Court Testimony: Narconon Intentionally Deceived a Florida Drug Court About Its Licensing
There's been a lot of attention focused on Scientology's flagship drug rehab in Oklahoma -- called Narconon Arrowhead -- because of recent deaths there and investigations by multiple local and state agencies.
But as we indicated previously, there are also serious questions being asked about Narconon's facility in the Atlanta area. The 2008 death of Narconon patient and employee Patrick Desmond produced a lawsuit by his family, and documents in that case provide a startling look at the deceptions that appear to be a part of the Narconon business model.
We now have court testimony from the lawsuit which shows that Narconon deceived a Florida drug court in order to keep quiet that it didn't have licensing to house patients.
The Florida drug court, meanwhile, tells the Voice that it now knows it was lied to. And it isn't happy about it.
Patrick Desmond was sent by his family to the Atlanta drug rehab center after being sentenced for six months by the Brevard County, Florida drug court. Desmond's sentence required that he be sent to an in-patient facility, somewhere he would be housed and closely monitored as he fought his addictions.
What the Desmonds and the Brevard County court didn't know was that Narconon in Georgia has never been licensed to run that kind of facility. By state law, it can't house anyone, or provide around-the-clock monitoring. Its licensing is strictly for an out-patient facility.
It's in-patient rehab centers, however, that really bring in the big money. Narconon centers that house clients typically charge about $30,000 for a three-month program.
In Atlanta, however, Narconon's executive director Mary Rieser had tried and failed to get the kind of licensing that would allow her to house patients at the rehab facility.
So instead, court records show, she asked a Scientologist couple to lease a set of apartments at a nearby complex called One Sovereign Place, and then began placing four Narconon patients in each apartment there. Prospective clients, like the Desmonds, were not told that Rieser had no license to be running an in-patient facility -- but they were charged like they were sending their loved ones to a legitimate in-patient rehab.
What's worse, investigations by Narconon Georgia's parent company, Narconon International, found that drug use was rampant at One Sovereign Place, with employees (who tended to be former patients) joining in. Desmond, court records suggest, was using Oxycontin at the apartment complex, and one night went out with a friend, tried heroin, overdosed, and died. The Desmond family, in their lawsuit, wants to tell a jury that Narconon was negligent by allowing their son to be so unsupervised at the unlicensed housing complex.
We wondered, however: how has Narconon Georgia convinced drug courts to send patients to a supposedly in-patient facility, while not arousing the interest of Georgia state officials, who consider it an out-patient rehab?
We got an answer to that question in the deposition of a former Narconon Georgia employee, Allison Riepe, which was made public this week.
Like other Narconon employees, Riepe was a former patient and a recovering addict herself. She had numerous jobs at the center, but at the time Desmond was there in 2007 and 2008, she was a legal liaison who handled all the communication with drug courts.
During her deposition, which was taken January 26, she was shown letterhead that was used for official Narconon Georgia correspondence. On it, the facility was described as an "Out-Patient Drug Treatment Program and Education."
But then she was shown another letter, this one sent to Desmond's probation officer at the Brevard County, Florida drug court, which had something different on its letterhead. The word "out-patient" had been removed, and Narconon was now described as "Drug Education and Rehabilitation."
Riepe was asked about the change.
"I took it to Mary and I said, obviously I can't send this, it says 'out-patient drug rehab' and that's not going to work because this person is court ordered to be in an in-patient facility, so what am I suppose to do with it? And she said take the 'out-patient' out."
"OK, So you knew that Patrick was sentenced to an in-patient facility?" asked attorney Rebecca Franklin.
"Yes," Riepe answered.
"Did Mary Rieser know that?"
Franklin then shows Riepe another letter with the word "out-patient" removed from its description of the facility.
"Because, again, Patrick was sentenced to in-patient. So if it says 'out-patient' on it and his probation officer is paying attention and reads it, then he's probably going to get yanked out of being there, have to go some place else."
