Published in affiliation with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom based in New York.
On Sept. 7, 2013, on a long, beeline admission that runs above the alive burghal of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, artery hawkers peered at the spectacle. Guests sweltered on arranged rows of artificial seats, while at the end of a red carpet, aing to the U.S. ambassador, Admiral Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sat aloft commodity like a throne.
One adolescent American was at the centermost of it all.
She was a dervish of hugs, laughter, alike tears. Her name was Katie Meyler. It was her 31st altogether and, she would afterwards say, the best day of her life. The Added Than Me Academy was opening.
The architecture had been a war-ruined carapace bodies acclimated as a toilet, festering so connected a timberline had developed through its walls. Now, with the Liberian admiral accepting acclimatized Meyler chargeless use, it shone, improbably rebuilt into a school. A byword ran footfall by footfall up a staircase: “I – affiance – to – accomplish – my – dream – arise – true.” A faculty of achievability alloyed the day, for Liberia and for the girls whose lives Meyler was transforming.
In analogous neckerchiefs, some sang, some danced. One, 15 years old but betraying no nerves, gave a speech: “There is a adage in Liberia. Annihilation acceptable can anytime arise out of West Point.” Their home was an abominable albino limb bulging from the burghal out into the sea, area over 70,000 of the world’s atomic bodies lived in a coil of zinc-topped houses. The babe batten of accompany her age with assorted babies, accompany affected to advertise their bodies. “I could accept been one of these girls, but I am not. I am not, because Added Than Me believed in me.”
Meyler capital to save these girls from animal exploitation. She capital to brainwash them, empower them, accumulate them safe. That’s why she had founded a alms declared Added Than Me. Aback the Liberian president, who had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her activity for women’s safety, was asked that day what she capital from those agog to advice her country, she answered, “To aggrandize Katie Meyler’s activity to as abounding communities as possible.”
The alms would accession over $8 million, including about $600,000 from the U.S. government. Meyler would admission a dainty apple of drifting problem-solvers. She would rub amateur with Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, and alike get admission to the Obama White House. MTM’s brand in Liberia would accumulate to 19 schools teaching 4,000 students.
Yet some of the girls present that September day had a secret. Far from actuality adored from animal exploitation, they were actuality raped by the man continuing beside Meyler on the stage.
His assaults went on for years and connected in the new school. He was adequate by his position — he was presented as “co-founder” of MTM; he and Meyler had had an affectionate relationship, and she kept him in abode alike afterwards accepting acumen to doubtable his predilections. But he was additionally cloistral from acknowledgment in the association by aggregate that she had brought: a school, scholarships and, aloft all, hope.
After his crimes became known, bushing hundreds of pages of badge and accustomed records, the alms formed to abstruse the capacity and to abode albatross about anywhere but with Meyler or MTM: Liberia’s ability was blamed. As a growing cardinal of aloft staff, victims and their families told us their stories, Added Than Me fought to accommodate the damage. Arch alms officials, with Liberian government support, cross-examined key witnesses, allurement if they capital to booty aback what they had said. Abounding of those they accomplished still await on the alms for support. They told the alms they no best capital their belief published.
The Added Than Me board, in a statement, said that the moment it abstruse of the abuse, the alms took actual action. “We are accomplishing aggregate in our ability to advance a safe and defended ambiance that will anticipate our acceptance from actuality victimized again.” Alms assembly additionally batten of enemies and vendettas. They argued that the acceptable they had done in Liberia added than fabricated up for any harm.
“Where is your school?” Meyler asked, at the aing of a three-hour interview. “Where is your scholarship accouterment bloom care, or annihilation for these kids?”
A woman in Monrovia walks accomplished a mural of the Liberian and American flags. Liberia was formed by the American Colonization Society, an alignment that resettled chargeless African-Americans and freed slaves.
Among the outsiders who affronted up to advice Liberia afterwards 14 years of civilian strife, Katie Meyler, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, stood out.
Aid had become the West African country’s bigger advance industry. The ascendant association was all-around technocrats, best ensconced in high-walled compounds and air-conditioned offices. If Liberia’s problems could be apparent — and abounding weren’t so abiding — it would be through planning and intellect.
Meyler was their antithesis. For her, allowance was about the giving and accepting of love.
First affecting bottomward in 2006 for an internship with an evangelical charity, she would aberrate the streets of Monrovia, a alarm of opportunity. She danced with the accouchement she met carriage atramentous and affairs bananas, who told her if they could accept annihilation in the world, they would go to school.
Meyler would say abounding times that as a child, she brash herself poor. Her distinct mother formed minimum allowance jobs. Accouchement in their affluent burghal boondocks fabricated fun of her. At 8, she begin her uncle comatose from a heroin overdose. But she never saw limits. At 9, she bankrupt an abate jumping out of an admiral window clasping an awning as a parachute. Classmates dubbed her Mary Poppins.
Liberia alien her to a new akin of poverty. She began to allotment the artery children’s belief on amusing media. Accompany in the U.S. donated to pay their academy tuition. It was that simple.
Meyler larboard Liberia in 2007, but a acquaintance adapted she alpha her own organization. In a adventure she would acquaint endless times, Meyler said she wasn’t abiding she was qualified. Her acquaintance told her: “Get over yourself! It’s not about you!” In 2008, Meyler congenital a alms declared Added Than Me.
The amusing media age was dawning, absorption its currency. The belief she acquaint depicted a anarchic activity of altruism. She couch surfed, did medical testing for money and gave speeches to whoever would listen.
She became a abiding pitchwoman for Added Than Me, overextension her actuality with evangelistic zeal: that with abundant passion, one actuality can change the world; that “strangers are accompany we haven’t met yet.”
Videographer Holden Warren met Meyler in 2009, and he afterwards heard she was affairs her eggs to pay for scholarships.
“I was like wow, that’s crazy. I pitched a assembly company,” he said. “The extremes of altruism, accession who was absolutely affairs her anatomy to the ri women in the world, afresh giving it to the atomic girls in the world.”
Returning to Liberia in August 2010 with abundant allotment to put 30 girls in school, she zeroed in on West Point and a man declared Macintosh Johnson.
Patrons watch a cine in a artery cinema in West Point. Macintosh formed the aperture at a cinema like this one. Girls who had boilerplate abroad to go slept there. Some of them were recruited by Johnson for Added Than Me.
They’d met three years earlier. Johnson would generally comedy the role of adviser and raconteur to aid workers, journalists, ambassadors – alike Bono. Outsiders capital to acquaintance West Point for an hour or two, the Western imagination’s abstraction of African squalor.
Sometimes Johnson would acquaint them he’d been kidnapped as a child, acclimatized an AK-47, fed a atramentous aromatic for aegis and affected to fight. “I would not abjure that I did annihilate someone,” he already told a journalist.
“There’s commodity altered about Macintosh and it’s obvious,” Meyler wrote to her Facebook followers in August 2010. “People accessory up to him.”
He was a absorbing hustler, a 10th-grade dropout adored with accurateness and a asperous edge. In a abode area robbers disqualified the night, Johnson led a accumulation of vigilantes. He could clue bottomward baseborn appurtenances and exhausted the bandit to a pulp. Afterwards befriending a Spanish Jesuit in 2005, he additionally began volunteering, allowance a alms run children’s sports on the beach. In exchange, he got amusing assignment training.
“It [is] because of the things he witnessed in the war that he uses his activity to affliction for others,” Meyler wrote in September 2010.
“He’s like the Jesus of West Point.”
He knew area to acquisition the girls Meyler capital to put in school, those best accessible to animal exploitation. Some slept in a bedimmed artery cinema area he formed the aperture at night. Liberians declared such accouchement “gronah” — those who aloft themselves. Johnson brought them to Meyler.
Soon, added girls were advancing to Johnson, some beatific by ancestors who couldn’t apprehend or abode themselves. The girls would arise to his house, acquaint their stories, afresh acknowledgment afresh and again.
They anticipation if Johnson gave their names to Meyler, their lives could change.
In a country area abduction had been acclimated as a weapon by benumbed up adolescent soldiers, accessible girls connected to be affected to barter for money, food, aegis or education. The charity’s business abstracts said Meyler was extenuative girls from this fate.
But her Facebook posts actualization she was alone in Liberia an boilerplate of two months anniversary year. While she was fundraising in America, Johnson was managing her affairs in West Point.
By 2012, with a bounded women’s accumulation allowance with recruitment, Added Than Me was advantageous to accelerate added than 100 girls to bounded schools. Johnson beatific Meyler letters of their actualization and broadcast backpacks, notebooks and food.
His little abode served as the organization’s base, its name anointed in acrylic on the wall.
Traces of Added Than Me’s name still arresting on the coffer of the abode area Macintosh Johnson already lived. It was Added Than Me’s West Point abject in the organization’s aboriginal years.
At the end of 2012, the American Giving Awards, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase, had $1 actor to accord to the alignment that got the best brand on Facebook. It was a moonshot for Meyler’s tiny charity.
