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Morning Star faces two new lawsuits

Two more men sued Morning Star Boys’ Ranch and its former director this week, bringing to 10 the number of men who have sued over sexual abuse allegations at the boys home.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Spokane County Superior Court, one of two plaintiffs alleges he was abused in 1980 and 1981 by the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, former director of the ranch, and another staffer who has since died, identified as Reese Hall. The second plaintiff says he was abused from 1977 to 1979 by a staffer whose identity isn’t known, the lawsuit says.

The men, ages 40 and 43, respectively, are identified only by initials in the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach ranch officials and attorneys Friday afternoon were not immediately successful. Morning Star officials have defended the home in past interviews, noting that it has served more than 1,300 boys – many with severe problems – over its 50-year history. Weitensteiner has denied previous allegations, saying in 2005 that he has “never been sexually inappropriate with any child at any time.”

“We’re committed to setting the record straight,” Morning Star spokeswoman Jenn Kantz said when other suits were filed in February. “Today, Morning Star Boys’ Ranch is a safe and therapeutic place.”

Eighteen people now allege abuse at the ranch in court filings that began in August 2005, though just 10 are plaintiffs in lawsuits against the ranch. State documents, court filings and past interviews with former counselors and residents in recent years indicate a pattern of alleged physical and sexual abuse at the ranch, with many of the accusations directed against Weitensteiner, who was director there from 1966 until 2006.

The most recent suit alleges that the ranch allowed sexual abusers to take boys off-site and molest them. It accuses the ranch and its former director of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy.

It seeks damages for medical and psychological treatment, lost earnings and other damages.