A Wyoming ranch for troubled teens is being accused of subjecting boys to grueling ‘child labor camp’-type conditions.
A ranching business tied to the Triangle Cross Ranch allegedly forced troubled teens to work round the clock, sleep in a shed, and urinate in jugs, all without food and sleep unless they worked hard enough.
The allegations were raised in an October 2023 lawsuit filed by former residents at the ranch, Andrew Lewis and Andrew Unruh, in suits that also alleged shoveling manure and suffering ‘near daily’ flash burns from welding.
In response, the ranch denied the allegations and claimed any rough treatment the boys endured was carried out with the permission of their parents, who paid thousands of dollars for their sons to attend.
‘Participants in the program are enrolled with the consent of their parents or guardians who are advised about the rigors of the program and the types of ranch chores that their sons will need to perform,’ the ranch said in a counter-filing on Friday, reports Cowboy State Daily.
The ranch previously faced accusations of abuse from other former attendees, including branding with hot metal and the taking away of a boy’s mattress because he refused to stick a pitchfork through a dying calf’s chest.
The Triangle Cross Ranch, a disciplinary camp for troubled teens, is accused of running a child labor center where boys were forced to work round the clock on little food or sleep
Owners Jerry and Michaeleen Schneider (pictured together) were named in the filing. In response, the ranch claimed the allegations were greatly exaggerated, and any forced labor was with the consent of the teens’ concerned parents
The lawsuit was filed against Triangle Cross Ranch, its owner Jerry Schneider, his wife Michaeleen, his twin sons Matthew and Mark, and his son-in-law Thomas George.
In its response requesting the lawsuits be dismissed, the ranch claimed that there were no specific allegations against those named, and said the accusations were ‘impossible’ as they would have had to have ‘performed hundreds of hours of work in a 12-hour window.’
‘Such allegations are incredulous on their face as they suggest that each Plaintiff performed hundreds of hours of work in a 12-hour window,’ the ranch said in response.
‘While it would take an experienced ranch hand hundreds of hours to perform such tasks, Plaintiff Lewis avers he was able to accomplish all of the above in a 12-hour time frame at 14 years of age.’
Parents pay thousands to send their troubled teens to the ranch, and it counters that allegations of abuse are what the parents pay for to straighten their kids out
The inside of the ranch, where several former attendees have claimed they were subjected to abuse
The ranch has faced a slew of allegations in the past, including the taking away of a boy’s mattress because he refused to stick a pitchfork through a dying calf’s chest
The new lawsuit alleges that teens are subjected to shoveling manure, bagging hundreds of bags of grain, feeding and grooming animals, and loading hay – chores it is argued were tantamount to child labor
However, according to the reported filing, the lawsuit does not claim the listed chores were carried in full each day, with Lewis’ complaint saying he ‘was forced’ to continue working from 7am to 7pm each day.
Lewis’ lawsuit said he was subjected to shoveling manure, bagging hundreds of bags of grain, feeding and grooming animals, and loading hay – chores he argues were tantamount to child labor.
In separate allegations, an attendee in 2012 Andrew Scavuzzo described the conditions at the ranch plainly: ‘It was child labor.’
‘Basically, you were just a slave for the owners because we were ‘troubled,’ and they were going to strengthen us into men or something like that,’ he told NBC News at the time.
Scavuzzo also alleged that the boys were made to box each other as punishment, and staff branded his arm in the shape of a cross with a hot piece of metal. The ranch denied his claims.
In a separate lawsuit, Andrew Scavuzzo, 27, who was sent to Triangle Cross Ranch from Colorado in 2012, said his experience was like ‘child labor’
Scavuzzo claimed two staff members branded his right arm in the shape of a cross using scorching metal
The lawsuit also names two of Jerry’s sons, Mark (pictured) and Matthew, and alleged teens were forced to work round the clock shoveling manure, bagging hundreds of bags of grain, feeding and grooming animals, and loading hay
According to court documents from 2015, the ranch charged up to $2,500 in administration fees and $6,000 monthly for parents to send their teens to help them overcome difficulties including drug and alcohol abuse.
The allegations against the ranch also include claims attendees had their communications to their parents closely monitored, however the lawsuits do not state that their parents didn’t consent to the ranch’s methods.
Schneiders’ counter-filing states that this is because they ‘can’t’ make that claim, and argued that claims of ‘child labor’ were little more than grumblings at the disciplinary measures they were subjected to.
‘It is not surprising that Plaintiffs – who were troubled youths requiring intensive treatment – did not want to attend the program at the Ranch or otherwise obtain help for their issues,’ the ranch said.
‘However, (their) parents or guardians wanted them to participate in the program.’
Lewis and Unruh attended the ranch in 2014, and the company alleged that the lawsuits fail to provide specific allegations against specific people, including Michaeleen who suffers from Alzheimer’s and had not managed the ranch since July 2002.
The filing says that it is therefore ‘wholly improbable’ that Michaeleen caused harm to the boys in 2014, and said they ‘egregiously’ sued her despite knowledge of her health issues.
The family similarly argues that Jerry Schneider, his twin sons Matthew and Mark, and his son-in-law Thomas George carried out anything that rises to the level of forced child labor or human trafficking.
They concluded that the men are not entitled to be reimbursed the thousands of dollars their parents paid for them to attend, arguing it was never their money to begin with.