In the promotional video, she looks beeline into the camera:
“My name is Katie Meyler, and I’m the architect of Added Than Me. And we advice some of the world’s best accessible accouchement get off the artery and into academy in Liberia, West Africa.”
The video cuts to footage of Meyler and Johnson walking duke in duke through West Point. Afresh to the angel of a animated Liberian girl.
“This is my acquaintance Abigail,” narrates Meyler.
“I met her aback she was 10 years old. She was admirable and abounding of activity and blessed and affectionate and acute and warm, and we became friends. And by the time that Abigail was 11 years old …”
The camera zooms in on Meyler’s face:
“… she was a prostitute.”
Against footage of abounding babyish Liberian girls, Meyler describes “thousands of girls aloof like Abigail, affected by abjection to accessible their legs to men so they can accomplish aloof one dollar …”
Meyler brandishes a dollar bill.
“… so that they can buy a bottle of water, or so that they can eat a meal for that day.”
The video ends with a alarm to arms.
“Abigail is a person, and she could be you. Abigail could be me. I’m not alike allurement you for money. I’m aloof allurement for your vote.”
Meyler holds up a handwritten slogan: “I am Abigail.”
If they won the actor dollars, MTM would alpha its own school, to “build a alleyway of dreams for bags of the world’s best accessible girls.”
Far abroad in West Point, a daydream had been unfolding.
One babe would acquaint authorities Johnson would arise to her home, cogent her ancestors she was bare for promotional photographs and interviews. Sometimes it was true.
Other times, she said, he raped her. She would say it began aback she was alone 10.
Canoes band the coffer in West Point, Monrovia, Liberia.
Some girls afterwards told authorities he raped them on the coffer amid the canoes, or in his abode with the MTM assurance outside; that he lined them up, one watching the door, one watching porn on his phone, waiting. Sometimes afterward, he would accord them Liberian money anniversary about a dollar.
Some in West Point knew what was activity on, but Johnson was admired and beheld as accepting brought Meyler, and her money, to the community. One babe afterwards told authorities that her aunt bent him raping her, yelled at him, but did annihilation else; the chat she overheard fabricated her accept Johnson was accepting with her aunt, too. “That how I got to apperceive the two of them were loving,” she told authorities. “My aunty was behaving for Macintosh business.”
Johnson’s ex accepted to us that she bent him ually abusing accouchement assorted times, afore he began to assignment with MTM. Once, she begin him in his allowance with a prepubescent girl, her underwear not straight, his “knob” blind out. She said whenever she approved to acquaint people, Johnson begged her, or exhausted her. She assuredly larboard him in 2009 because he had abounding a 14-year-old babe who lived with them. She said she was abashed about the abundance of added girls aback she heard he was active Meyler’s scholarship, but additionally happy, “because I apperceive through him, my accouchement will benefit.”
Even so, in 2011, she gave Meyler what ability accept been a hint. Meyler had asked her why she and Johnson bankrupt up. “I told her that he admired children,” the ex told MTM officials, according to a archetype the alms provided to us. “I don’t anticipate her apperception went on it. She did not understand.”
Meyler told us the ex had said “something forth the curve of like, ‘He spends too abundant of his time with the children’” and “mentioned commodity about one of the acceptance actuality alike at the house. Commodity about the way she said it fabricated me uncomfortable, but it was never explicit.”
Meyler said she couldn’t bethink if she anytime questioned Johnson anon about abusing children, but she said she had asked him questions aback interviewing him for his job, “to accomplish abiding he was, like, a acceptable person.”
Warren, who was accompanying Meyler for his film, said he recorded a battle amid Meyler and Johnson. “We had heard rumors. I accept it was from his ex-wife. That she said he was into babyish girls. We confronted him. We sat him down. … He swore up and bottomward that it wasn’t true.”
He beneath to allotment footage with us, adage it was not a “current accusation” at the time and autograph in an email that he had “asked Katie and she didn’t see how it would be in her interest.”
One of the 10 girls who testified adjoin Macintosh Johnson speaks to reporters in December of 2017.
Meyler says she asked the aforementioned catechism afresh of his ex, a and added accurately this time; the ex assured her that he “helps kids, that he’s a abundant man,” Meyler said. She said she additionally asked three acceptance “if Macintosh was acceptable or not good, and they all said to me he was like a big brother and brash them well.”
Johnson’s victims told authorities that he threatened to booty abroad their scholarships or alike annihilate them if they apparent him.
One of the girls told us that she and her accompany nonetheless brash cogent Meyler, but said she was consistently busy, Johnson was about consistently about and “I don’t anticipate that alike if I came to acquaint her, she would arise to accept me.” She explained that if you are in love, “even if some actuality say commodity bad, you will not accept it.”
That abhorrence had a base in fact. In 2011, the aforementioned year Meyler heard commodity apropos about Johnson, she was romantically complex with him, their accurateness acutely arresting to the girls. “There was a point in that summer area there was like a romance,” Meyler told us. “I would never accept said that he was my boyfriend. I absolutely wasn’t ambuscade it.”
In the weeks Meyler was in town, she would alarm Johnson to accompany girls over. They got to bathe in agleam pools area the baptize smelled faintly like flowers and tasted ice chrism for the aboriginal time. They burst beneath air conditioning in restaurants confined alien aliment and belted out Beyonce at a bounded bar.
Meyler blogged about four “former adolescent prostitutes” accepting a “sleep over” with her. “We fell comatose hugging,” she wrote. On Facebook, Johnson tagged a anniversary of Meyler adhering three added girls in a bed, “We adulation u.”
This wasn’t the affectionate of activity educators or alms founders about did with accessible beneficiaries in America. And in Liberia, Meyler’s business of Abigail — whom she referred to in balladry as a “two-dollar hooker” — acquired some concern.
“We talked to Katie about it,” recalled a amusing artisan at the Liberian alignment that provided advance affliction to Abigail. “For confidentiality, you don’t aloof accomplish her to be like a accessible amount area anybody could see her.”
Back in the states, on Dec. 8, 2012, alive on NBC, Meyler waited in a dejected dress, tags still on. She had “I am Abigail” accounting above her forehead in atramentous ink, as abounding others had done in photos acquaint online.
They had accounting songs for Abigail, broiled cakes for Abigail, beam chock-full for Abigail. Celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and Anthony Bourdain had asked their admirers to vote to advice Abigail.
“And the accolade goes to …
“More Than Me Foundation!”
The abode erupted. Meyler took the mic, bedlam and bawl at once. “Oh My God.”
“It consistently seems impossible, until it’s done. Now let’s go do it!”
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A allowance in the alone Ducor Auberge in Monrovia, Liberia. Several girls in the balloon declared the Ducor as a abode area they were raped by Macintosh Johnson. At one time, it was a four brilliant hotel, one of the finest in all of Africa, but if fell into busted during Liberia’s civilian war. Afterwards the war that assured in 2003 it was inhabited by squatters. They were austere out in 2010 aback Libyans won a bid to adjust the hotel. Aback crisis bankrupt out in Libya, the auberge was afresh abandoned.
By 2013, Added Than Me was ascent up fast. Meyler had promised the apple her alms would accessible a school, yet neither she nor anyone on her lath had acquaintance active schools or absorption accessible children.
The lath included Skip Borghese, an Italian prince who marketed cosmetics on the Home Shopping Network; his wife, Katie Borghese, a aing acquaintance of Meyler’s, who ran a aroma company; Chidegar “Chid” Liberty, a Liberian-American who larboard Liberia as an babyish but alternate in 2009 to alpha a fair-trade accouterment business; and Saul Garlick, an American whose startup organized entrepreneurship adventures in Africa for U.S. students.
As they set up a academy above the Atlantic absolutely from scratch, alms abstracts actualization they enlisted the advice of a advance with a master’s in education, who had ahead accomplished in Liberia and now formed at an American university. The academy would be staffed in ample allotment by yearlong American “teaching fellows,” anniversary asked to fundraise $10,000 to participate. They would be commutual with bounded teachers, because according to MTM’s job ad, “most bounded Liberian agents accept alone the agnate of a 5th-7th brand apprenticeship level.”
“You will accommodated the admirable souls and smiles of the girls, you will alive the circadian bucking of attempt and beauty, and you will deathwatch up every morning alive that every day you accomplish an impact…” apprehend the charity’s job ad. “We are recruiting CHANGE-MAKERS!”
Except for one position, teaching acquaintance wasn’t required; MTM says all-embracing apprenticeship programs frequently don’t crave such qualifications. Applicants had to actualization they were an “innovative, out-of-the-box thinker and risk-taker” and accommodate a video demonstrating they were “on blaze with passion.” With an arrow pointing to a photo of Meyler and Johnson on a motorbike, applicants were asked: “ARE YOU READY TO JUMP IN?”
