Documents: Babeu ran private boarding school with history of physical abuse

The DeSisto School sits abandoned in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

It was a private boarding school for troubled teens with a long and troubled history of its own.

Pinal County Sheriff and U.S. Congressional candidate Paul Babeu was the school's Headmaster and Executive Director from 1999 to 2001.

He touts his experience there on his campaign website.

While Babeu ran the school, the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services launched an investigation into repeated allegations of abuse.

The ABC15 Investigators traveled across Massachusetts and tracked down reports that have never been released.

The documents show that during Babeu's tenure the school was not licensed. Other allegations include detailed instances of physical and sexual abuse.

Holli Nielsen was a student of DeSisto while Babeu was Headmaster.

"It's not unreasonable to say we were cult-like," said Nielsen.


Click here to read more about DeSisto's controversial disciplinary methods

When the rules at the school were broken, student faced serious consequences.

Nielsen told us about strict punishments and how each punishment had a special name.

"Take a verb, add an -ed to the end and that's a DeSisto term," said Nielsen.

One of the punishments was being "sheeted".

Nielsen told us about her experience of being forced to strip down and wear nothing but a sheet in front of her peers.

"That's how I spent my 16th birthday," said Nielsen. "It was just miserable."

The state documents obtained by ABC15 also reveal students "strip searched" each other and "routinely took group showers"... "leading to sexual abuse."

Being "cornered" was considered by many students to be the worst punishment.

That meant sitting, facing the wall for hours, days and sometimes weeks.

"You have to sit like this with your feed flat on the ground. You can't cross your legs," said Nielsen. "From 7 in the morning to 9:30."

In one case, records show a student with bi-polar disorder, ADHD and impulse control disorder was "cornered" for "weeks on end."

The student's medication was not monitored properly. He began to "urinate and defecate" on himself. He was also taken to the hospital for pneumonia.

Days later, that same student was returned to DeSisto and sent back to the corner. 

We asked Nielsen if Babeu was aware of students being "sheeted' and "cornered".

Nielsen replied, "He was there for that. Yes. He was certainly aware of that. There were a lot of things that happened there that probably shouldn't have."


Andrea Watson founded Parents for Residential Reform in Boston after her daughter was raped at a different boarding school.

The group advocated for safer boarding schools. Watson helped work on the DeSisto case.

"They did not feel like they had to adhere to any standards or rules," said Watson. "Those people were so good at covering things up. It's still beyond my belief."


Several students we spoke with say they also knew a secret about Babeu.

It was a secret that Babeau's older sister said she discovered one day after visiting his home.

Lucy Babeu told the ABC15 Investigators she confronted her brother after finding a student from DeSisto school living with Babeu.

"I said what is this student from Desisto doing here? He says, ‘Lucy, he's my boyfriend. I love him'."

Lucy Babeu told us her brother was having a relationship with the male student.  

"I said Paul get a hold of yourself here," said Lucy. "You were his teacher! You were his Executive Director! You can't do this."

ABC15 is not identifying the former student. He has not responded to our interview requests.

At the time, he was 17 which is the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

"He was of age. He would be what we considered a high school senior," said Nielsen.

Holli says she knew the student personally.

"It was widely known but not discussed. People were aware of it," said Nielsen. "It was kind of swept under the rug."

Babeu left the school in 2001. Three years later, the state investigation forced DeSisto to shut down.

Babeu declined our requests for an on-camera interview, but his spokesman sent us this statement:

"DeSisto Private School's mission was to save troubled, yet talented youth in a therapeutic environment. The Sheriff served three years and was recognized for helping restore financial stability of the school. He was never the target of any investigation or lawsuit. Sheriff Babeu is a recognized leader for Victim's Rights."

Earlier this month, Babeu came under fire after an ex-boyfriend said the sheriff had threatened to deport him if he told anyone that Babeu was gay. Babeu denied the claim, and an investigation into those allegations is underway.



Crisis Intervention & Counseling Nineline

National Runaway Switchboard and Suicide Hotline

Self-Injury Hotline
SAFE (Self Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives
1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)

Youth Crisis Hotline

Conatct Dave Biscobing at if you have any questions or comments.

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