Robert Lichfield: The WWASP Founder Now Prefers to Keep a Low Profile

Netflix’s ‘The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping’ is a docu-series shedding light on the experiences of individuals who, as teenagers, were placed in a behavioral modification program known as Ivy Ridge. Though the focus also extends beyond Ivy Ridge to similar institutions operating under the umbrella of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP). Through interviews and revelations, it raises critical questions about the ethical implications as well as impact of such programs on the lives of those involved. It aims to unravel the inner workings of these schools, all the while providing insights into Robert Lichfield, the founder of the Association, and his potential accountability in its operations.

Who is Robert Lichfield?

Robert Browning Lichfield hails from a sizable Mormon family in southern Utah, being one of twelve siblings. With little means, his family faced challenges in meeting fundamental needs. Neverthless, he managed to initially pursue education at Dixie State University, later renamed Utah Tech University, only to then choose to drop out. His professional journey hence commenced as a staff member at Provo Canyon Boys School. He left the school, which was facing allegations of child abuse, neglect, and mistreatment, in 1988.

Subsequently, Lichfield established the inaugural program under the WWASP umbrella, known as Cross Creek Manor in La Verkin, Utah. During this period, per the documentary, he was even engaged in a management contract with Brightway Adolescent Hospital. It is alleged that numerous students were directed to his program from the hospital. Lichfield then appointed Ken Kay, the nighttime guard at Brightway, as the President of WWASP as well as the proud public representative of the program.

In 2007, a lawsuit representing over 100 plaintiffs was filed against WWASP, accusing the organization of physical and sexual abuse, plus fraudulent concealment of such abuse. Lichfield responded to this by filing his own counter-suits against some of the individuals involved in the initial matter, and he was never convicted of any crime. It’s actually imperative to note that during this period, Lichfield held a notable position as one of the six co-chairs of the Utah state fundraising committee for the Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In other words, he had political connections, and the news surrounding these lawsuits brought significant defamation to the candidate and added controversy to Lichfield’s already contentious reputation.

Lichfield publicly asserted that he was a distant manager and only occasionally visited the schools, claiming to not know about any alleged abuse despite them leading to the closure of nearly all programs under WWASP by 2010. Nonetheless, the documentary asserts that Lichfield had a significantly close inluence over the daily operations of all programs, presenting alleged email correspondences as evidence. In these, he purportedly referred to the children as “units” and described his operation as a “McDonald’s franchise.” Additionally, it is indicated that when his sister-in-law inquired about his various alleged shell companies overseeing these programs, he reportedly told her to “shut up” and avoid raising unnecessary questions.

Where is Robert Lichfield Now?

In subsequent years, numerous lawsuits were filed by parents and former participants of WWASP’s programs, with Robert Lichfield being named in almost all of these legal actions. However, no official charges or convictions have been brought against him as of now. In 2013, he once again distanced himself from the programs and said, “I wasn’t there, I didn’t abuse or mistreat students, nor did I encourage or direct someone else to do so. I provided business services that were non-supervision, care, or treatment services to schools that were independently owned and operated.”

On the flip side, in 2021, the mayor of Hurricane, Utah, sought financial support from local businessmen to fund a recreational center, and Lichfield was among those approached. He agreed to donate a metal building that had been stored in Utah. The deal was finalized in January 2023, and the mayor suggested naming the recreational building after Lichfield due to his ownership. However, the proposal encountered strong opposition from many residents of the town, leading to the circulation of petitions against honoring his name. As of now, the project has not been implemented.

After the closure of the WWASP programs, from what we can tell, Lichfield has maintained a conciously low profile. He had built an extensive estate in Utah, adorned with farmlands and sophisticated statues of his family, but it’s unoccupied at the moment. He even avoids media interactions, but many surrounding rumors do indicate that he spends a significant amount of time outside the country. Moreover, some sources suggest that he might still be involved in similar programs, establishing new chains in different parts of the world under different names to evade speculation and scrutiny.

Read More: The Program: Where Are the Academy at Ivy Ridge Survivors Now?