Former employees of Wickstrom tell us that it’s only in the past few months, however, that the Battle Creek Police Department has begun to investigate the death in what is becoming a more general probe of Wickstrom’s two rehab centers in the town. (He owns businesses — or the buildings they lease — in two more Michigan towns, and has plans for another in Michigan and one in Indiana.)
We have received information that the investigation is taking a hard look at those facilities and the kind of complaints that plague other businesses run on Scientology’s drug rehab model, known as “Narconon.”
The advertised telephone number for Tranquility Detox was disconnected when we called. We then called its sister facility in Battle Creek — A Forever Recovery — and asked if Tranquility Detox was still open as a business.
“It might be,” said the woman at A Forever Recovery who answered the phone. We asked if she was aware of the police investigation sparked by Amber’s death, and the woman told us, “Investigation? I’m not allowed to release information like that.”
She took our phone number and said someone would call us back, but we’re still waiting.
Amber was scheduled to go to a related Wickstrom facility, Best Drug Rehabilitation in Manistee, Michigan, on Thursday, May 17, 2012, but for some reason, she was sent to Tranquility Detox in Battle Creek. Two days later, on Saturday evening, she was dead.
We obtained a copy of Amber’s toxicology report, which indicates that she died of a “mixed drug intoxication.” Her blood tested positive for a cocktail of drugs including Xanax.
How, two days after she was admitted to a drug rehab center, could she have gotten her hands on so many drugs? That’s one question that an investigation is trying to determine.
Our sources tell us that criminal and civil investigations of Per Wickstrom’s drug rehab facilites throughout Michigan are ongoing — and we hear that ABC News is planning a major piece about Wickstrom’s mini-empire of Narconon centers in the near future.
Narconon has, in the past year, come out of nowhere to become one of Scientology’s biggest headaches. A reliable cash cow for years, Narconon centers in Oklahoma and Georgia became mired in law enforcement investigations and civil lawsuits in the wake of several patient deaths. Troubles at Narconon’s flagship facility in Oklahoma — Narconon Arrowhead — became the focus of NBC’s Rock Center (a program that was recently cancelled). And now, we hear, government agencies are beginning to take a harder look at the network of rehab centers in places like Michigan, Florida, and California.
Complaints are being raised about the Michigan centers that are similar to what we’ve seen in litigation about Narconon in other parts of the country — that Wickstrom, for example, operates numerous generic-looking websites that appear to offer impartial advice but actually are set up to drive people to his Narconon-based centers, and that the connection between the centers and Scientology is not mentioned until patients arrive and then are put through Scientology training rather than drug counseling.
Per Wickstrom, meanwhile, is no stranger to litigation — earlier this year, Best Drug Rehabilitation sued several people for daring to post anonymous criticisms of the rehab center at the Ripoff Report website. Five of those suits were recently settled, and their complaints were posted on a new website, NarcononReviews.net, that is aiming to be a comprehensive destination for Narconon news around the country.
The defendants in those five lawsuits were all represented by a Lansing, Michigan attorney by the name of Jeffrey Ray — a name that will have an interesting resonance for readers of this website, who are used to hearing about litigation against the Church of Scientology handled by San Antonio attorney Ray Jeffrey.
Jeffrey Ray not only defended the five people who were sued for defamation by Wickstrom, he is also the attorney representing Richard Teague, a man suing Wickstrom’s businesses who was disfigured during his stay at a Narconon center in a Wickstrom-owned building.
On January 14, 2011, at a facility in Albion, Michigan — Narconon Freedom Center — Teague was found to be going through Benzodiazeprine Withdrawal Syndrome, according to the court complaint, but he was left alone in his room, unsupervised, where he used a lighter and an aerosol can to light himself on fire. That lawsuit, which alleges fraud, negligence, and breach of contract, is ongoing.
Carnegie Mellon Professor Dave Touretzky brought the defamation lawsuits to our attention. He pointed to the remarkable job Jeff Ray did in the briefs answering the suits (which, as we said, were settled — and we don’t know on what terms).
In this representative brief, Ray accuses Wickstrom of using the defamation suits as a way to expunge negative reviews about his business from Google searches.
This, then, is the negative review from just one of those lawsuits that Wickstrom reportedly wanted removed from Google searches, reproduced here as a direct quotation from a privileged court document…
Horrified! I originally called a drug hot line and was referred to this place. Later learning that Owen was most likely an employee working for [Best Drug Rehabilitation] I was ready to bring my son to this facility and a last minute check and I couldn’t believe the information I was reading. Everything I was warned about in this review was exactly what I was, sales pitched by this facility. They said that my insurance co. would pay for everything and I needed to just change my address to 121 Capital Ave NE (admin office) so they could receive the insurance checks.
I called my insurance and they said they have never heard of Best Drug Rehab and that I should never do this. They said that would be considered unethical practice and insurance fraud.
I also had a red flag when I was told my son could pick any type of treatment and Scientology was offered. I do not consider this to be Christian. Which means Christ. I also was uneasy about dropping him off to a place that would be 4 hrs away from where he would be transferred, without even seeing the facility. I am so glad that God has given me a uneasy feeling and that I further researched this place before sending my vulnerable son here.
I hope this helps keep anyone from almost making a huge mistake!!!!
Our sources tell us additional lawsuits will be hitting Wickstrom’s businesses in the near future.
Wickstrom himself is an interesting character. Unlike some of the other people who own or run Narconon centers, Per Wickstrom appears to seek the limelight and enjoys rubbing shoulders with “celebrities,” as can be seen in several videos he’s posted to YouTube. Here’s a representative segment…
Hey look, Cathy Rigby.
Mark Bunker on the the Janine Turner Show
Bunker talks about Leah Remini on a unique show — Janine Turner shares some of her tales encountering Scientology as an actress…
Posted by Tony Ortega on July 31, 2013 at 07:00
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