"And, again, was that at the direction of Mary Rieser?"
We called Narconon Georgia and asked to speak with Mary Rieser. We were told she was busy, and we left our information. She didn't call us back.
Rieser herself was asked about the changing letterhead at a deposition held several months earlier, on September 14, 2011 by attorney Jeff Harris. In that deposition, Rieser told Harris that her choice of letterhead was random, and the differences were simply a matter of using differing templates...
Q: Nobody took the word "out-patient" off of the letterhead that left some concern that if Narconon held itself out as an out-patient rehab facility that the drug court down there just wouldn't approve of Patrick being enrolled?
Q: It didn't happen?
Q: So the decision about the letterhead that was used was just happenstance?
Yesterday, I talked to Lisa Mooty at Brevard County's drug court, who oversaw Desmond's case.
She says his death has already produced a result there: Brevard County no longer allows families to send sentenced defendants to rehab centers out of Florida.
Most go to a local facility run by the state, she says. And now, Brevard County is well aware of Narconon.
"We have never sent anyone to one since, nor do we intend to," she says.
"It's a very sad situation all the way around. My heart goes out to the family. You try your best, what you think is in the best interest of your son or daughter, or in my position a client. But unfortunately there are some things we don't know," she says. "If we all knew when we were going to be lied to, wouldn't that be nice?"
After Desmond died, his body was brought back to Florida. "I attended the funeral," Mooty says.
I asked her how she felt about being deceived by Narconon.
"It's shameful on their part," she says.
I asked her if she was aware that Narconon has facilities in Florida -- was it possible that drug courts there could send patients to those rehab centers?
"Well, they're not getting this drug court," she answered. "I can promise you that."
As for Georgia's licensing authorities, the state recently went through a reshuffling of its human resources department, and it's taken me a while to track down the particular body that oversees the Narconon facility. But I have identified them now, and I put in a call yesterday, leaving a detailed message about the Desmond case and Narconon Georgia's licensing. I'll let you know how they respond.
Reproduced below: The relevant pages from Allison Riepe's deposition, explaining that Narconon's letterhead was changed to keep Florida's drug court from realizing that the rehab facility was licensed only for out-patient care...
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology -- 2012 Edition
Last summer, we put together a little list that took on a life of its own. We counted down the 25 people and groups who had been doing the most to get word out to the wider world about the Church of Scientology's many alleged abuses, and who have contributed to its steep recent decline. A year later, we thought it was time to update our list. This time, we've put a premium on what's happened in the last twelve months, so you might see some of your old favorites drop off the roster. But never fear -- you can always revisit our choices from last year, or the choices of our readers.
#13: Karen de la Carriere
Karen de la Carriere is a nightmare for the Church of Scientology in several ways. She symbolizes almost perfectly what is tearing apart the church today -- longtime, loyal members who are being driven away because they dare to question what is happening under the leadership of David Miscavige. In Karen's case, she was a veteran church member who had trained under L. Ron Hubbard himself on the yacht Apollo to the highest levels of expertise, but she dared to question the treatment of her ex-husband, Heber Jentzsch, the president of the Church of Scientology. Since about 2004, Jentzsch has been held in Scientology's concentration camp for executives in California, "The Hole," and de la Carriere complained in 2010 that her son, Alexander, had grown up as a son without a father. For speaking out, Karen was excommunicated by the church -- "declared a suppressive person" -- and then Alexander was forced to "disconnect" from her per church policy. So when Alexander, 26, then lost his job and reportedly turned to drugs, he was cut off from both of his parents. On July 3, he was found dead in a Los Angeles home, and it was two days before Karen learned about it -- but Scientology kept her from seeing his body before it was cremated. Since then, de la Carriere has taken to the airwaves to tell her story, and she is an effective communicator. She had the hosts at KFI radio -- one of the largest stations in the world -- gasping in horror at her descriptions of the way Scientology rips apart families. Karen also put out an open letter to church members, and we have seen evidence that it reached deep into the secretive organization and is having a strong effect. And something tells us Karen is only getting warmed up.
