The first thing I remember is the brightness of the sun. The blazing, white-hot sun, and then being whisked into a luxurious lobby.It was a welcome departure from the drab, impoverished climate of Omaha, Nebraska where I had spent the previous 24 months.As I sit and attempt to remember the month that I was sent to this hellhole in Florida, my mind is simply drawn blank. That’s how overmedicated I was.
Nicholas Alahverdian was hired at the tender age of 14 as a legislative aide for the House of Representatives in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. He wanted nothing more than to go to school and work at his State House job. Nicholas loved working in the House Chamber and serving the members of the RI General Assembly.
A dysfunctional family
Alahverdian had a problem. His mother and stepfather drank heavily. This worsened after they split and Nicholas lived with his alcoholic mother. Her drinking became worse when Alahverdian’s grandfather died.
She did not bring him to school. Instead, he spent his days at the library and then went to the Capitol in the afternoon. Nicholas Alavherdian made his way to the Rhode Island State House on the RIPTA bus. He traveled to downtown Providence on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays when the House and Senate met for legislative business and committee hearings.
Life at the State House
Some people would find working in the labyrinth that is the Rhode Island State House to be daunting and harrowing. Ever the quick learner, Nicholas didn’t feel that way. He swiftly learned how a bill became a law, who the power players were, which clerk had the best chance of putting a bill first on the committee docket, and other details that most lobbyists take years to learn. Alahverdian learned from the best.
Alahverdian charmed the legislators he worked with. He was invited to fundraisers and the representatives and senators enjoyed his presence. Knowing that he was often left hungry because of his mother’s alcohol addiction, the state legislators even gave him money or invited him to their homes for meals. They wanted to make sure he would have the basic necessities of life.
Nicholas was being abused and neglected at home, and this was common knowledge. But what happened next would spark the most heinous case of torture and abuse that the child welfare system has ever seen. Alahverdian began to demand that he be given a normal and consistent school placement. This occurred after he was taken from his mother due to her parental incompetence.
“A waste of taxpayer money”
The officials in charge of his case, among them a corrupt social worker named Ron Razza, called Nicholas Alahverdian a “waste of taxpayer money.” Other DCYF staff including Mike Burk (the same Michael S. Burk of the Tiverton, RI Democratic party and longtime assistant to the Executive Director of DCYF) even lobbied state representatives to get him fired from his job with the House of Representatives.
Nicholas Alahverdian took matters into his own hands and left the Rhode Island House of Representatives Legislative Aide position on his own accord. He thought it would be a temporary leave of absence.
The youngest lobbyist in history
Nicholas became a registered lobbyist in 2002 and advocated for foster care reform and a permanent school placement. This was not just for him — it was a mission to improve care for all children and adolescents in DCYF care. When Alahverdian registered as a lobbyist, he became the youngest lobbyist in the history of the State of Rhode Island.
Nicholas testified before committees and commissions. He issued detailed briefs on the pitfalls and failures of the state agency charged with caring for neglected and abused children. Alahverdian exposed the wrongdoings of staff and the criminal records of employees and contractors. He made a concerted effort to illuminate the inconsistencies in providing education. This was mainly due to the inherent instability provided by the cruel and abhorrent practice of night-to-night placement.
Alahverdian continued his advocacy work while in the night-to-night program where he was denied a permanent home and academic placement. Nicholas began to draw attention from more representatives and senators who demanded that Judge Jeremiah order a permanent home to be found for him. But Judge Jeremiah and Governor Carcieri had other plans for Alahverdian.
Nicholas Alahverdian began to get more and more attention. His case was covered by The Providence Journal, NBC News, CBS News, ABC News, and Cumulus Broadcasting, among others. Nicholas was even scheduled to appear on The O’Reilly Factor and the Today show on NBC.
Enough is enough
However, Rhode Island officials had enough of the embarrassment. The corrupt officials, namely Judge Jeremiah, Governor Donald L. Carcieri, DCYF Director Jay Lindgren, and others worked to snuff Alahverdian and his story out of the press to protect their reputation.
Alahverdian was sent far from home where he was allowed to contact no one at all. He was refused communication with the legislators who had fought on his behalf. He was refused contact with lawyers. Alahverdian was refused to file a lawsuit or contact the courts to contest the lockdown placements where he was unlawfully held.
