Oklahoma State Senator on Scientology's Drug Rehab Center: "If This Were a State Facility, It Would Already Be Shut Down"
With multiple local and state agencies looking into the deaths at Scientology's flagship drug treatment center in Oklahoma -- four since 2009, and three just in the last ten months -- a local legislator is also getting involved.
Oklahoma State Senator Tom Ivester
Yesterday, we talked to State Senator Tom Ivester, a Democrat from the western part of Oklahoma. For months, he says, he's been concerned about what goes on at Narconon Arrowhead.
As early as January, he had received complaints from a state resident that the place was a "ripoff" and was delivering strange treatments, but when Stacy Murphy, 20, died at the center on July 19, Ivester said he was motivated to act.
Officials at the Department of Mental Health have told him they are frustrated that they don't have the laws necessary to regulate Scientology's center, he says. And so, he's determined to do something about it.
Ivester, 43, is an attorney from the western Oklahoma farming community of Sayre, population 3,000. He's a Democrat in a part of the state where Democrats are a minority, and in a state that is controlled by Republicans. But he says with a laugh that it only gives him more time to devote to the problem.
He's had previous success passing legislation, including the regulation of assisted living centers. "It's not that difficult," he says, predicting that he'll be able to garner support among his fellow legislators for new regulations that would affect the Scientology drug rehab center.
In January the senator heard from a state resident who was told about Narconon's supposedly high rates of success. "He was there for 45 days and then left on his own because of his concerns about the place. And he wondered, was he included in those statistics?" Ivester says. (Narconon regularly claims that 75 to 90 percent of its patients go on to lead drug-free lives, but experts say that even the best legitimate drug treatment programs don't claim better than about 25 percent success.)
After he received the complaint, Ivester inquired with the state's Department of Mental Health.
"They were frustrated about Narconon," he says. "They said they didn't have sufficient laws in place to regulate it."
But then he got busy with a legislative session, and Narconon had to wait. In July, Ivester heard about Stacy Murphy's death.
"That was the last straw," he says.
"There are ongoing investigations. I'm going to coordinate with the Department of Mental Health to see what regulations are in place. I've talked to them before, but I need to talk to them again," he says.
Because the center uses a non-medical approach to rehab, there are fewer regulations that govern it, he points out.
"I'm going to write some legislation to make sure one, that's it's safe. and two, that it's a legitimate rehab."
He's heard the stories about Narconon being more about Scientology training than drug counseling, and it concerns him.
He also read our story about Bob Lobsinger, the former Oklahoma weekly newspaper editor who took on Scientology in the late 1980s when Narconon officials first came to the state. Lobsinger told us that if Narconon had just been open about its connections to Scientology and what it really intended, there would have been little problem. Instead, he told us, "they lied every step of the way."
"I have to agree with Bob," Ivester tells me. "If they were up front about things, it would be another matter."
As hundreds of news stories over many years have shown, Narconon uses deceptive practices to bring in patients without revealing its connection to Scientology. Tougher regulation could force Narconon to be more transparent about its methods and aims.
"It shouldn't be hard to draft something," Ivester says. "If this were a state facility, it would already be shut down."
Ivester appeared briefly on the Oklahoma City Fox affiliate last week, where Marisa Mendelson has been reporting the Narconon Arrowhead story for months.
I asked Ivester if since then, he's heard from any Scientology officials or attorneys.
No, he said, but he's not worried.
"I'm kind of like Bob, if they want to traipse out here to the western part of the state just to see me, they're welcome to," he says. "And I can't imagine they have much lobbying power in the capitol."
Jose Canseco Is Confused About Scientology
Vice magazine had the cute idea of giving disgraced former major league ballplayer Jose Canseco a column. This is fascinating for readers in the same way that some yahoo being chased at high speed by cops makes for mesmerizing television.
Anyway, in yesterday's new installment of "José Can Say So," the Cuban-American icon revealed that he's an atheist, does not believe in life after death, and describes himself as an "atheist-Scientologist."
The reason why I look toward Scientology as an acceptable alternative is because it's a religion mostly based on science and fact.
Since Scientology's most bedrock concept is that we are immortal spirits who have lived countless lives in the past and will live countless more in endless rounds of reincarnation, we can only conclude that Canseco hasn't the slightest clue what he's talking about.
I guess that last part was sort of redundant.
Biggi Reichert's Death Probed in German Film
Markus Thöß, the German filmmaker who earlier brought us a fascinating look at Scientology's "secret service" -- the Office of Special Affairs -- is back with another interesting documentary, this time about a mysterious Scientology death.
We've written previously about Biggi Reichert, a German Scientologist who had reached the church's highest level of achievement -- Operating Thetan Level Eight -- but then had been found dead in 2006 in an apparent suicide. She had just returned to Germany after a trip to Scientology's spiritual mecca in Clearwater, Florida.
Records show that she had been dealing with serious debts because she had spent so much of her money from three different jobs for expensive Scientology training. And just a few days after returning from her trip to Florida, she was found dead in her car, apparently from a suicide involving sleeping pills and carbon monoxide.
Strangely, however, a couple of dozen burn marks appeared on her scalp, which were days old and appeared to have been caused by electrical heat. What happened while she was in Florida during her trip to Scientology's mecca? It's a question that still remains unsolved. But the documentary fills in a lot of background information about Reichert's involvement in the church. (Hit the "cc" button for English subtitles.)
"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
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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.