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November 29, 2006 / 10News.com
10News investigators have uncovered allegations of rape, torture and possible trafficking of children at an orphanage.
Also, 10News investigators revealed the orphanage’s connection to a ministry that raises millions of dollars for orphans.
10News got a hold of this story because of a little girl’s cry for help. The girl said a man who was supposed to be taking care of her molested her.
There is not much between Ensenada and San Felipe on Highway 3, except for tumbleweeds, a small town and a children’s orphanage called the Oasis.
"This is a cafeteria, an office, pastor's house, church, school. There are homes for children behind that,” said Dr. Lane Scott.
Scott worked inside the orphanage, but now he said he is kept out by a barbed-wire fence because of what he saw.
"(I saw) burns on children's hands, burns they received by a few of the house parents and supported by administration,” said Scott.
He said he provided volunteer medical care at the facility and over time he saw some terrible things.
"One of the girls was raped. There have been a number of girls and there have been similar attempted rapes. There were other violations. Abuse continues here," added Scott.
Sources within Mexican law enforcement told 10News at least seven girls were raped and five boys tortured at the orphanage.
10News obtained a letter written by a 12-year-old girl named Mari. She described in great detail how she was sexually violated at the orphanage.
“We were asleep. Suddenly, I felt someone take my blanket away. I was scared,” Mari said in her letter.
The alleged victim’s former teacher, Guadalupe Hernandez, read a portion of the letter to 10News.
Mari described how her attacker, an administrator and a man she called “papi,” tried to rape her.
“I was crying on my bed and he told me not to say anything,” said Mari.
“I was very upset and very saddened,” the letter said.
Hernandez said other girls have told her of similar experiences. She agreed to help Mari by sending out the letter in the mail.
When Hernandez confronted the orphanage’s supervisors, pastor Mauro Reyes and his wife, Lydia Palomeras, about the allegations, she said she was fired.
“He called me and told me I was fired. He said I had no right to investigate anything about the girls,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez gave a copy of the letter to Scott and mailed the original letter to Robert Fleck in Vancouver, Wash. Fleck runs International Children’s Care and funds the orphanage.
"I've been down there personally. I've talked to children and they haven't told me these things," Fleck told 10News investigators.
Scott said he met with Fleck at the orphanage recently and was told different things.
"In the end, he said, ‘I don't have time to talk to these children.’ He walked away and left them," said Scott.
Scott said he turned to 10News when he realized the seriousness of the problem.
Mari, the little girl who wrote the letter, has disappeared and so have other children, sources told 10News.
10News investigators tried to speak with several child protective agencies, but were not told anything regarding the disappearances.
Missing Orphans Possibly Involved In Sex Trafficking
The Oasis orphanage is in the high desert between Ensenada and San Felipe, but the story took 10News investigators to a side of Tijuana, Mexico most never get to see.
Prostitutes walk the city streets, with some as young as 8 years old.
“About $5,000 minimum price. That’s the going rate to buy a child who can be turned into a prostitute,” said Marissa Ugarte of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition.
Where do many of these kids come from?
Ugarte said orphanages in Mexico and other parts of the world have become feeding grounds for the sexual trafficking industry.
"Some of the orphanages have been caught even doing pornography with the children inside the orphanage," added Ugarte.
She added that thousands of children are led away or mysteriously disappear from orphanages every year.
“There were young girls being molested,” said former Oasis volunteer Roger Brown.
Brown volunteered but was removed when he complained about the cruel punishment he saw.
"Nobody talked, kids or anybody, boys especially they were more afraid of getting their hands burned,” said Brown.
Others saw the same abuses, including Dr. Lane Scott.
"At times, they will put their hands in hot water, at different times, they’ll use fire," said Scott.
A source within federal Mexican law enforcement told 10News that children have been raped and tortured at Oasis. They said 19 girls are unaccounted for and unconfirmed reports said the girls have been placed under state custody.
"This is a problem, these sexual violations, sexual misconduct of various types," said Scott.
Scott said during his volunteer medical care at the orphanage he saw the problems.
“In talking to the administration, they denied it,” said Scott.
Hoping someone would investigate, Scott went to local authorities.
10News learned that several children were brought into a Baja police station and interviewed by members of the district attorney’s office, but nobody seemed to know what happened to those statements or the investigation itself.
10News investigators searched for answers by talking to several Baja police officers, but were turned away. They were told they did not know anything about the investigation.
It was later discovered that an employee in the office took down the reports that have since disappeared.
"They are using these children as commodities. They make money off each child they have here," said Scott.
Scott said the charity that supports the orphanage is raising millions of dollars.
“There have been accusations, but they have all been cleared away,” said Rick Fleck of International Children’s Care.
Fleck runs International Children’s Care, which funds the orphanage. In response to the claims of abuse, rapes and possible trafficking of children, Fleck told 10News, “I think it is unfounded. I don’t think it’s true. Anytime any abuse of children is suspected, we investigate it or the project members investigate it.”
10News investigators obtained tax returns for International Children’s Care. The most recent return from 2005 showed the charity took in $4.6 million for Oasis and other orphanages in places like Congo, Thailand and Ukraine. Many of the orphanages are unregulated or have minimal oversight.