridge, suggests Cheryl Sudweeks either directly caused harm to the victims or allowed others to commit the abuse.

"We are conducting additional investigations that may result in more charges," said Eldridge.

A June 23 arraignment in 4th District Court has been set for Cheryl Sudweeks.

Eldridge said he plans to ask the judge to issue an order prohibiting her from having any contact with minor children.

Child welfare investigators said they substantiated eight instances of physical abuse, educational neglect, medical neglect and environmental neglect last fall.

The usual census for the school has been approximately 30 students.

Whitmore was cited for several fire-code violations by the state Fire Marshal's Office earlier this year. One of the citations was for failing to have a second exit.

The Sudweekses were given until mid-May to come into compliance and state authorities report the Whitmore owners have made those corrections.

Recently the Sudweekses remodeled another building on Main Street. That building, known locally as the Robinson Furniture building, was made into a school to be used as a classroom. At the time of licensing, city council members would not allow the upstairs to be used by students. At the time, Mark Sudweeks indicated, in the business license application, that he would use that area for offices.

Some of the charges stem from an incident in November when a male teenager ran away after an assault reportedly involving Cheryl Sudweeks. In an earlier incident, several students allegedly assaulted the boy at her urging.

Matt Hilton, the Sudweekses' attorney, has said he doesn't dispute the state Division of Child and Family Services had the necessary information to conduct an investigation. However, he said, the majority of parents continue to support the program.

The latest charges stem from a several months-long investigation by the Nephi Police Department and the Juab County Attorney's Office.

The probe in Juab County came as a result of DCFS involvement.

Last month, the Sudweekses applied for and received a conditional use permit to expand their operations to unincorporated Juab County. Plans for the property, about four miles south of Nephi, include a facility for equine therapy.

Eldridge said he is unaware of how the criminal charges and pending investigation will play out with the Sudweekses' plans for the property south of Nephi, but he does believe it would be good for the operation to come under some oversight.

The state Office of Licensing sent a notice of revocation to the Sudweekses for the operation of their residential treatment center earlier.

Licensing problems date back to 2001, and include state concerns that a youth center was being operated under the guise of a bed and breakfast.

The Sudweekses landed in trouble in 2002 after Canadian authorities discovered a herd of starving horses on their property in British Columbia, where they had operated a youth program.

Although the Sudweekses asserted the animals' welfare was left to a caretaker, a judge eventually found Mark Sudweeks guilty of two charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, imposing a lifetime prohibition of owning or caring for animals. He was fined $4,000 and ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution to the animal cruelty organization tasked with caring for the horses.

In 2001, the pair was ordered to pack up their program in Mexico&emdash;along with 14 teen clients&emdash;because of what authorities said was the illegal operation of the business, a violation of their tourist visas.

The order came from the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana involving a program in Santa Rosalia on the Baja California Peninsula.

"Of course all of this concerns me," Eldridge said. "There is a pattern of disregarding procedures."