#12: Debbie Cook
Debbie Cook is enjoying a relaxing new life on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, but the effects of her brief legal battle with Scientology are still reverberating through the organization. For 17 years, Cook had been one of the most visible of Scientology's executives, running the church's spiritual mecca in Clearwater, Florida -- the Flag Land Base -- but she left that post in 2007 after, it turns out, enduring horrible treatment by Miscavige. On New Year's Eve, she sent out a stunning denunciation of Miscavige's leadership that shocked the rank and file of Scientology's membership. The church sued her over it, but that lawsuit backfired when Cook testified under oath on February 5 in a Texas courtroom about what she'd experienced at Scientology's hellish California concentration camp, "The Hole." Scientology's attorneys quickly put up the white flag, and then later settled with Cook. Publicly, the church claimed that it didn't give Cook a dime, but now she's living comfortably on a Caribbean island -- you do the math. Cook may now be keeping quiet about the church, but her court testimony and her New Year's Eve letter will go down as landmarks of dissent in a year of crisis for the church.
See also: 25. Xenu, 24. Kate Bornstein, 23. Lisa Marie Presley, 22. Dani and Tami Lemberger, 21. John Brousseau, 20. Jamie DeWolf, 19. Jefferson Hawkins, 18. Amy Scobee, 17. Marc and Claire Headley, 16. Dave Touretzky, 15, Mark Bunker, 14. Tory Christman
Look for the next installment of our Top 25 on Friday. We have things timed so that we'll reveal this year's number one just a few days before the opening of "The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's new film that should explode interest in all things Scientology.
Narconon's Gary Smith Speaks Out. Badly.
It's desperation time:
Get this, Gary. Those local reporters in Oklahoma you're talking to weren't born yesterday. They know that decades of information about Narconon's history are online, and some of them may even be reading our stories here, where we've established...
--- that Narconon was originally a program of the notorious Guardian's Office, the Scientology secret service that was busted by the FBI for infiltrating the federal government in the 1970s.
-- that Narconon's "treatment" of drug addicts is virtually identical to the training programs that beginning Scientologists go through. So instead of getting drug counseling, patients are talking to ashtrays and engaging in staring contests and other L. Ron Hubbard nonsense.
-- Narconon is controlled by the Association for Better Living and Education, Scientology's "social betterment" non-profit that is staffed only by Sea Org officials, and whose president, Rena Weinberg, has been imprisoned in Scientology's California concentration camp for executives since at least 2007.
-- Narconon's recruitment is designed to be deceptive, with hundreds of generic websites that exist in order to lead distraught parents and other loved ones to salesmen who get big commissions for directing them to Narconon, and will say virtually anything to get them there. What prospective patients and their families are never told is that they will get Scientology training rather than drug education.
-- Narconon facilities contract with a local physician who examines each new patient during their intake, but then are typically never at the facility and are not on hand when emergencies occur. In Georgia, the so-called medical director had never, in her years long contract, set foot one time at the Narconon facility itself.
You can try to spin away these facts, Gary, but reporters, and government officials, are getting wise. And if there's one thing Scientology always has a hard time with, it's sunlight.
David Letterman Quizzes Amy Adams About Scientology
And so it begins...
And for those who actually buy what Amy says about the film not being based on Scientology, please see our previous coverage.
"Tom Cruise worships David Miscavige like a god"
Scientology's president and the death of his son: our complete coverage
What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids
Scientology's new defections: Hubbard's granddaughter and Miscavige's dad
Scientology's disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise
Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group
Scientology leader David Miscavige's vanished wife: Where's Shelly?
Neil Gaiman, 7, Interviewed About Scientology by the BBC in 1968
The Master Screenplay: Scientology History from Several Different Eras
And a post that pulls together the best of our Scientology reporting
Please check out our Facebook author page for updates and schedules.
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.