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Investigation of Scientology Drug Rehab Program in Georgia Shifts to Credit Card Fraud

CreditCardsJodie Fleischer of WSB-TV reported today that things just got a lot worse for Scientology’s drug rehab program in the Atlanta area.

When state investigators and county police raided Narconon Georgia on April 26, we knew they were looking for evidence of insurance fraud. But now Gwinnett County DA Danny Porter tells Fleischer that he’s also looking into multiple cases of credit card fraud at the facility that resulted from Narconon officials allegedly taking out cards in the names of patients without their permission — and then charging them to their maximum extent.

If that sounds familiar, you may remember our story from March 21, when attorney Gary Richardson filed five new lawsuits against Scientology’s flagship rehab center in Oklahoma, Narconon Arrowhead. In one of those lawsuits, former Narconon patient Sue Anne Newman alleged that two credit cards had been taken out in her name by Narconon officials, and she was charged $14,500 without her knowledge or permission.

Pete Combs of WSB Radio also posted his own story on the new credit card development, as the local media juggernaut keeps up the heat on Narconon Georgia. (Here’s the link to Pete’s story.)

In his story, Combs cites the Newman lawsuit in Oklahoma as one example of alleged credit card fraud, and then details three other cases from the Georgia facility:

— Jonathan Dacy, 28, was facing jail charges for shoplifting and was withdrawing from a severe pain medication addiction when his family was convinced to send him to Narconon because of its claims of an 80-percent success rate and interest-free loans to pay for his treatment. After Jonathan was enrolled, however, they were told he didn’t qualify for the loans, and they convinced his brother, Scott Maxim, to co-sign a loan. After that, Maxim suddenly started receiving new credit cards in the mail with charges that totaled $10,300. Maxim had never approved the cards or the charges.

— Aaron Anderson, 24, developed pneumonia and admitted to his parents that he had a heroin addiction. His parents were asked by Narconon officials for $5,000 up front and the rest would be financed. After turning over their private information, they suddenly began receiving credit cards that had been maxed out to $11,000. They were furious.

— Blaze Burgess was trying to kick an addiction to Oxycodone. His father, a firefighter, was shocked when Narconon took out four credit cards in his name with charges totaling more than $19,000.

Jonathan Dacy

Jonathan Dacy

To make matters worse, Blaze Burgess, Jonathan Dacy, and Sue Anne Newman never completed the Narconon program — and Blaze told his father he figured out that was part of the deal. Ben Burgess alleges that Narconon finds a way to kick out patients after they can’t get more money out of them, even if they’ve paid for the full treatment. He insists that his son Blaze was kicked out for an infraction that was fabricated.

Dacy never spent a day at the Narconon Georgia facility despite all the money that was taken out in his name. His family was told his detox at another facility was taking too long, and he was told to leave. Combs reports that about a month later, Dacy was found dead in a ravine not far from his home. His parents are still trying to pay off the credit card balances for treatment their son never even received.

Combs also quotes Luke Catton, former president of Narconon Arrowhead, who says that taking out credit cards and maxing them out, even when patients didn’t authorize it, was just another part of Narconon’s deceptive practices.

“They look for insurance, second mortgages, and credit cards. They look for services that allow you to apply for credit cards on the phone or online. They have to find the money. Money is the driving force, without a doubt,” Catton told Combs.

Gwinnett County DA Danny Porter told Combs that identity theft is a complex crime, especially when some patients apparently eventually did approve the cards that were taken out in their names. But he has five complaints that he’s looking into, and he took away a truckload of documents and computers in the April 26 raid. It could take months for him to go through all that material and decide what charges to file, if any.

Combs managed to get a statement from Narconon International President Clark Carr: “It would, of course, be contrary to Narconon’s policy to engage in the conduct you are alleging and I am unaware of it ever happening. Narconon International and all Narconons are bound by strict state and federal privacy laws. Therefore, we cannot discuss any details about any individuals or their loved ones that claim to have been involved with our program without their written authorization.”

It’s been stunning to watch Narconon develop into Scientology’s biggest problem over the past year — and it has been fueled by patient deaths in more than one location.

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 in February, the damning evidence in the case prompted the state of Georgia to revoke the facility’s license and begin a fraud investigation that resulted in the April 26 raid.

In Oklahoma, meanwhile, three deaths over a nine-month period ending in July 2012 has sparked multiple county and state investigations, and last week the state’s legislature passed a new bill aimed at tightening regulation of the drug rehab facility there.

 
UPDATE: Because this story went up late in the day — and because we are anticipating another breaking story on Tuesday afternoon — we’re going to keep this story at the top of the home page through the morning and postpone our regular Tuesday morning feature (Up the Bridge with Claire Headley) for another week.

SECOND UPDATE: Ixnay on the afternoon story. A situation out of our control moved something back a couple of days. But it will be worth it, we assure you. We’ll have something new in the morning.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on May 6, 2013 at 19:00

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