Former camper sues Missouri-based Christian camp claiming ‘fraudulent’ abuse settlement
A former camper alleges that Branson-based Kanakuk, one of the largest Christian summer camps in the country, concealed knowledge of a director's sexual misconduct when it persuaded his family to sign a settlement and non-disclosure agreement.
A Branson Christian summer camp is being sued by a former camper who alleges leadership concealed their prior knowledge of a director’s sexual misconduct to persuade his family to sign a settlement and non-disclosure agreement.
Logan Yandell, now 27, filed a lawsuit last week against Kanakuk Kamps alleging he was sexually abused from around 2005 to 2008 by former camp director Peter Newman. Yandell settled for a confidential amount in 2010 and signed a non-disclosure agreement, according to the lawsuit.
Kanakuk is one of the largest Christian summer camps in the country and claims to have hosted over 500,000 kids since it was founded in 1926. In 2020, it boasted an annual revenue of nearly $24 million.
Yandell’s was one of several settlements that included a non-disclosure agreement, the lawsuit alleges, which victims signed “without knowing the true facts regarding [Kanakuk’s] active misrepresentations and concealment of Newman’s sexual misconduct.”
The case hinges on whether Kanakuk leadership knew in advance that Newman was abusing campers, or whether, as Kanakuk puts it, Newman was a “master of deception.”
Newman pleaded guilty in 2010 to seven counts of sexual abuse, and is serving two consecutive life sentences plus thirty years. The prosecutor in his case estimated that Newman’s victim count might be in the hundreds.
In settlement negotiations with Yandell’s family, the camp claimed it had “no prior knowledge” of Newman’s abuse, and that Newman had committed “isolated incidents of sexual misconduct,” according to the lawsuit.
Yet according to an affidavit of Newman’s former supervisor, included along with the lawsuit, Kanakuk leadership received reports of Newman engaged in nude activity with campers as early as 1999.
Newman’s supervisor recommended he be fired in 2003, after receiving reports that Newman swam and played basketball with children while he was nude. But that decision was not taken up by CEO Joe White, according to the lawsuit. Newman stayed on for six more years.
White remains in charge of the camp.
An investigation last year by journalists Nancy and David French, who called Kanakuk “the worst Christian sex abuse scandal you’ve never heard of,” first reported Kanakuk’s alleged early knowledge.
Had Yandell’s family known of camp leadership’s “prior knowledge of the true scope and scale of Newman’s sexual misconduct,” his lawsuit states, they would not have agreed to the settlement in 2010.
In an emailed statement, Kanakuk said they do not comment on pending litigation and will only comment “if or when appropriate.”
“In the meantime, we continue to pray for all who have been affected by Pete Newman’s behavior,” Kanakuk said by email.
Other former campers have sued the camp, but Yandell’s attorneys believe this to be the first lawsuit against Kanakuk alleging fraud.
The attorneys hope the lawsuit spurs more victims who have been constrained by NDAs to come forward, said Robert Thrasher, an attorney who is part of the team representing Yandell.
“Our client doesn’t even know how many other victims are out there that are in his similar situation,” Thrasher said. “We do hope that by filing this lawsuit it gives everyone else their voice back as well to come forward — whether they signed an NDA or whether they did not.”
This story was originally published on the Missouri Independent.