The six American teaching advisers didn’t admission until backward July 2013. The school, MTM had decided, was to accessible on Sept. 7, Meyler’s birthday.
Maritza Montilla, a 31-year-old aerial academy English abecedary in the Bronx with no authoritative experience, was declared as arch of the new academy in Liberia. The elementary academy would accommodate some acceptance so far behind, they were able-bodied into their teens. According to Montilla’s resume, she had never formed alfresco of New York.
A academy babe walks arise Waterside Market in Monrovia, Liberia.
She had to baddest and alternation Liberian teaching counterparts and plan acquaint for four capacity she had never taught. Afresh a adjustment analysis showed few of the girls could read. “For a while, attractive at their results, it acquainted appealing hopeless,” Montilla blogged. She was in Liberia for alone six weeks afore the academy was appointed to open.
Morgana Wingard was a self-described Type A personality with nonprofit experience, who acclimatized in aboriginal 2013 to be the charity’s country director. “I bethink accepting an altercation with (Meyler) on the phone, cogent her we cannot accessible the academy in September … We cannot possibly be ready,” she recalled.
Wingard ed active with Meyler. On questions such as girls sleeping over with Meyler, or with alone Johnson and accession macho agent as chaperones, Wingard recalled Meyler’s acclimatized acknowledgment was “that I didn’t accept the culture, that I didn’t get it, whatever it was.”
After six months she declared as “chaos,” Wingard quit. She met with Liberty, the alone lath affiliate who lived allotment time in Liberia, and at his appeal drafted a certificate blue-blooded MTM RISK MANAGEMENT — “to try to abstain a babyish disaster,” she recalled, “or a bigger one for that matter.”
A archetype was forwarded to us. It accent a anniversary of apropos she alleged. Some were practical: Meyler “owes the alignment several thousand dollars for funds she cannot anniversary for.”
Other items anxious what Wingard saw as a ability of recklessness.
The certificate mentioned “taking accouchement from West Point afterwards guardian accord … Adolescent girls (often victims of animal exploitation) actuality about expats bubbler and smoker at parties … This has been empiric and criticized by expats in Monrovia.”
It noted, about in passing, “Young girls sleeping over at agents houses (Katie and Macintosh are included).”
The certificate concluded:
“MTM needs to be added authentic about the promises it makes and the accurateness of the belief it tells.”
Paintings on a academy coffer in Monrovia, Liberia.
Liberty did not allotment the announcement with the added lath members. Instead, he asked one of the teaching fellows, Jen Houston, about some of Wingard’s concerns. “I responded with aboveboard bluntness and never speaking a poor chat about the org,” Houston would afterwards abode to Meyler, acquainted Liberty “didn’t appetite to accomplish it an official lath topic.”
Liberty told us the activity on the lath “was aloof that Morgana ‘hates’ Katie,” and that she didn’t accept the absoluteness of “a Liberian startup organization.” Meyler would afterwards abode of Wingard in an email to Liberty, “Not abiding why she hates me, but it hurts.”
In acknowledgment to the concerns, Houston wrote to Liberty that sleepovers had been banned, “since it was acclimatized ailing amid the expat community.” Two acceptance lived with them at the MTM agents house, but advisers would “exercise their advantageous and admiring accord with alcohol.” At Liberty’s request, a cipher of conduct would be drafted to go with the organization’s adolescent aegis policy, accounting a few months beforehand by a accustomed fellow.
The document, and the staff, apprentice and ancestor handbook co-authored by Johnson, offered few specifics on how to accumulate accouchement safe. Agents associates were adapted to abode adolescent corruption to the organization, but in a country area for grades and added school-based corruption were prevalent, the alms had no procedures for how to do so.
Thc adolescent aegis activity did, however, ascertain a axiological principle:
“Child corruption may be a brash act or it may be declining to act to anticipate harm.”
One of the 10 girls who came advanced and testified adjoin Macintosh Johnson.
One babe would afterwards acquaint authorities the corruption began on the aboriginal day of school. Johnson declared her into the bathroom. He bound the door. She started screaming, but he affected a t in her aperture and put his duke over it. He agitated her into the nurse’s appointment and raped her.
While not a teacher, Johnson would generally accept unsupervised admission to students, whether declared aloft during the academy day or at after-school programs captivated aback best of the agents had gone home. The arch relied on Johnson, remembered Michelle Spada, affairs administrator at the time. She said there was a “different final band for him,” and a “different akin of actuality able to get through to the girls.”
Some girls, added acclimated to the artery than bookish schooling, acted out and were adamantine to control. They batten Liberian English, a blubbery dialect. They were acclimatized to concrete retribution, but there was a aphorism adjoin anatomical corruption in the school.
Two girls afterwards declared to authorities that aback Johnson capital to abduction them in the school, he would say it was “discipline.” “If Macintosh appetite , he can accelerate accouchement bench and backpack you upstairs,” one said. “Then he lay you on the lath …”
Unaware of what was happening, the advisers brash acceptance that if they were in agitation in West Point alfresco of academy hours, they should go to Johnson’s house.
One babe told authorities that in West Point, Johnson gave her 13 lashes for not accessory academy because of hunger. He afresh said if she was hungry, she should arise to his house. She went the aing day, and he raped her.
Johnson had allegedly compromised key routes through which the acceptance could accept arise his acts. Girls and academy workers would afterwards say Johnson had animal relationships with two agents members; one babe would alike acquaint authorities she had apparent Johnson and a changeable agents affiliate accepting in a classroom.
A little girls looks out assimilate Ashmun Artery in Monrovia, Liberia. Rainy division lasts added than bisected the year in Liberia.
His constant accurateness with Meyler was additionally evident. In the summer of 2013, at a agents activity aback she apparent Johnson was affianced to his abiding adherent in West Point, Meyler bankrupt bottomward and sobbed. “He was an important actuality in my life, too,” Meyler told us. “And if an important actuality in your activity has an assurance activity and doesn’t allure you, that hurts.”
“There was no law,” recalled aloft art affairs administrator Emmanuel Zarwu aback asked about relationships amid agents members. “At first, anybody aloof had love.”
In the abatement of 2013, MTM arise a promo video for Johnson’s accessible fundraising bout in the U.S. In it, he recalled actuality kidnapped at 11 to activity and that bodies raped and acclimated children.
“When I anticipate of my past, I consistently see these girls,” he said.
The video assured with argument above a atramentous screen, highlighting why audiences in the U.S. ability appetite to apprehend Johnson’s tale: “If you’d like to be affected in the aforementioned way we all accept been, allure him to your school, home, or church.”
In November, Johnson boarded a alike for the aboriginal time, to allege at Columbia University with Meyler and alone at schools, colleges and gatherings coffer to coast.
During the trip, $1,500 — about a year’s bacon for a abecedary in Liberia — was baseborn application the charity’s ATM card. All signs acicular to Johnson. “I capital to anon accost Macintosh and accessible an investigation,” administrator of operations and accounts Catherine Mitchell would afterwards acquaint authorities. “Other managers disagreed, so annihilation was done at that time.”
Meyler told us that she doubtable him and that the alms contacted the bank, but there was no way to prove it. She said Johnson wasn’t accustomed to handle money afterwards that.
Upon his acknowledgment to Liberia, he addressed the contempo affliction and afterlife of a student’s baby. Johnson told agents they shouldn’t accomplish a fuss, that there shouldn’t alike be a funeral. He gave money and a bag of rice on anniversary of the school. The babe would afterwards say the babyish had been Johnson’s.
Warning signs were absent that aboriginal year.
Two agents associates would acquaint authorities that afterwards a bath lock was begin broken, rumors advance amid acceptance and agents that Johnson had been in there with someone. Three girls would acquaint authorities Johnson raped them in that bathroom.
Montilla, the principal, would acquaint authorities that a apprentice had complained Johnson showed her chicanery on his buzz and was assuming it to added girls. Montilla confronted him and asked to see his phone, “but never advised added as there was no evidence.”
Spada recalled visiting Johnson’s house. The aperture was locked. Johnson said to wait. Annual later, a 12-year-old apprentice emerged, her beard unkempt, her shirt not straight. Johnson was abaft her, cutting alone a brace of shorts.
Spada told us she acquainted “something is amiss here,” but afresh saw Johnson’s wife and adolescent babe there, too. He said they were napping. Spada recalled that this reassured her. Girls would afterwards acquaint authorities they were raped with Johnson’s wife present in the room, which she has denied.
Previous Added Than Me academy abettor Iris Martor stands in her Pharmacy.
“Now, attractive back, I absolutely accept that is what was happening,” Spada said.
The brother of the babe who emerged from the allowance that day told us their ancestors is “very, actual decent,” alike if they are poor. His sister, he says, was not from the streets.
He’d watched Johnson booty her in the evenings, abiding her backward at night. He didn’t like it, but his mother said, “that academy business.”
“They feel that Katie assurance him, so they should assurance him,” the brother said.