The torture of Nicholas Alahverdian
When Nicholas Alahverdian was sent to Nebraska and Florida, the state officials knew these facilities were dangerous. This knowledge was supplied to the state officials in the form of grand jury reports issued by the respective states through what is called the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
Nicholas was sent far from home in violation of Rhode Island General Laws as well as U.S. federal law. Rhode Island law holds that a child be placed in the least restrictive setting possible. Instead, Alahverdian was placed hundreds of miles from home in places where he was allowed to contact no one and where he was beaten on a daily basis.
Nicholas was also raped on multiple occasions at the facility in Florida, and news articles covering the crime exist to support the claim made in Alahverdian’s lawsuit. The rapist, Rhonda Smith, pleaded guilty in a Florida court.
A technician at Manatee Palms Youth Services was arrested Thursday on a charge she sexually battered a 17-year-old male at the facility.
Rhonda Smith, 23, of Bradenton was accused of molesting the teen on three separate occasions, according to an arrest report filed by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Smith admitted to the battery, the report said, and she was arrested on a charge of sexual battery.
According to the report, Smith was a clinical health technician at Manatee Palms Youth Services, placed there by Advance Personnel Services Inc. Advance Personnel Services officials said the woman is no longer employed by the company and that she was applying to the sheriff’s office the day the teen told authorities about the battery. She is free on bond.
Officials at Manatee Palms Youth Services directed questions to a corporate office. An official at its corporate office said the company is cooperating with authorities but had no further comment.
The Bradenton Herald also reported on another abusive individual hired by the Florida facility and published it in the same article:
In August 2003, an off-duty Manatee Palms Youth Services mental health technician was arrested for asking a 15-year-old girl to have sex with him on camera, an arrest report said at the time. The case against Jaimie Rivera, 43, is still pending.
Alahverdian was left at the Florida facility even as his RI DCYF social worker demanded that he be removed due to the torture he was enduring when she visited. The social worker remarked in official reports that Alahverdian was chemically sedated beyond recognition. Nicholas was covered in contusions, scars, fresh bruises, broken teeth, fingerprints around his neck, and black eyes.
Nicholas remained in the facility for six more months as the torture, beatings, and abuse continued.
When Nicholas Alahverdian was finally released and flown back to Rhode Island in June 2005, he was a shell of his former self. No longer was he the auspicious young man who carried loads of books in his briefcase on his way to the State House with stacks of legislative bills in the other arm. Nicholas was reduced to a zombie. His cognitive functions and motor skills were impaired. Alahverdian was a vegetable.
Alahverdian was unable to read or write. Nicholas was exactly where Judge Jeremiah and Governor Carcieri wanted him: first, in a place where he could not physically or verbally expose the truth. Second, in a mental state that rendered him incapable of expressing what the hell happened to him in these facilities that were absolute hell holes.
What happened to Nicholas Alahverdian should never happen to any other kid — anywhere — ever again.
Nicholas Alahverdian endured torture as a 15-year-old political prisoner
torture (noun) The action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.
‘the torture of political prisoners’
‘confessions extracted under torture’
1.1Great physical or mental suffering.
1.2A cause of great physical or mental suffering.
Nicholas Alahverdian is a political prisoner. He was tortured by the direct orders of Rhode Island state officials. These officials are acting under the color of law as a result of Alahverdian’s political activism. They aim to further their own personal and public interests.
Rhode Island taxpayers are already paying extravagantly for the license that Jeremiah took at the court he controlled for more than two decades.
Lawyer William Holt scolded me for criticizing the chief judge in the July 18, 1993, Journal (“R.I. court system further victimizes battered families”). Holt seethed: He seemed to say that it is called Family Court not just because it deals with family issues but because the court runs like a family, with then-Chief Judge Jeremiah like a father to the lawyers, who always came to his defense.
I was executive director of a shelter for battered mothers and their children. Many mistakenly think that mothers always win custody of children at court, but evidence shows that those parents with money to litigate and influential connections are far more likely to get the children — even those who have already punished their families with physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Adversarial litigation often traumatizes families, subjecting them to the terrors of aggressive lawyers, manipulative psychologists and coercive court orders. When one of our clients delivered her children to their father for a court-ordered visit, he stabbed her to death.
We began to recognize a group at Family Court that we called the Cranston Cabal. They emerged from Cranston City Hall during the years Edward DiPrete was mayor, from 1978 to 1984. Bill Holt proved his value as DiPrete’s administrative assistant during a liquor-licensing imbroglio in the early 1980s.
Judge Jeremiah cared about politics and money — not kids
Jeremiah paid his political dues as Republican chairman in Cranston. He spent 15 years as assistant city solicitor and six more as solicitor when DiPrete was mayor.
