[Two important updates on this story below…]
Combs says that half a dozen officers, including two Gwinnett County police officers, entered the premises with search warrants today and then hauled away boxes of records and computers, and also interviewed employees.
Combs will soon have a detailed story about the raid, and we’ll link to it as soon as we can. (And here it is.)
Previously, the Atlanta coordinated media team of WSB Radio, WSB-TV, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had reported that a patient of Narconon Georgia had learned that her insurance company — United Healthcare — had been billed $166,000 for services that Narconon never performed. (Here’s the AJC‘s story about today’s raid. And here’s the story from WSB-TV.)
That reporting prompted state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens to launch a probe which resulted in today’s raid.
As Combs reports in his story, agents were interviewing employees to get passwords on the computers, hoping that it will reveal who actually billed the insurance company fraudulently — as Combs points out, only people, not companies, can be charged with insurance fraud in Georgia.
For the past year, we’ve been following developments at the Narconon facility, which grew out of a wrongful death lawsuit.
In 2008, Patrick Desmond died of a heroin overdose on a night he left Narconon Georgia’s housing facility after drinking heavily with other patients. His family sued Narconon Georgia and its umbrella organizations. Narconon argued that Desmond was responsible for his own death, but the lawsuit turned out to be disastrous for Narconon because of the documents and depositions that Desmond family attorney Jeff Harris was able to pry out of the organization over a tortuous two-year period. Those investigations turned up evidence that Narconon had lied to parents of potential patients, had lied to a Florida drug court, and had even lied in its depositions, resulting in harsh sanctions from Judge Stacey Hydrick.
Although Narconon managed to settle the case just days before a trial was set to begin, the damning evidence in the case prompted the state of Georgia to revoke the facility’s license and begin a fraud investigation.
The AJC‘s Christian Boone reported this comment from Jeff Harris: “On behalf of the numerous clients I represent who have been defrauded by Narconon’s bogus drug rehab scam I would like to applaud the Georgia criminal authorities for the actions they took today. I sincerely hope that this spells the end of this dangerous and deceptive operation.”
Some of our previous reporting on Narconon Georgia…
Feb. 8: Scientology settles rather than go to trial
Jan. 30: Narconon Georgia executive director Mary Rieser gets the heave-ho
Dec. 26: It shouldn’t have taken Patrick Desmond’s death to put Narconon on the hot seat
Nov. 9: Judge Stacey Hydrick slaps Narconon for acting like…Narconon
And at the Village Voice, where we first revealed evidence of Mary Rieser’s obfuscations from court records last August
We’ve also been following developments at another Narconon facility mired in controversy, its flagship facility in Oklahoma, known as Narconon Arrowhead. Given today’s raid in Atlanta, our earlier story about the bonanza in insurance money at the Oklahoma center might interest investigators.
UPDATE: We just talked with Gary Richardson, an attorney who is representing numerous clients suing Narconon’s flagship operation in Oklahoma for wrongful death and fraud.
“This is not surprising,” he said in regards to the news coming out of Atlanta today. “I’ve been saying for the last three or four months that I think they’ve been committing insurance fraud.”
He reminded us that one of the cases he’s handling does bring up the way Narconon Arrowhead was handling insurance. In the case filed by newspaper reporter Rachel Petersen, she alleges that Narconon told her that her insurance company had not paid all of the $10,000 it was billed — so she had to make up the difference, only to find that her insurance company had paid the money. That’s one of the claims she’s making in her complaint — she also said she witnessed Narconon employees trading drugs for sex.
“I think every state agency that has any authority over Narconon should be looking into its practices,” Richardson told us today.
UPDATE: Former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder, over at his blog, has made some very strong statements about today’s raid.
— “Mary Rieser and anyone else at Narconon Atlanta will likely be thrown under the bus if ONLY because [church leader David] Miscavige figures they are so tainted that ANYTHING done to try to help defend them will blow back on the church and him because this whole Narconopalypse is being watched SO closely by the media.”
— “Not since the GO raids [FBI raids of Scientology in 1977] has anything like this happened. Will this small crack widen and some other government agencies decide they can get through the breach in what has been an impenetrable fortress for more than 30 years?”
— “The truth is that Narconon has been utterly criminal and deserve[s] to be convicted.”
— “I certainly hope there are some people in the DOJ who are following Tony Ortega’s stories.”
Hey, we certainly hope so too, Mike. We hope so too.
Posted by Tony Ortega on April 26, 2013 at 16:10
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