Powell Ranching Family Says Child Slavery And Trafficking Claims 'Impossible’

A Powell family running a ranch for troubled teens is asking a federal court to dismiss a forced-labor lawsuit against it, saying two former teens alleging child labor and human trafficking were making “impossible” claims.

CM
Clair McFarland

January 08, 20247 min read

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A Powell, Wyoming, family running a ranch for troubled teens is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit against it, saying the men suing have failed to link their accusations of child labor and human trafficking to any actual events.  

“Glaringly absent from the (lawsuit) Complaint is any specific allegations of wrongdoing by any named Defendant,” says a Friday filing on behalf of Triangle Cross Ranch, its owner Jerry Schneider, his wife Michaeleen, his twin sons Matthew and Mark, and his son-in-law Thomas George. “Participants in the program are enrolled with the consent of their parents or guardians who are advised about the rigors of the program and the types of ranch chores that their sons will need to perform.”  

The two-part filing asks U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal to dismiss a lawsuit by Andrew Lewis and Andrew Unhruh, two men who stayed at the Triangle Cross Ranch as teens in 2014.  

The business associated with Triangle Cross Ranch, a work ranch for troubled teens, has changed names multiple times since its 1997 founding as Mount Carmel Youth Ranch.  

Lewis and Unruh allege in an October 2023 lawsuit that the Schneider family and the ranch broke federal regulations by forcing slave-like work on them and trafficking them for their labor.  

They alleged nightmarish conditions: that they were threatened with food and sleep deprivation if they didn’t work hard enough, that they were locked in a shed at night and had to urinate in jugs, that their communications to their parents were censored and that they shouldered an amazing load of ranch chores.  

‘Daily’ Chores 

The Schneider family countered in its Friday filing, saying these accusations are based on conclusions and exaggerations, and that Lewis and Unruh failed to link their legal claims to specific actions by specific people.  

“Such allegations are incredulous on their face as they suggest that each Plaintiff performed hundreds of hours of work in a 12-hour window,” says the filing, reflecting on a list of chores Lewis reportedly had to perform under threat of abuse. “While it would take an experienced ranch hand hundreds of hours to perform such tasks, Plaintiff Lewis avers he was able to accomplish all of the above in a 12-hour time frame at 14 years of age.”  

The ranch owners call this “logistically impossible” and a token of “the falsity of all (Lewis’) claims.”  

But Lewis did not claim to have done all the listed chores daily.  

His complaint says that he labored from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day with little food or water, and “was forced to complete” several chores. It does not say that he had to complete each of those chores each day.  

However, Lewis’ complaint does list five chores he allegedly had to complete “daily.” Those were:  

  • Shoveling manure

  • Bagging hundreds of bags of Sanfoin grain

  • Feeding all cows, horses and chickens

  • Grooming all animals

  • Loading massive trucks of hay

Lewis also suffered “nearly daily” untreated flash burns from welding, the complaint alleges.  

The other chores that he did not list as “daily” tasks included herding cows, countless hours of flooring installation, installing and fixing miles of barbed wire, welding, packaging coffee and others.  

Because, Consent 

Lewis and Unruh did not claim in their complaint that their parents didn’t consent to their labor at Triangle Cross Ranch.  

That’s because they “can’t” make that claim, the Schneiders’ filing says.  

“Residents were brought to TCR by their parents or guardians, and the parents and guardians consented to their sons’ attendance and participation in the program by paying thousands of dollars in monthly fees,” says the Schneiders’ filing.  

The filing cites federal case law giving parents or parents’ designees the right to compel their children to do chores.  

The Schneiders argued further that the boys were allowed to communicate with their parents, and that their parents could have removed them from the program at any time.  

The filing paints the men’s complaints of forced labor as the grumblings of troubled teens.

“It is not surprising that Plaintiffs – who were troubled youths requiring intensive treatment – did not want to attend the program at the Ranch or otherwise obtain help for their issues,” the filing says. “However, (their) parents or guardians wanted them to participate in the program.”  

The ranch family also claims Lewis and Unruh’s allegations of trafficking aren’t supported by any concrete facts.  

Alzheimer’s 

Michaeleen Schneider suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, the ranch family’s filing says, adding that she has not managed her affairs herself since July 3, 2002.  

The filing calls it “wholly improbable” for Michaleen to have caused any harm against the boys in 2014. It claims Lewis and Unruh knew about her mental incompetence, but “egregiously” filed the complaint against her anyway.  

Wrong Company 

The family’s filing says Lewis and Unruh can’t sue Triangle Cross Ranch LLC because that company wasn’t formed until 2018, four years after the plaintiffs lived on the ranch.  

When Lewis and Unruh did live at the ranch, the ranch’s company name was Triangle Cross Ranch Inc. not LLC.  

The men can’t sue a company that didn’t exist during the alleged trafficking, the filing argues.  

This debate carries some confusion, since Lewis and Unruh’s complaint names “Triangle Cross Ranch LLC” in its preface and throughout, but names “Triangle Cross Ranch Inc.” as a defendant in its caption.  

The Schneider family’s filing says it “appears” the name in the caption was a scrivener’s error.  

Not The Twins 

Lewis and Unruh failed to show how Jerry Schneider’s twin sons, Matthew and Mark Schneider, caused illegal labor or trafficking, the family’s filing says.  

“The Complaint is devoid of a single factual allegation that either brother had any contact with Lewis or Unruh whatsoever,” says the filing.  

There are allegations that the twins “benefitted” from the boys’ forced labor and human trafficking as employees at the ranch. The Schneider family calls these “conclusory” claims not tied to any actual events.  

Not The Son-In-Law 

The Schneider family’s filing likewise seeks to dismiss Jerry Schneider’s son-in-law Thomas George from the case, saying the men have failed to show how George did anything to either of them that could amount to forced labor and human trafficking.  

Lewis alleged that his forced labor at a Catholic church “was coordinated through Defendant George.” Both plaintiffs said George “coordinated, approved, directed and facilitated” child labor projects.  

These are vague statements that don’t paint actual child-slavery events, the Schneider family’s filing says.  

Not The Dad 

The filing argues that Lewis and Unruh have failed to advance a valid claim against the family patriarch and ranch owner, Jerry Schneider. 

“Plaintiffs lump Jerry in with other Defendants throughout the complaint under the headings of ‘Triangle Owners,’ ‘the Schneiders,’ or ‘Defendants,’” says the filing.  

This kind of “bulk pleading” doesn’t show specific actions by individual defendants that amount to forced labor and trafficking, the filing argues.  

And, Not The Money

Lastly, the filing asks the court to dismiss Lewis and Unruh’s request that they be reimbursed for the thousands of dollars their parents gave the Schneiders for their 2014 ranch stay.  

The Schneiders assert in their filing that the men can’t ask for money back that was never theirs at the start.  

“Plaintiffs’ parents – and not the Plaintiffs – would be the party with standing to seek recovery of such fees,” says the Schneiders’ filing.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter