Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch files for bankruptcy

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch — an 86-acre residential center for at-risk youth  on Middle Road in Riverhead — has filed for bankruptcy. 

According to the voluntary petition signed on Oct. 9, 2023, by executive director Thaddaeus Hill, the faith-based retreat center owes more than  $4.8 million in debts to roughly 65 creditors, including five individuals who have pending lawsuits against the ranch.

According to court documents, future court appearances for the five cases are on hold until further notice due to the bankruptcy matter. The plaintiffs’ legal counsel and Timothy Hill’s bankruptcy counsel submitted a joint letter to the judge in November asking for an extension to file Notes of Issue — or determinations of what the next steps are for these cases — to Jan. 17. 

The amount of liabilities owed to these listed individuals is unknown, according to the bankruptcy petition.

The leadership team at Timothy Hill said in a statement the decision was made to “protect” the nonprofit, its mission and “record of 47 years of serving youth.” 

“For over 40 years, the Timothy Hill Ranch has positively impacted and transformed the lives of thousands of young people,” the statement read. “We are committed to this mission and serving each of the young people in our programs.” 

Mr. Hill filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, which is also known as “reorganization bankruptcy.” Debtors who file under Chapter 11 propose a reorganization plan to keep the company afloat and pay creditors back over time. 

Once a reorganization plan is proposed, the affected creditors can vote on the plan, then the court approves the plan if it gets the required number of votes and satisfies certain legal requirements. 

In the meantime, the company can continue to operate its business, which describes itself on its website as a “safe haven.” Additionally, the court can allow the business to borrow new money. 

“By taking this action, we ensure the continuity of our programs and our ability to service at-risk youth,” the statement said. “Our staffing levels have remained the same and there has been no disruption in services or programs.”

As it states on its website, since 1980, Timothy Hill Ranch’s mission has been to transform the lives of “troubled youth and young adults” through “Christian-centered values” and life skills,” giving them  “second chances.” However, for decades the nonprofit organization has been at the center of lawsuits alleging serious crimes and a string of missing child cases, due to a high frequency of runaways at the ranch. 

The quartet of lawsuits filed by Andres Ramos, John Gubitosi, John Barci and Jayme Thode were under the New York Child Victims Act, which temporarily extended the statute of limitations for civil claims by child sexual abuse victims. 

The new law gave alleged victims one year from Aug. 14, 2019, to file a lawsuit and allowed the people filing those suits to be up to age 55. This window was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and expired in 2021. 

Three of the plaintiffs are former residents of Timothy Hill Ranch and claimed that the ranch allowed them to be physically and sexually abused by older boys as a result of poor supervision. These alleged incidents took place between 1981 and 1995, according to previous News-Review reports. 

Mr. Gubitosi reported the physical and sexual abuse to ranch employees but was forced to do so in front of other residents whom he had accused of assaulting him, according to the lawsuit. After several attempts to run away from the ranch, Mr. Gubitosi went to his grandmother’s house and refused to return to the ranch, the lawsuit said.

In Mr. Ramos’ lawsuit, he stated there was “virtually no supervision” after “lights out” and that he, then the youngest child at the residence at age 12, “was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and threatened into obedience” by other teenage boys. 

Mr. Barci, who lived at Timothy Hill Ranch when he was 12 years old in 1981, claimed in his lawsuit that he was placed in a house with older, larger residents who routinely beat him and sexually assaulted him while at the ranch.

Ms. Thode was not a resident but visited friends at Timothy Hill Ranch in May 1992, when she was 14 years old. In her complaint, she alleged the “negligent and inadequate supervision created a culture of lawlessness,” which resulted in an older resident sexually assaulting her. She went on to claim the ranch “failed” to protect her from a “known danger.”

Isaura Estevez is the other individual named in the bankruptcy petition who has an active negligence case against Timothy Hill Ranch, which is currently paused. She is suing Timothy Hill Ranch for an incident that took place on Feb. 16, 2023, involving her infant, who was under the care and supervision of the ranch, according to the complaint. 

She alleged an unnamed employee — who was transporting her infant — drove “negligently, recklessly and/or carelessly” and caused her baby to “fall out” from the moving vehicle. This caused her child to sustain “serious and permanent” injuries that will impact her for the rest of her life, the lawsuit stated. 

“The board and staff of Timothy Hill Ranch have been actively seeking and expect to achieve a resolution to civil lawsuits filed against our not-for-profit organization soon,” Timothy Hill Ranch said in its statement. “Civil lawsuits are related to incidents that occurred between program residents over 35 years ago. No staff members were involved or accused in any way.”