He watched as his sister began to act differently; she wet the bed and was not well. She was abeyant from academy for misbehavior.
What he didn’t apperceive was that on Jan. 7, 2014, she had gone to academy abettor Iris Martor with belly affliction and l discharge. Her symptoms, Martor noted, were constant with a accessory ually transmitted disease.
The babe didn’t appetite to allocution about how she may accept gotten it.
“If you are accepting , you charge to acquaint me,” the abettor said.
The babe assuredly accepted it.
“With who?” Martor asked.
The babe said she was afraid. “You apperceive the person.”
Martor promised to accumulate it a secret, but she knew she would acquaint Johnson immediately, so he could accord with the culprit.
Then, the babe bent her by surprise.
Feet of one of the girls who was in the trial.
Martor told us she was afraid for her safety, afraid of accident her job and afraid that she would not be believed if she told her superiors what the babe had shared. Johnson was her “Liberian boss-man,” and Martor wasn’t abiding what Meyler would do, faced with belief the girl’s chat adjoin his — “Whether she will angle up for the girls, or angle up for her boyfriend.”
But then, the babe confided in accession Liberian agents member, listed abounding added victims and came to Martor for a abundance test. “If the case go out, maybe bodies apprehend I knew, and I awning it,” Martor said. “I could be implicated.”
Martor kept quiet for bristles months. In this period, according to their statements to authorities, two girls were raped for the aboriginal time.
On June 12, 2014, Martor assuredly sat bottomward with Spada and told her. “It acquainted like I’d been punched in the stomach,” recalled Spada.
At 24, it was her aboriginal authoritative job. She said she told two colleagues and batten by buzz to Meyler in the U.S., who angled in key lath affiliate Skip Borghese.
What happened aing is a amount of dispute. Spada’s bond is that because there was not yet affirmation abduction had taken abode on MTM property, Borghese’s attitude was that “we charge to anticipate about how we assure the organization. We charge to anticipate about whether this was our responsibility.” She recalled that aback she challenged this, he told her, “Get off your fucking soapbox.”
Spada concluded: “This lath cannot advice me. They cannot advice us. They cannot advice our students.”
The aing day, academy agents interviewed three of Johnson’s victims. Spada said she acquainted she had to authorize that the corruption took abode on MTM’s property, to prove, “We are answerable for this.” Girls accepted they were raped at the charity’s school, the office, the guesthouse, alike in the car. It was clear: “This was a actual all-embracing thing,” said Spada, “bigger than we were anytime activity to uncover.”
She arise Johnson to badge that evening.
Spada declared the arrangement of contest and Borghese’s appeal she get off her “soapbox’’ in interviews with us. Contacted afresh aloof afore publication, she said that she stood by her anniversary and that the animadversion was one of the affidavit she larboard the organization. In addition, Spada said Meyler afresh asked her what she had told us about Added Than Me and did not claiming her bond of what Borghese said on the call.
Painted duke prints awning a coffer in a allowance in the alone Ducor Auberge in Monrovia, Liberia. The auberge was a area area some of the girls said they were raped. At one time, it was a four brilliant hotel, one of the finest in all of Africa, but if fell into busted during Liberia’s civilian war.
In a letter, Borghese’s advocate angrily denied that he batten to Spada afore she went to badge and declared the statements “maliciously untrue.”
The alms says the board’s acknowledgment was abrupt and supportive. To adverse Spada’s recollection, Borghese’s advocate offered an email beatific from Katie Borghese to Spada, two canicule afterwards Johnson was arrested, cogent her she had abounding lath support. Lath assembly additionally acclaimed that Spada beatific an email four months later, cogent the lath the acknowledgment in Liberia was done “by the book.”
“They became admiring aback they had no added option,” Spada said in her best contempo interview.
To abstain alerting Johnson to the investigation, academy administration told him he was abeyant in affiliation with the debit agenda annexation and beatific him home. Aggravating to arrest him on his accommodation could be dangerous; badge bare to attract him out of West Point. It fell to Meyler aback in the U.S. She was to alarm Johnson, authentic acrimony he’d been abeyant afterwards her knowledge, and acquaint him that he bare to go to the agents abode that night so it could be sorted out.
“You would anticipate that you would feel, you would appetite to assure him, but I didn’t,” Meyler said. “My actual acknowledgment was, how do we get him arrested?”
On June 16, four canicule afterwards Martor arise the corruption to Spada, he came. The badge were waiting.
The aing day, Meyler was in New York to accord a accent at the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy. Lath affiliate Chid Liberty said he was aboriginal a of the rapes aback she declared him adapted afore the event. “It’s really, really, absolutely bad,” he remembers she said. He recalls she told him commodity like, “it’s all the girls over 11.” On stage, afterwards advertence what had aloof happened, she told an admirers of America’s wealthiest bodies she now had “the best academy in Liberia.” Cameras clicked as billionaire Warren Buffett got bottomward on one knee in a apish proposal.
In Liberia, as annual advance about the arrest, rioters aggregate alfresco the academy and badge station. They weren’t affronted at MTM for acceptance the rapes to happen; they were affronted because the alignment had arise Johnson. Abduction allegations were added frequently advised amid families in West Point, not prosecuted in court.Meyler flew in to accord with the crisis. Spada believed she had “a able battle of interest” in actualization of her accurateness with Johnson. “It was accessible she (was) no best the adapted actuality to be administration things.”
Spada’s apperception went to a chat she recalled accepting with Meyler in aboriginal 2013, which complex one of the girls who had now arise forward. Meyler had said Johnson’s ex “had been claiming he was sleeping with one of our students,” Spada wrote in her badge statement, but there was “no affirmation … so she took the allegation as a rumor.”
West Point, Monrovia Liberia.
Spada told us she acutely remembered commodity else, commodity she didn’t put in her statement: that Meyler told her, “It wouldn’t abruptness me.”
Meyler didn’t anon accede to a catechism about this but said in a statement, “I am abominably apologetic that I was not acquainted of his bent corruption of our girls sooner, but I arise it to authorities the moment it came to my absorption and did aggregate accessible to abetment with his arrest and prosecution.”
She and Spada abounding Johnson’s aboriginal hearing. Facing threats from West Point, alone 10 girls apprenticed charges. An MTM certificate from the period, blue-blooded “confidential,” said one of the acceptance had articular 30 victims, about a division of the apprentice anatomy at the time.
MTM affianced accessible relations specialist Sarah Lenti, who had formed for Mitt Romney and Condoleezza Rice. Four canicule afterwards the arrest, a columnist absolution appeared on the charity’s site. It said “numerous acceptance arise animal misconduct” by a “community liaison.” It cited “the country’s catching of adolescent rape.” The academy had taken accomplish to anatomy a affiliation to abode adolescent animal corruption “in the West Point Community.” Meyler was quoted: “Our girls cannot be victimized a added time by a ability that accepts their abduction as accepted practice.”
The columnist absolution accustomed how the alignment would anatomy the rapes. It was association business. Johnson and Liberia’s ability were the villains; MTM and Meyler, still the amid heroes.
MTM blog posts featuring Johnson were deleted or edited afterwards comment. In one about the academy opening, MTM removed the banderole “NJ woman and aloft adolescent soldier accommodated and their dreams arise true,” the organization’s description of Meyler and Johnson as “founders,” and a advertence to his role in recruiting girls. Videos were additionally removed.
MTM’s Admiral Saul Garlick told us: “The board’s assurance to arraign this was unequivocal.” He said the alertness of the girls to allege aboveboard in 2014 about the corruption they suffered at the academy was a attestation to the “safe environment” MTM had created for them.
“Within months, but absolutely aural the year of accepting a safe amplitude for girls at the academy, they did arise forward.
“And I anticipate that’s absolutely a able story.”
That July, the MTM lath met for its anniversary retreat in the U.S. Associates wore pictures of the girls on agenda hats “to bethink them in all the decisions we accomplish and to see things through their eyes,” Meyler wrote on Facebook.
One lath affiliate not in actualization was Liberty. He told us he inquired about the organization’s allowance policy, because based on what he had heard, he acquainted “the girls’ families had a lot of area to sue the organization.”
Liberty said he larboard the lath in aboriginal 2015.
The alms did not agency or abode any abode analytical how the rapes had been accustomed to happen.
Under a tab headed, “We angle with our girls,” its homepage affiliated to the columnist absolution for a few months, afresh it was gone.
In Liberia, far bigger annual was unfolding.
Children airing through Duala Market in Monrovia, Liberia.
In the aforementioned anniversary the girls came forward, Ea claimed its aboriginal victims in Monrovia. By August 2014, the blueprint of cases was ascent exponentially. West Point became a hot area with a austere aggressive quarantine.
Meyler flew in with a accumulation of accoutrements abounding with medical supplies.
While arctic all-embracing organizations were bound by bureaucracy, MTM could jump in and do what seemed necessary. Soap? Rain boots? Allotment for hundreds of association workers? Aural two weeks of Meyler’s arrival, the academy was a allocation hub, and West Point had a alive ambulance.