When DiPrete became governor, in 1985, Jeremiah advanced to the State House as executive counsel. Two years later, DiPrete’s turn came to fill a vacancy on Family Court, and he rewarded Jeremiah. Barely a year later, in1987, DiPrete called Judge Jeremiah his “closest friend” and made him chief of Family Court.
The Cranston Cabal also produced Family Court Judge Kathleen A. Voccola. Mayor DiPrete named her to fill Jeremiah’s former position as assistant city solicitor in 1979. Then she became the first woman to be the state’s liquor control administrator. Governor DiPrete said the appointment was in line with his “continuing efforts to place qualified women in positions of authority and responsibility.”
Voccola was not the first woman that Republicans invited to fill out the GOP ticket with DiPrete in 1988. She was sacrificial lamb against popular Atty. Gen. James O’Neil. A year later, DiPrete made her a judge on Family Court.
In 1989, the Ethics Commission began investigating charges that DiPrete had steered state contracts to campaign contributors. In 1991, a grand jury began hearing evidence of DiPrete’s pay-to-play extortion. In 1998, DiPrete made a plea deal to protect his son from prosecution and went to prison himself for bribery, extortion and racketeering. Without a public trial, the whole truth didn’t get out, and DiPrete’s friends on Family Court escaped unscathed.
Judge Jeremiah escapes the RI Ethics Commission
Judge Jeremiah skated away from his own brush with the Ethics Commission. He and Voccola sat on the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Commission, where she made, and he seconded, a 1997 motion that awarded $56,000 in federal money to a police organization that sublet space from Holt in Jeremiah’s Cranston office building and paid some of that rent directly to Jeremiah.
By the time a grievance against him reached the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline in 1998, Voccola had been named to that body, and the commission found no basis for the complaint.
In 1999, the Ethics Commission also exonerated Judge Jeremiah, rejecting a staff recommendation that had urged a full-blown ethics trial and provided 64 pages of findings and exhibits.
His unpretentious Cranston office building at 995 Park Avenue gave no clue to the power he wielded. His tenants seemed to gain preferential treatment and prominence at RI Family Court, where lawyers jockey for rich litigants in custody cases that can be dragged out for hundreds of billable hours until children turn 18.
Rhode Island had a time-honored tradition of letting the House speaker, Senate majority leader and governor take turns appointing their cronies as judges. In 1994, voters approved a constitutional amendment establishing the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to recommend only highly qualified candidates for judgeships.
The General Assembly evaded the JNC process by letting chief judges appoint a vastly increased number of politically connected magistrates, and Jeremiah rewarded several with powers and salaries comparable to judges’.
In1997, he brought David Tassoni to court as a law clerk intern. Tassoni had neither the college nor law-school degrees he claimed, but he rose quickly to a top administrative post, reporting directly to Jeremiah. He seemed ubiquitous, moving from courtroom to courtroom, making recommendations to judges that harmed children. In 2011, after the new chief judge, Haiganush Bedrosian, called in state police to investigate him, Tassoni left.
Instead of awarding Jeremiah an honorary license plate, the General Assembly should investigate the license he took: the exorbitant waste of public funds and the damages still done by the cabals of Rhode Island Family Court.
Anne Grant writes about research into Family Court custody cases.
How Nicholas Alahverdian could survive the Judge Jeremiah years is astounding. Sadly, many of the kids in Jeremiah’s care ended up becoming severely disabled or mentally impaired. This led to them becoming unproductive and unsuccessful in society.
Nicholas, however, eventually overcame all odds and made it to Harvard University where he studied literature and history. Alahverdian, when he was victimized by Jeremiah’s court, was not even allowed to attend public school when he was in the infamous night-to-night program operated by the state of RI with impunity.
Alahverdian wanted nothing more than a public school education. He wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by books, academic journals, and scholars with whom he could plan his future studies and college and graduate coursework.
Nicholas Alahverdian’s contemporaries remark that his employment at the Rhode Island House of Representatives made him an easy target for Judge Jeremiah. As Nicholas began to speak to the media and the elected officials at the State House, Judge Jeremiah had to do everything he could to exile Nicholas. And unfortunately, Alahverdian was tortured in those circumstances in Florida and Nebraska.
Nicholas never regained his childhood. But just because Alahverdian never made it to high school doesn’t mean any other kid should have to go through the same thing. For one thing, Judge Jeremiah is dead. The RI Family Court is making improvements. The DCYF is making improvements. And this is because they are finally implementing the changes that Nicholas Alahverdian has spent nearly two decades fighting for.
No child will ever have to be tortured and exiled for her or his political activism ever again.