Student: Paul Babeu helped vote on extreme discipline at controversial boarding school

Hilary Friedman said she’s sick of hearing Sheriff Paul Babeu deny any involvement in what happened at the DeSisto School.

“There’s no way in hell Paul Babeu did not know what was going on with every single student in that school. No way,” Friedman said.

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In January 2001, Friedman said her parents sent her to the now-shuttered Massachusetts therapeutic boarding school to be treated for an eating disorder.

Friedman, now 31-years old, said she may never shake the abuse she suffered.

“It’s terrorizing to this day,” she said.

Babeu served as DeSisto’s headmaster and executive director from 1999 to 2001.

For years, Babeu claimed he had no “knowledge” or “awareness” of the mistreatment of students. But in January, ABC15 exposed a damning home video taken of Babeu in 1999.

The video shows Babeu praising DeSisto’s disciplinary methods and describing them in exact detail.

In a hastily-called news conference last week, Babeu placed a 1,700-page state child care investigation of DeSisto on a table and defiantly claimed the records show he is “completely innocent.”

Babeu also said he had no involvement in student discipline or punishment.

“Paul Babeu had no decision making in these,” said the Sheriff, referring to himself.

"THERE'S NO WAY IN HELL PAUL BABEU DID NOT KNOW WAS GOING ON WITH EVERY SINGLE STUDENT IN THAT SCHOOL. NO WAY."

But Friedman said Babeu’s denial is “garbage.”

Students and staff had daily morning meetings to discuss a variety of topics including discipline. Babeu was a part of those meetings, according to Friedman and other students interviewed by ABC15.

Before any discipline was approved, there needed to be a consensus, meaning everyone had to vote and agree, Friedman said. She said Babeu was included in those votes.

ABC15 asked Babeu specifically about his role at the meetings.

“I was there as a business manager and I’ve said that since day one,” Babeu said.  

Friedman said her parents sent her to DeSisto to treat an eating disorder. From the beginning, she said she was subjected to some of the harshest discipline, including being “cornered” and “farmed.”

Friedman also said Babeu saw her while she was being punished.

 “I knew my life was over,” Friedman said. “I knew I was in hell.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT DESISTO’S DISCIPLINARY METHODS

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In May 2000, Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services launched a lawsuit and investigation against DeSisto directly in the middle of Babeu’s tenure. The state’s ongoing lawsuit -- to force DeSisto to become licensed and stop dangerous and inhumane practices -- eventually drove the school to shut down in 2004, records show.

In fall of 2001, weeks after Babeu left the school, a judge ordered that the state needed to stop many of its dangerous tactics, court records show.

Through multiple public record requests -- made in 2012 and 2016 – ABC15 obtained hundreds of pages of the same 1,700 files Babeu released.

In those records, there are several affidavits that document what Friedman told state child care investigators. The documented accounts she gave in 2001 and 2002 match what Friedman told ABC15 during her interview.

READ THE AFFIDAVITS HERE , HERE , AND HERE .

One of the affidavits, signed by a state investigator under the penalty of perjury, includes the following statement about Hilary Friedman:

“During my December 27 visit I interviewed a student named Hilary (last name redacted). She has been hospitalized due to her eating disorder and returned to the school from the hospital on December 22. When she returned she was immediately farmed. Hilary reported that DeSisto farmed her because of her eating disorder, not because of a particular incident.”

Babeu now admits he was only aware of the general philosophy of the school. But he said he never would have allowed students to be mistreated.

"I KNEW MY LIFE WAS OVER... I KNEW I WAS IN HELL"

“As a cop, as a person, I would have never allowed abuse,” Babeu said.

When Friedman heard about Babeu’s statement, she shook her head in disgust.

“That makes me sick. It makes me sick to hear that,” Friedman said. “For him to do anything but completely own that makes me sick.”

Friedman said she decided to speak out against Babeu so no one forgets what happened at DeSisto and to raise awareness about institutional abuse still occurring at other facilities across the country.

“I don’t think this should leave anyone’s mind,” she said. “I don’t think it should leave Arizona voters’ minds or anyone in America minds because this is happening to kids every day.  

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com .

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