Meyler aggregate anniversary footfall of her Ea adventure on Instagram, announcement bright pictures of the comatose and the dying, and of herself address witness. In an Ea captivation centermost abounding with absent patients, she sang actuality songs, handed out toy accoutrements and promised a dying boy a bicycle.
“I won’t get sick,” she messaged her sister. “If I did, though, it would be anniversary it. No one abroad actuality is accomplishing this. Assuming adulation n address in death.”
Warren, now on an MTM contract, followed her with his video camera.
They begin a 3-year-old babe in a blush dress arrant alone in an ambulance. She had aloof watched her mother die, apparent the anatomy slung into a anatomy bag. Meyler took the “sweet pumpkin,” who she believed was declared Pearlina, to breach at MTM’s alone guesthouse.
The girl’s angel and adventure anon appeared on MTM’s website and Meyler’s amusing media. Afresh Warren awash footage to CBS, but according to an email exchange, the attributes of the planned adventure agitated Meyler and her board.
“They are authoritative it a adventure about the babe Not Mtm,” Warren wrote.
“I anticipate Katie is actual agitated at how this has been managed,” wrote Skip Borghese. It was a “must” that they accommodate MTM. It was, he wrote, “an MTM act of kindness, and on MTM premises.”
The homepage tab arch to the columnist absolution on Johnson’s arrest was replaced by another: “Meet Pearlina.”
Meyler took a scattering of added accouchement into MTM’s care. She courted journalists who acclimatized to awning the epidemic, adage MTM had opened an acting affliction ability declared Achievement 21. Meyler and her alms began to arise in belief above the world: Vice, the Independent, Marie Claire, TIME, The Washington Post, France 24, CBS, NBC, Vogue, NPR, BBC, PBS, The Coffer Artery Journal, All-embracing Business Times, The New York Times, CNN. Meyler became a face of the outbreak, the crusading American who ran adjoin crisis to save the children.
Representatives from Liberian government departments asked anniversary other: Did anyone assurance off on MTM accepting a affliction facility?
No one had.
Deddeh Kwekwe, gender-based abandon administrator at Liberia’s Admiral of Gender, Accouchement and Amusing Protection.
In a acrimonious activity in backward September, Liberian admiral broiled Meyler about allegations of boundless abduction in the MTM school, about whether her academy was accepted and about what accomplish she had taken to assure accouchement in her care, according to an attendee’s notes. Meyler said that the academy “blew the whistle” on the corruption and that some of the girls complex were “ workers.”
“I aloof could not get annihilation actual from what she was saying,” recalled Deddeh Kwekwe, gender-based abandon administrator at the Admiral of Gender, Accouchement and Amusing Protection.
“I am acutely anxious about the things I see accident and the arrangement that is developing,” said a Admiral of Bloom official, according to the activity notes. “Don’t apply predators … I accept no agnosticism you appetite to do acceptable altruistic services. Maybe this is not your band of business.”
Citing what she declared as a “pattern of apathy for laws” and behavior that had “caused mistrust,” the official told Meyler, “If you accept any children, they charge to be confused today.”
Social media pictures actualization Meyler arrant as the Admiral of Bloom took abroad an orphan, who Meyler would say declared her “mom.”
“I anticipation she ability get befuddled out of the country,” recalled Janessa Wells, an MTM administrator at the time.
MTM provided abstracts assuming that in the weeks afterward the meeting, they acquired Admiral of Bloom approval to accomplish in the bloom sector, and that they were registered as an educational alms aback the academy opened. The academy would be absolutely accepted the afterward year. “The Liberian accreditation activity is a mess. It is complicated. And we went to abundant lengths,” Garlick said, acquainted that the alms had government permission to use the academy building. “This angle that we array of affront the accomplished charge to accept accustomed continuing is bluntly untrue.”
The Liberian government never accepted the affliction facility, and MTM attempted to abate its apropos by partnering with a above all-embracing organization. But then, Meyler acquaint the photo of an Ea drop on amusing media and hashtagged it with the above charity’s name, according to Wells. They said, “‘That’s a no for us.’ They pulled out. The accomplished activity burst at the end of November.”
While the ability was referenced in MTM’s 2015 anniversary report, Garlick now says “all advice about Achievement 21 in October of 2014 was based on the abstraction of ablution Achievement 21,” not that it was “formalized” or “fully functional.”
In a 2017 presentation at her old abbey in Bedminster, N.J., Meyler declared a Liberian government official who “hated me because she was anxious we were accomplishing more.” The official had told her: “Over my comatose body, you’re not activity to accept this house. We’re closing you down.”
Meyler told the congregation, “The aggregation starts, like, praying and abnegation that she would get Ea.” She said, “I’m like, ‘I don’t anticipate that’s right; do what you charge to do.’” Meyler’s adventure concluded: “Unfortunately, she’s not about anymore. We don’t apperceive what — she’s not about anymore. I mean, not to say that the adoration for her to get Ea was a acceptable thing. I don’t anticipate that was a acceptable thing. But God took affliction of that.”
West Point is one of the best over-populated and poor communities in Monrovia, Liberia. Added Than Me was created to brainwash girls who alive there, abounding of whom are at accident of animal exploitation.
We could not acquisition affirmation that any government admiral complex had died of Ea. The alms gave us an email from an MTM lath member, Amanda Kelso, who works at Instagram as all-around administrator of association programs and editorial. Kelso acclaimed that Meyler said in the accent she didn’t endorse the prayers. “You can acquaint from the recording that the admirers is laughing,” Kelso wrote, abacus that this was “part of her storytelling to the audience.”
In the advance of the outbreak, Liberians on MTM’s amount would carriage 262 doubtable Ea patients to get analysis and appointment about 3,000 homes to analysis on residents’ welfare. Abrogation the country in December 2014 with Ea on the wane, Meyler acquaint videos of Liberians dancing and singing in the street, captivation signs congratulating her for her work.
In America, the columnist and donors did the same.
That month, TIME Magazine declared Meyler amid added Ea fighters as a Actuality of the Year. MTM’s allotment added than tripled, to $2.9 actor that budgetary year, a fifth of it advancing from the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for All-embracing Development.
In the background, prosecutors were advancing their case adjoin Johnson, but adverse annual was clarification through about two key witnesses.
A U.S. accustomed adviser to the crimes case assemblage recalled activity with Spada and Meyler. Spada, the complainant in the case, was to be attestant No. 1, according to case documents. But she told the adviser she was abrogation the alignment and Liberia for good. She promised she would acknowledgment to affirm — she would use her own money if necessary.
The adviser told us he confronted Meyler about commodity he had heard from his colleagues at the case assemblage — that Meyler remained in buzz acquaintance with Johnson, had visited him in bastille and was giving him money and food. The adviser asked: Why was she accomplishing this with the man they were aggravating to arraign for raping her students?
“She didn’t appetite him to die of ache in jail,” Garlick told us. “She capital him to go through the abounding amends process. And so she was in blow with him. And then, it accomplished agents and the acknowledgment from agents was, ‘That’s absolutely inappropriate, you accept to stop.’” MTM says Meyler bankrupt off acquaintance with Johnson a brace of weeks afterwards his arrest.
But the activity with the U.S. adviser took abode months later. “I wouldn’t accept confronted her if it wasn’t still activity on,” the adviser told us. He remembers cogent Meyler she had to breach off contact, immediately.
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A alarm that had chock-full hangs aloft the aperture in a appointment room, at the crimes case assemblage on Dec. 13, 2017.
In the abatement of 2015, 10 girls took the angle in Monrovia’s specialized animal offenses court. In the berth in an orange jumpsuit, Johnson was serene, sometimes smiling.
One afterwards another, from abaft a partition, the girls declared abduction suffered at his easily over bristles years, starting aback they were as adolescent as 10. Liberian law on approved abduction criminalizes any anatomy of assimilation with a babe beneath 18.
Public Defender Elisha Forekeyoh casting the MTM girls as backbiting and ualized, betraying the man who had cared for them. “Madame Witness, you had before?” he asked one, according to the balloon transcript. She would afterwards go into detail about the actuality that she did not drain afterwards Johnson raped her the aboriginal time, at age 11.
Girls were hit with accelerated questions about dates, but some hadn’t charted their lives in dates. One hadn’t alike accepted her own altogether aback she started at the school. Their memories were sometimes inconsistent, their belief so extreme, they were adamantine to accept alike aback corroborated.
But commodity abroad helped Johnson.
As the case went on, it became clear. The prosecutors weren’t activity to put MTM’s leaders on the stand.
On Oct. 5, closing his assay of the school’s amusing worker, Forekeyoh theatrically accent their absence.
“Where is Katie Meyler?”
“Katie is anon in the U.S.”
“Where is Michelle Spada?”
“Also in the U.S.”
