Arizona Republic, April 29, 1998

New Boys Ranch chief under cloud
Abuse charges against Oracle director dismissed in 1987

By Dennis Wagner

The new director of a juvenile boot camp near Oracle, installed Sunday in the midst of a child-abuse investigation, faced similar charges while supervising another Boys Ranch facility 11 years ago.

Criminal counts filed against Carl Prange in 1987 were dismissed for lack of evidence, but Department of Corrections investigators contended at the time that he had assaulted four of the boys and "continually confronts juveniles at the ABR (Boys Ranch) in an aggressive, demeaning manner."

Prange, a 15-year employee, replaced Peter De La Rambelje as head of the Oracle camp over the weekend amid investigations of mistreatment stemming from the March 2 death of Nicholaus Contreraz, 16, of Sacramento. Two workers were fired, and several others were suspended.

Prange was not at the Oracle camp when Contreraz died and is not a target of the current investigation. He said the staff changes were prompted by Pinal County Sheriff's reports that made it clear the facility needs new leadership.

In 1987, however, Prange was removed from a sister camp near Hannagan Meadow under similar circumstances after 11 youths claimed they had been choked, punched, kicked, butted and stomped on as the victims of abuse.

Greenlee County Justice of the Peace Manuel Manuz threw out the criminal case, saying he found no sign that the boys had been abused.

Investigators for the Department of Economic Security at the time substantiated 13 of 36 abuse incidents involving Boys Ranch employees at Stray Horse Camp and other facilities. It was not known whether any of those incidents involved Prange.

Prange was transferred from his position, suspended for two weeks and placed on probation for six months. Boys Ranch's state license was briefly suspended by DES, which regulates juvenile facilities.

Prange and other Boys Ranch representatives did not respond Tuesday to interview requests.

During the 1987 investigation, Boys Ranch President Bob Thomas defended Prange as an "outstanding employee" and said that inept state investigators had been duped by manipulative youths. Although Thomas acknowledged that Prange made "open-hand contact" with youths' heads while questioning them, he described the blows as "nudging."

On Tuesday, state juvenile corrections authorities expressed shock upon learning of Prange's background.

"That's definitely a concern," said Jodi Beckley, policy adviser to Gov. Jane Hull. "I'm sure we'll be speaking with them (Boys Ranch) about it. I wish that would have been disclosed."

Beckley was one of several officials who met with Prange this week to discuss reforms at the Oracle camp.

Saying that Boys Ranch is "politically connected" and has a history of conflict with regulators, Beckley said Hull is "very concerned" about the latest allegations. She added that DES Director Linda Blessing has been instructed to conduct a rigorous investigation.

"They were told to get out the truth," Beckley said.

Contreraz's death and other incidents at the Oracle camp are being investigated by DES and the Pinal County Attorney's Office, as well as the California Department of Social Services and Sacramento County Probation Services.

Boys Ranch's state license is scheduled for re-evaluation by DES in June.

The non-profit agency uses military-style methods to try to rehabilitate about 500 delinquent boys on eight campuses in Arizona. The ranch has contracts with courts nationwide, which pay about $3,600 a month for each boy.

Boys Ranch has been the focus of abuse inquiries in 1971, 1982, 1987 and 1994.

Contreraz died of a severe lung infection after being forced to work and do physical exercises. In the aftermath, other residents complained of abuse by ranch staffers. Some courts withdrew juveniles from Boys Ranch; most have halted new placements.

Donna Noriega, program manager with the state's Administrative Office of the Courts, said nearly two dozen Arizona youths are enrolled in Boys Ranch. New placements have stopped, she said, and youths at the Oracle boot camp were shifted to other facilities.

Noriega said she did not realize Prange was involved in a previous Boys Ranch probe conducted by her agency.

"We didn't go back into our records," she added.

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