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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (July 26, 2001 – Associated Press/Honolulu Advertiser)---American teenagers are free to leave a center for troubled youths in neighboring Samoa if they want to, the Samoa Supreme Court ruled yesterday, according to a spokesman for the center.

The court ruled nearly a week after one Canadian and 22 American youths fled the Pacific Coast Academy, saying they had suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse.

Academy spokesman Dave Parker, interviewed by telephone in the Samoan capital of Apia, said the court rejected the school’s request to prevent the students and interim U.S. Charge d’Affaires James Derrick from leaving the island country.

"If these people leave the country, they won’t be back and we will never clear our name," said Parker.

The U.S. Embassy, under Derrick’s direction, had taken custody of the youths.

In Washington, the State Department offered no explanation of U.S. government actions and no opinion on the abuse allegations or whether the teenagers should be returned to the Pacific Coast Academy.

"We understand that the Samoan government investigation into these allegations is continuing," spokesman Philip Reeker said.

Parker said the abuse allegations contained in a videotape given to the embassy "were fabricated and were lies." He accused the U.S. government of trying to shut down the facility, operated by an Arizona nonprofit company to help youths with special academic and social problems.

Fifteen teenagers never left the school, the State Department said, and four of those who did leave last week later returned, according to school officials. Parker said after the court ruling, 10 students would return to the United States and two had not yet made their decision, waiting for their parents. He did not account for six other Americans or the Canadian, who were reportedly still in Apia.

Parker said one American parent who traveled to Samoa made the decision on the spot yesterday to keep his son in the program.

"When these allegations were lodged with the embassy, they thought it was hard evidence and wanted to take all the kids out of the academy but it was only allegations and not all the students wanted to leave," said Parker.

Parker, who attended the court hearing in Apia, said the court ruled that the students who were removed from the school could leave the country or return to the academy on their own free will.

"We had no objections to these conditions," Parker said.

The academy is operated by a nonprofit group with headquarters in Gilbert, Ariz. Its articles of incorporation list Lonnie J. Fuller and Brandon Fuller of Gilbert and Tom Oliver of Mesa as members of the board of directors.

A Utah man acquitted of criminal charges in the 1990 death of a 16-year-old Utah girl in another program for troubled youths is also linked to the Samoan Center.

Parker said the man, Stephen Cartisano, does marketing for the school and has had no contact with teenagers at the center and has been in Samoa only twice in the last three years.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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