“Where is (principal) Maritza Montilla?”
“Also in the U.S.”
“So Madam Witness, all these bodies that accused the actor are all in America?”
Some jurors laughed.
A allowance in the alone Ducor Auberge in Monrovia, Liberia. The auberge was a area area some of the girls said they were raped. At one time, it was a four brilliant hotel, one of the finest in all of Africa, but if fell into busted during Liberia’s civilian war
Meyler told us she was never asked to testify. In her absence, Forekeyoh devised a aegis approach of cabal with Meyler at its heart. According to his accustomed memorandum, assemblage “collaborated with Katie Meyler to corruption actor Macintosh for his abnegation to ally her.”
Outside the court, alone rumors circulated. A accouterment in Liberian law, advised to assure victims’ identities, meant the balloon was captivated abaft bankrupt doors. No journalists could attend; no belief advertence the balloon would anytime be reported.
As bristles of the girls told the cloister they were raped in the school, a Liberian abridged declared The New Republic ran a adventure with the banderole “More Than Me: Zero Tolerance for Animal Abuse.” It agitated the byline of the paper’s editor but independent no quotes. It explained how big a botheration abduction is in Liberia, decidedly in schools, and declared MTM one of the alone schools to anytime abode it. Johnson had arise with “very aerial recommendations from acclaimed NGOs.” It was because of the “safe space” MTM provided that “a student” acquainted adequate advancing forward.
A announcer didn’t abode it. MTM did.
Meyler told us the alms active the adventure during the balloon “because bodies were cogent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that I was acknowledging Macintosh. So, we didn’t apperceive how to accomplish it added clear.”
Meyler had larboard Liberia the day afterwards the balloon began. She and Minister of Apprenticeship George Werner had become a traveling bifold act, affairs an abstraction to donors: If Liberia couldn’t administer its primary schools properly, why not let charities or clandestine companies do it instead? Meyler said the government had asked MTM to booty over 30 of its schools. “This is the bigger adventitious the apple has had to accomplish this abundant of a aberration for adolescent women,” Meyler said in a video from the period.
In December, Meyler flew aback into Liberia. She had one of the victims, beginning from cogent her adventure in court, in advanced of a camera cogent another. In the consistent promotional video, Meyler declared the success of the academy’s aboriginal year.
Jurors, who in Liberian courts accept the befalling to catechism witnesses, kept allurement Johnson about Meyler. What “moral standard” were they ambience with their affair? What about these sleepovers involving her? In her absence, Johnson was able to acquaint his adaptation of the charity’s aboriginal years unopposed. “They are all lies,” he said of the girls’ accusations that he raped them in assorted locations alfresco West Point — “Whenever I took them, it was beneath the administration of Katie Meyler.”
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia.
By Christmas Day 2015, afterwards months cloistral in two windowless one-bedroom apartments beneath Liberia’s Temple of Justice, the jurors had heard enough.
Juror Raymond Roberts had watched the girls acquaint their stories, but commodity seemed off. “I asked the question, area are those that are accusing you?” he recalled. “They could not be seen.”
As the adjudication approached, Roberts recalls the lath was breach 9 to 3 in Johnson’s favor. Johnson bare 10 to go free.
Then on Christmas, a allowance of dupe soup arrived. A few canicule later, the money came. Three jurors apart accepted to us that all jurors were offered a allurement to acquisition Johnson guilty; two of them said it was $500 each, and they were told it was from the prosecution.
It was a lot of money in Liberia. For those who believed there was a cabal by the alms adjoin Johnson, the allurement offers accepted it. The way they saw it, alone MTM could accept that affectionate of cash.
In deliberations, some jurors were determined they should set Johnson chargeless behindhand of the allurement offers. Others were afraid of repercussions if they didn’t accumulate their end of the bargain.
On the aftermost day of 2015, the adjudication came in.
Johnson bankrupt down: The jurors voted 8 to 4 in his favor, but the two others he bare to go chargeless had eluded him. It was a afraid jury. He would accept to angle balloon again.
In a letter addressed to us, the administrator of Liberia’s animal and gender-based abandon case unit, John Gabriel, wrote that juror claims of allurement offers were “highly adopted and amazing as the case had an cutting and acute affirmation to arraign this case adjoin the perpetrator.” Meyler and Spada’s testimonies were “not necessary,” he said.
Spada told ProPublica she wasn’t acquainted the case was ongoing, but would accept alternate to affirm if asked.
MTM’s assembly denied any captivation in or ability of bribery, and declared any advancement contrarily by jurors “defamatory.” Meyler told us: “We haven’t apparent the case book until now. So we didn’t apperceive we would accept been accessible in the case.”
School accouchement airing a the Ducor Auberge aboriginal one morning in Monrovia, Liberia.
On March 4, 2016, two months afterwards the mistrial verdict, a abbreviate accession was added to a blog MTM had acquaint during the trial:
Johnson had died from an illness.
“The two parties complex (in the case) were The Government of Liberia and Macintosh Johnson,” it read. “This is the alone advice of which Added Than Me is aware.”
MTM’s website listed measures taken in acknowledgment to contest involving Johnson, including deepening their adolescent aegis activity and cipher of conduct, devising a bigmouth aegis activity and arrangement for bearding complaints, and administering advertence checks for staff. The cardinal of girls who went to cloister was never accustomed publicly, or that Johnson had been a axial amount in the organization, or that rapes took abode in the school. What the alignment did say was not accurate. The six-line adaptation of contest acquaint on the MTM website beneath the appellation “Our Affliction Nightmare” asserted that alone two canicule delayed amid a agents affiliate actuality a of the corruption and the alms advertisement it.
After the school’s aboriginal year, MTM had switched to a added accepted Liberian class accomplished by Liberian teachers. The alms added a lath affiliate with acquaintance in apprenticeship in 2016. That fall, MTM began operating six government schools as allotment of what had become a arguable outsourcing experiment. The charity’s ambition was to carbon what it declared “the MTM Academy effect” — “safety, health, apprenticeship and monitoring.”
In November, an bearding WhatsApp bulletin began circulating in Liberia. It fabricated a alternation of outlandish-sounding allegations adjoin the organization.
Henry Costa, host of one of Liberia’s best accepted radio shows, got his easily on it. He told his admirers of declared apathy by MTM and Meyler, including allegations of “systematic animal abuse” at the Added Than Me Academy. The bulletin said that, in accession to Johnson, a added agents affiliate had been active and agilely fired. It mentioned ually transmitted diseases actuality anesthetized on to victims.
“This,” Costa told his listeners, “is actual alarming stuff.”
The alone Ducor Auberge in Monrovia, Liberia, was a area area some of the girls said they were raped. At one time, it was a four brilliant hotel, one of the finest in all of Africa, but if fell into busted during Liberia’s civilian war.
To put out the growing blaze sparked by the WhatsApp message, Garlick aing Costa’s radio actualization from the U.S. He said the WhatsApp bulletin was “full of absolute lies, and bluntly aspersive statements.” He declared its administration “disgusting,” a “campaign adjoin our girls.”
He and lath armchair Skip Borghese had issued a anniversary a few canicule earlier. The added agents affiliate accused was an “operations administrator administration acumen for Added Than Me from November 1, 2013 to April 11, 2016.” The declared animal corruption happened “several years ago, above-mentioned to the aperture of Added Than Me Academy” and MTM “supported the adolescent and her mother in bringing advanced a case.” They wrote, “We accept accuracy is the best policy.”
In fact, the operations administrator had been active aback 2011, aboriginal as Johnson’s abettor and a computer teacher. Garlick told us the allegations did not, in fact, all pre-date the school’s opening. Laura Smith, country administrator at the time, recalled a accommodation actuality fabricated that MTM should not abode the case to the police. Smith said “given our accord to the victim, I absolutely acquainted the alignment had a greater responsibility” and that she helped the girl’s ancestors abode the case. The employee, who denies the allegations, had already absconded.
On air two canicule afterwards Garlick’s appearance, Costa’s accent changed. He gave his admirers the adventitious to apprehend what he declared “the amazing story, which I accept it is” of MTM. Meyler spent 22 annual cogent her activity story, afresh of her assignment on Ea. “This is amazing!” said Costa. Aback he assuredly brought up what he declared the charity’s “misfortune, a nightmare,” Meyler explained how, in the aboriginal year of the school, “one of our students” had arise forward. “She shared, uh, that she had been in this accord with one of our agents members…”
This was a babe who had told authorities her abduction by Johnson began at 11 years old. The accent echoed what, in a 2015 email, Meyler had told a new agents member. She wrote that Johnson affronted out to be “having with abounding of the students, additionally ‘normal’ actuality in Liberia.”
While Garlick and Meyler attacked its bearding sender, the WhatsApp bulletin independent abundant that was true. One decidedly advancing allegation had been absolved out of duke by Garlick. He said on the radio that MTM had “no idea” what acquired Johnson’s death.
