Arlan D. and Linda J. Kaufman

Kansas Mennonite social worker and nurse convicted for abusing residents of their treatment center

Arlan Kaufman (1936–2021) ran the Kaufman House residential treatment center in Newton, Kansas, along with his wife, Linda Kaufman (1943–2019). In 2005, they were convicted of forcing its residents to live and work naked and perform sex acts, among other abuses, as well as illegally billing their families and the federal government for therapy. Former residents testified that Arlan forced them to masturbate, fondle each other, and shave each other’s genitals. Arlan often videotaped these activities and told residents it was therapy. According to testimony, both Arlan and Linda used a stun gun on the genitals of at least one resident.

Arlan was found guilty of all 31 charges of conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and fraud that the couple faced. Linda was found guilty of 30 of the charges. Arlan, a former licensed clinical social worker, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Linda, a former registered nurse, was originally sentenced to 7 years, but after a government appeal, her sentence was increased to 15 years.

In spite of the massive amount of evidence and testimony against him, Arlan did not show remorse for his actions. He spoke for three hours before he was sentenced, rehashing much of his trial testimony and exposing details about his patients’ sex lives. The federal district court judge told Arlan, “You are an arrogant individual, you don’t recognize what you have done is wrong. You don’t recognize that you have violated the law, primarily because you don’t believe the law applies to you. You see yourself as a victim of some massive conspiracy.” The judge also called Arlan a hypocrite for apologizing to his victims in his statement and then going into details about their sex lives.

Several Mennonite churches circulated petitions and sent dozens of letters to the court seeking leniency for the Kaufmans. The judge dismissed the petitions and letters saying that they showed an insufficient grasp of the case and they blamed the media for damaging the Kaufmans’ reputations. The judge also said “ignorance or deliberate indifference to what was going on at Kaufman House by members of churches is a theme running throughout this case.”

Former resident Nancy Jensen testified during the trial that she had told a number of people at her local Mennonite congregation, New Creation Fellowship Church, about the abuse at Kaufman House, but they did not believe her or file reports with authorities. She further testified that Pastor Steve Schmidt, and others at the church, worked with Arlan to insist that if Jensen wanted to be part of the church she would need to live at the Kaufman House and submit to Arlan’s therapy. Jensen had also reported the abuse to Prairie View Mental Health Center, leading Arlan to prohibit her from continuing to see a doctor or therapist there.

Jensen and other residents, as well as family members, reported the abuse to the Kansas Department for Social and Rehabilitative Services (SRS) at various times over many years, beginning as early as 1984. SRS pressed Arlan to license his treatment center, and the Kansas Supreme Court ruled it should be licensed, but Arlan refused, and SRS decided that it did not have the authority to close the center. In 1999, children on a school bus saw residents working naked on the Kaufmans’ farm, and law enforcement investigated. A thorough investigation did not begin until 2004, when the Kansas attorney general took up the case.

In 2008, the Kaufmans appealed their convictions for forced labor and involuntary servitude, in part arguing that they should have been allowed to make eye contact with victims in court. Their appeal was denied.

In 2009, when the government appealed Linda’s original sentence of seven years, it argued that her apparent dependent personality should not override her active and dangerous abuse of residents, nor her conspiracy to commit fraud and to obstruct justice. Jensen argued to the court that Linda should not be sentenced for having been dependent on Arlan, but because she grossly violated her responsibilities as a registered nurse.

The judge doubled Linda’s sentence, bringing it to half that of her husband’s. This was still well below what sentencing guidelines would have allowed, but the judge argued Linda had “expressed at least some regret for her crimes.”

In contrast, the judge said of Arlan: “Arlan Kaufman will be a danger to society, even to his fellow prisoners, for his entire life. … Arlan Kaufman is not merely unrepentant for his crimes, he arrogantly justifies his conduct and places all the blame on Kaufman House residents and others. … If there are ethical principles which govern social workers, Arlan Kaufman violated all of them.”

In 2012, Arlan again appealed his conviction, this time on the basis of ineffective counsel. A three-judge panel not only disagreed with Arlan’s claims of ineffective counsel, but also noted that the evidence against him was overwhelming.

After Linda Kaufman’s death, Jensen found this post online and contacted MAP. She then contributed substantial additional documentation, including trial transcripts, in hopes of countering any ongoing misconceptions in the Mennonite community.

Linda was granted compassionate release from prison for illness in 2016 and lived at Greencroft senior residential home in Goshen, Indiana, until her death in 2019.

In June 2020, Arlan filed for release, citing his terminal medical condition (stage 4 cancer), coronavirus risk, and completion of half his sentence. The motion filed by his lawyer referred to Arlan as a “first-time offender.”

Jensen had supported compassionate release for Linda, but she opposed Arlan’s release, along with fellow victim Lynn Kohr, noting that Arlan never took responsibility for his actions.

The Disability Rights Center of Kansas also opposed his release, citing the severity of Arlan’s crimes and his failure to see the harm he caused. The center had worked with Jensen and Kohr to reform Kansas state law overseeing group homes for disabled people.

A doctor said Arlan’s health would benefit from care he could receive if he were released to live with his son. Among the letters from community members in support of his release were a number of Mennonite leaders, including the entire pastoral team of Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana.

Jensen confirmed to MAP that none of those who petitioned for Arlan’s release attempted to support or acknowledge the concerns of his living victims in any way.

“Most hurtful is that both he and his family would view his early release as a victory, as vindication and as proof that he did no wrong. We survivors know better,” said Jensen.

Arlan was moved from his prison in Texas to an administrative security federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina, in June 2020. The federal district court judge ruled against Arlan’s release on July 21, 2020, saying release would be a windfall for the defendant.

Arlan died in 2021.

In 2023, New Creation Fellowship Church, in Newton, Kansas, with guidance from their new pastor, Shana Green, included as part of their 50th anniversary celebration a service of repentance and repair for their role in Nancy Jensen’s experiences of abuse. The church invited Nancy to share her story and then took concrete actions in response. You can read Nancy’s remarks and watch video of the full service: “The hard work of righteousness: A church repents for its role in the Kaufman house of horrors.”

Church-related positions

  • Arlan founded the Bethel College social work program in 1971
  • Arlan was a professor at Bethel College, 1971–1978
  • Arlan and Linda operated the Kaufman House Residential Treatment Center in Newton, Kansas, from 1980 to 2004
  • Arlan and Linda were members of Faith Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas

First-person accounts

Documentation

Additional documents from the trial are available for a fee: https://pacer.uscourts.gov.

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