But this wasn’t true. Garlick told us he’d heard a rumor adapted afterwards Johnson died. Agents on the arena told us they’d accepted months earlier:
Johnson had AIDS.
The awkward graveyard area Macintosh Johnson was active in an bare grave.
HIV generally goes bearding in Liberia, due to stigma. Some abjure its existence; some accept it is best healed in church, or application acceptable remedies. If diagnosed early, it can be readily controlled by medication. But if it goes undetected, maladies accepted in West Point, such as diarrhea, parasites, canker and pneumonia, can become life-threatening illnesses.
It took us one appointment to the adapted government ministry, one five-minute conversation, added a brace of aftereffect emails, to get accounting acceptance from a minister-level antecedent that Johnson had AIDS aback he died.
Asked if he had approved to get agnate confirmation, Garlick said it wasn’t the charity’s adapted to go into Johnson’s medical record. “Let me be cool clear. It’s not my business what he died of. I accept no idea.
“Our obligation is to the girls, not to apperceive Macintosh Johnson’s annual of death.”
After the mistrial, Johnson’s abasement was accelerated and visible. His wife said that aback confused from bastille to a hospital, he was abandoned to the bed, cutting a diaper. He had sores all over his lips, legs and penis. His wife said he never aggregate a analysis with her.
Meanwhile, Martor and added academy admiral were abashed about the bloom of some students.
Back in 2015, one apprentice seemed chronically unwell. “She alpha accepting sick, sick, sick, sick,” recalled the nurse. A beefy jugular attitude was a clue assurance of tuberculosis. Martor knew what that acceptable meant. The dispensary confirmed: The babe was HIV positive.
As Johnson’s balloon went on, a added babe additionally appeared sick. She, too, activated absolute for HIV. Martor said a third girl, a aloft student, would afterwards acquaint her she was already accepting analysis for an affliction she wouldn’t name, that her babyish had “the aforementioned sickness,” and had died.
West Point is the bigger hole in Monrovia, Liberia. Added Than Me was created to brainwash girls who are from this slum, abounding of whom are at accident of animal exploitation.
Smith, administering the alms on the arena beginning out of alum school, said that at the time two girls activated positive, she abstruse they had additionally been declared as victims of Johnson. Both girls had denied it. Smith said she anon a Meyler about the absolute tests.
“They affectionate of aloof accustomed cancellation of the information, but no added activity was taken by them, to my knowledge,” Smith said.
In one interview, Garlick said that in audition about absolute tests, MTM administration didn’t anon anticipate about Johnson. “They were accessible girls who had been practicing work,” he said. In accession interview, Meyler responded: “Do you not apprehend the backgrounds of some of these students?”
Smith said it was additionally during his balloon she “officially learned” Johnson was HIV positive, from a bounded MTM agents affiliate who was accessory cloister with the girls who testified. Smith absitively the 10 self-identified victims should be re-tested. One of them activated positive, too.
She said it was “through agents disclosures about their concerns,” not from Meyler or MTM’s leadership, that she abstruse about abeyant added victims. “I was never already acclimatized a list,” she said. Some of those declared in 2014 now abounding altered schools, their charge still paid for by the charity.
Smith told us she adapted to Meyler and the charity’s arch operations administrator that a testing affairs be implemented, and that a autonomous counseling and testing annual was discussed in Liberia, but, “We didn’t chase through, and no one was blame it from above.”
MTM’s administration told us that Johnson’s affliction was an counterfeit rumor. Yet four aloft management-level agents members, alive in Liberia and in the U.S. during the aeon of July 2015 to October 2016, accepted it was their compassionate Johnson had been HIV positive. Two declared absolutely that the MTM lath additionally knew. One agents affiliate said of MTM’s denial: “That’s bullshit. We absolutely knew.”
MTM publicizes its efforts to assure students’ bloom – ambience up bloom stations at its schools, award anniversary apprentice during the Ea epidemic, alike allowance a babe with a abominably austere face get artificial anaplasty in the United States. Yet there was no specific outreach, alike privately, to the girls or their parents over the HIV accident from Johnson. Garlick said the alms didn’t appetite to “call out” girls who had not self-disclosed rape, alike if they had been declared by others as victims. Garlick acclaimed that the academy provides HIV class and bloom insurance.
“The accomplished abstraction that some of the accouchement are HIV absolute is commodity Added Than Me does not appetite to discuss,” Martor said. “They don’t appetite bodies to know.”
For the 10 girls who went through the trial, Garlick said the alms “didn’t accept any specific obligation or accustomed obligation to accommodate a safe home” but nonetheless “took amazing activity to accomplish abiding that the girls were in a safe place.” The safe abode was a building, area seven of the girls went to alive beneath the administration of a Liberian MTM agents member. MTM supplied a spreadsheet itemizing expenditures on the 10 victims from July 2014 to September 2017, amounting to $36,619.
By backward 2017, the girls had alternate to their families or to advance care. In band with MTM’s charge to all its students, they abide to accept their scholarships and academy aliment paid for at assorted schools.
One girl, however, assured up aback in the streets.
The adolescent woman had been one of the animated girls on Meyler’s Facebook page. Aback we begin her in December, she said she was application a pseudonym to advertise herself on the aforementioned amusing network. Sometimes, the men didn’t use a condom, authoritative her anguish about accepting the affection she has been advantageous to escape. Added times, they exhausted her. On the day of one interview, her eye was bruised.
She said she was acclimated to this activity as a child. But aback she became an MTM girl, she came to accept she could become an engineer.
She said alms agents told her she should affirm adjoin Johnson — “that if he went to jail, aggregate would be accept for us.” She now believed advertisement abduction was the affliction accommodation she could accept made. Johnson at atomic adequate her from others’ violence. Afterwards testifying, she was afar from her friends, alienated by her association and ultimately larboard with boilerplate to turn.
The adolescent woman said that alert she had gone to the MTM academy to ask for help, and alert they affronted her away. Meyler would afterwards acquaint us it was because “her clothes were acutely tight, and the arch aloof capital her to change her clothes. We’ve talked to the arch about how that was not the adapted activity to do. She’s aggravating to accumulate assertive standards.”
The adolescent woman cried as she said she absent Meyler, who she anticipation had maybe absent her number. “I aloof appetite to acquaint her that I adulation her, and she should not stop what she start. …
“I adjure God that one day I will see her again.”
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A bedchamber of one of the girls who testified adjoin Johnson, which she shares with a cardinal of her relatives.
It was on Dec. 1, during my aboriginal anniversary of advertisement in Monrovia, that I acclimatized an email from Meyler with the subject, “The assurance of our students.”
She said her aggregation had told her “that a white man declared Fin Adolescent had visited one of our students’ homes allurement questions.” She had heard of “other white people” authoritative visits “under the guise of actuality MTM staff.” She mentioned she had heard there ability be “a ample annual adventure advancing out” about the Johnson case. “You can brainstorm how advancing it is for us to apprehend that our girls are actuality approached in their own homes,” she wrote. “I appetite you to apperceive that our aggregation is accessible to speak, and Added than Me has annihilation to hide.”
I wrote aback to Meyler that I would like to anniversary her and her agents members, and asked if I could appointment the academy in the aing week. Meyler replied she was “thrilled” I was absorbed in the story. “I appetite the accuracy to arise out,” she said, apropos to rumors and bearding critics who “don’t appetite to apprehend what we accept to say or apprehend how the adventure absolutely happened.”
But Meyler afresh said she capital to allocution off the almanac instead and asked for a anniversary of questions. My editor and I had fabricated a accommodation to alone allege with MTM and its assembly on the record, so I declined.
I was advertisement in Liberia as the #MeToo movement abundant in America. The women whose letters of animal aggravation and advance fueled it were TIME Magazine’s new Bodies of the Year, “The Silence Breakers.” As I approved to anniversary her, Meyler acquaint the commodity on amusing media. “I couldn’t be added appreciative of the 10 adolescent women at MTM that came advanced in 2014 adjoin Macintosh,” she wrote.
Meyler afresh appear on a blog that she had herself been ually abused aback she was 11, by a pastor.
After abrogation Liberia, I approved to anniversary accepted lath armchair Skip Borghese, who additionally did not appetite to go on the record. He put me in blow with Ellen Davis, a managing administrator at Sard Verbinnen & Co., declared in a Bloomberg commodity as “Wall Street’s go-to crisis PR firm.” She said she would align an anniversary with the charity’s administration in New York.
As I waited, some of my sources were actuality re-interviewed in Liberia. A arch MTM official cross-examined abduction victims, their mothers and Johnson’s ex, allurement about their interactions with me. It happened at the case assemblage office, where, alone weeks earlier, administrator Gabriel had angrily absolved questions about why Meyler and Spada hadn’t testified, as able-bodied as the claims of jurors that his assemblage was active in bribery.
With a government amusing artisan present, MTM’s American arch bookish administrator told the women and girls MTM had “concerns” about my reporting. She asked their angle on the charity; all told her MTM was good, or bidding gratitude. She asked what they discussed with me, and whether they now capital to booty aback their stories.
Each one present said yes.
The West Point Women for Bloom and Development absolve the aboriginal of 16 Canicule of Activism adjoin gender-based abandon in Nov. of 2017. The alignment aims to advance altitude for bodies in the West Point community, with a focus on women and girls.
“I abstruse they appetite to aing the academy down,” said Johnson’s ex. “I’m allurement them they shouldn’t do it and accomplish our accouchement to suffer.” Accession mother said she had eight children, and alone one was in school. She said of MTM: “I acquaint accede you God. I acquaint them accede you. God will absolve them.”
Also amid them was the adolescent woman who had told me she regretted testifying adjoin Johnson, and that she was now affairs herself to survive. She said I told her I was beatific by Added Than Me to analysis on her, never mentioned I was a announcer until the end of our interview, and that I had said I would affix her with accession alignment if she bare help.
On Jan. 27, Davis e-mailed ProPublica Admiral Richard Tofel, alleging “transparent bent and bent conduct” during my advertisement in Liberia. Attached to the email was a archetype of MTM’s interviews. Davis additionally beatific a letter from Gabriel, praising the “incredible service” of Meyler and MTM, and calling my assignment “propagandistic.” One of his agents would afterwards email me and my editors, allegedly commendation the adolescent woman adage afresh that I did not acquaint her from the alpha I was a journalist, and that she capital to booty aback her story.
But I had conducted all the interviews with photojournalist Kathleen Flynn, and recorded them with the subjects’ permission. Those beneath 18 were alone approached with a guardian’s clearance. We did not ask survivors for bright capacity about the corruption they had suffered.
Our recordings actualization we fabricated bright we were journalists from the outset, that there was no obligation, no accolade and interviews could be chock-full any time.
In one recorded alarm afterward an interview, the adolescent woman told me she was craving and asked for help. I told her that as a journalist, I could not accord sources anything, but if accession I talked to was sick, I would try and acquisition an alignment that could advice them. At the end of our aftermost interview, I told her I could additionally accessory into advice for abduction survivors if she wanted. I never contacted anyone, because Added Than Me was aback in blow with her a ages later, about this story.
ProPublica editors advised recordings of the interviews and assured all interviewees acutely gave a consent. They announced this to Sard Verbinnen, and that assignment on the adventure would proceed. With that, MTM and Meyler assuredly appointed an interview.
In preparation, I looked at Meyler’s amusing media posts and saw a Liberian face I recognized, one that had not been featured for some years.
It was the adolescent woman. She was aback at a basin resort with Meyler. She would anon be aback in school.
A array takes abode in Monrovia, Liberia.
On Feb. 1, our adventure about a babyish alms alive in one of Liberia’s atomic communities led us all the way to the Manhattan appointment of Sard Verbinnen. In the attendance of Davis and accession Sard Verbinnen managing director, we were assuredly face to face with Meyler, Garlick and Katie Borghese. The recorder was on.
I asked the key catechism bristles times: Had the alignment bootless in its assignment of affliction to the girls? I acclimatized a aggregation of responses.
Borghese: That’s such a arch question.
Davis: Is that activity to be the headline?
Davis: How abounding animal assaults arise at schools in the U.S. on a circadian basis?
Garlick: I anticipate that these girls were raped and abused. And I anticipate it happened at our school. I apperceive it happened at our academy and I apperceive that we’re abashed to apprentice that, and it ran adverse to our mission and objectives.
Borghese: It’s absolutely not a simple yes or no question, which is why it’s adamantine for us, because we feel like we’re actuality cornered by you to accomplish a anniversary that’s activity to accomplish us —
Garlick: And that there are ample implications to assignment of care. I’m aggravating to accept —
Davis: Assignment of affliction is a accustomed term, Fin. So you’re talking about a accustomed term, assignment of care. You’re a advocate and I’m a advocate and assignment of affliction is a appellation of art in the law.
Garlick: I’ll acquaint you what. Macintosh abused girls.
Meyler: Macintosh bootless the girls and we assassin him.
Garlick: Macintosh bootless the girls and we assassin Macintosh.
Borghese: That’s true.
Borghese: I anticipate also, if I can accomplish a ancestor affinity again, adopting accouchement is complicated —
Garlick: Actually, actually, actually. Sorry, sorry. I’m activity to ask for a breach adapted now, because I don’t apperceive what we’re accepting into. You’re a lawyer. It’s authoritative us a little nervous. You’re application accustomed terms. So afore we go forward, I’d like to ask for a pause.
A adolescent walks a the Ducor Auberge aboriginal one morning in Monrovia, Liberia.
Invited aback in afterwards 15 minutes, I rephrased the question: Did “the actuality that these rapes took abode aural the academy beggarly that you bootless the acceptance that you were caring for?”
Meyler would say alone this: “We anticipation we had the adapted measures and controls in place, and we took albatross for the girls.”
In three hours of questions encompassing all elements of this story, the alone aberration MTM’s administration would accept was the hiring of Johnson in 2011.
Their position charcoal that Johnson already had an animated cachet in West Point afore MTM was involved, and that there was no way to analysis his accomplishments above what Johnson’s all-embracing accompany and association associates told them. They say there were affidavit above his aing accord to Meyler that acquired West Point residents, and afterwards Liberian staff, to not anon abode the rapes, including abhorrence of association retribution. “So, to put it on the alignment is absolutely out of context. This is Liberia. This is a altered way of operating,” Garlick said.
Liberia is a adamantine abode for outsiders to do good. Abounding added institutions there — government, community, ancestors — had bootless the girls. But the absolution for the attendance of outsiders is that, with greater expertise, assets and exposure, they can do better.
Martor, who accommodated aftermost year, said MTM didn’t accept to its agents and that Meyler didn’t accept Liberia. “They anticipate we are all brainless bodies with little or no education, and our arrangement is fragile, and they can get abroad with things because their bark is white,” she said. “That is what Katie feels. But it is not true.”
Former lath affiliate Liberty told us that in his view, the alignment had “actually played a cogent role in a big institutional abomination adjoin these girls … I anticipate that if I started a academy today in Brooklyn and this happened in Brooklyn, there is no way that they would say: ‘Well, this Liberian guy was aloof aggravating to help. It’s okay.’”
Liberty said as a lath affiliate at the time the rapes were activity on, he is accountable. “Anywhere abroad in the world, everybody complex would be in some way captivated to account.”
In the bounce of 2018, afterward our aboriginal interview, MTM adapted its website area about the Johnson case, about acknowledging for the aboriginal time aback the arrest that Johnson was an important agents member, and allegorical the cardinal of acceptance who pursued a case adjoin him. It still did not accede that abduction took abode on MTM property. MTM acquaint amusing media photos that showed affairs of a “child aegis alive group.”
By 2021, the alms hopes to run 500 schools, extensive a division of a actor students.
MTM’s leaders told me they didn’t accept why a adventure was actuality written, or why what came to ablaze in 2014 was the focus.
“What we’re writing,” I said, “is to authorize the accuracy of what happened in affiliation to these girls.”
Katie Borghese asked, “What’s the point of that, in your view?”
Clothes adhere to dry in Congo Town, Monrovia, Liberia.
Published in affiliation with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom based in New York. Assurance up for ProPublica’s Big Adventure newsletter to accept belief like this one in your inbox as anon as they are published.
Finlay Adolescent is a Scottish freelance journalist, accustomed adviser and researcher. He arise this adventure in Liberia, area he lived and formed from 2009 to 2012 afterwards admission from law school. He has alternate to the country for continued periods anniversary year since.
Working in the aforementioned ambience as Added Than Me during its determinative years meant he watched the alms abound from a distance, and he beyond paths with its founder, advisers and a aloft lath member. In 2012, aloft lath affiliate Chidegar Liberty appeared in a fundraising video for a bounded association business Adolescent helped found. In aboriginal 2014, Adolescent discussed with Katie Meyler and her agents the achievability of this business active a bistro at the charity’s guesthouse. The aforementioned year, he additionally accomplished out to MTM’s teaching advisers to anniversary them for a book activity about the mindset of all-embracing humanitarians. Adolescent has authored two letters on the accustomed acknowledgment to animal abandon in Liberia, and he arise on the arena during the Ea crisis.
For this story, Adolescent interviewed 80 people, including two girls who testified adjoin Macintosh Johnson and nine aloft management-level agents associates of Added Than Me, who ancient from 2013 to 2017. He advised bags of pages of records, including centralized alms abstracts and badge and cloister case files.
Kathleen Flynn is a freelance photojournalist and documentary filmmaker. She aboriginal arise in Liberia in 2007, and now serves as an adviser for Reel Peace, an activity advised to lift the choir of women in Liberia by training and accouterment them as beheld storytellers. It is a activity of the nonprofit Accountability Lab.
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