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WOW: California judge orders trial to determine if Scientology drugged incoming rehab patients


[Judge Edward Chen | Photo: Hillary Jones-Mixon]

On April 1, we told you about a class-action lawsuit that had been filed against several of Scientology’s drug rehab companies in California. A judge has now ruled against Scientology in the lawsuit’s preliminary matters and has called for a trial that should put explosive evidence in a courtroom — that Scientology’s Narconon centers get new patients high on whatever they’re addicted to before they can be admitted.

Two plaintiffs were named in the lawsuit; their attorneys planned for there to be many more former Narconon patients suing the Scientology rehab system. The plaintiffs, Nathan Burgoon of California and Caleb Landers of Pennsylvania, each alleged what we’ve seen in so many other lawsuits against the Scientology rehab centers: That they promise individualized drug counseling delivered by medical professionals with astounding success rates, and don’t mention their connection to the Church of Scientology. But after patients have paid around $30,000 up front, they then learn that the Narconon program contains no drug counseling at all, but instead delivers the same kind of introductory exercises that a new member gets at a Scientology church.

That bait and switch is the essential allegation in this lawsuit. The Narconon companies being sued filed motions to compel, asking that the former patients abide by contracts they had signed and go to arbitration rather than proceed with the lawsuit. (A similar strategy by Scientology worked to derail the fraud lawsuit of Luis and Rocio Garcia recently.)

But Burgoon and Landers argue that they shouldn’t be held to those contracts because when they signed them, they were high as kites — and their condition had been encouraged by the Narconon centers where they were taken. The Narconon companies deny that, but federal district Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco decided that this disagreement was a question of fact that could be decided in a trial. So he’s put off the motions to compel arbitration, and he’s called for a courtroom showdown.

It’s a pretty stunning development. A trial will allow Burgoon and Landers to call other former patients as witnesses who can testify that they were driven to their dealers by Narconon staffers to get high before they were admitted, an allegation we’ve seen numerous times in other lawsuits.


Jonathan_Little2“These are very bad facts. You’re a drug rehab center and you’re taking new patients to their dealer to get dope,” says Jonathan Little (pictured), one of the attorneys working for Burgoon and Landers. “We’re going to have a trial to determine whether people are going into Narconon high.”

ADDED NOTE: A lot of readers are asking why Narconon would want to get incoming patients high. We’ve run into this allegation before in other lawsuits, and it has to do with Narconon’s evolution in more recent years. Narconon advertises itself as a drug-free program, and so it is ill-equipped to handle serious withdrawal. Often, when a patient would come in while suffering withdrawal, the patient would first have to be sent to a hospital to dry out before starting the Narconon program. Seeing this as a wasted business opportunity, many of the Narconon facilities have opened up their own separate medical detox facilities, where patients can go through withdrawal and, more importantly, the detox facility can charge the medical insurance of the patient. (The drug-free Narconon program doesn’t usually involve insurance, which is why it asks for the $30,000 up front.) Former Narconon officials have told us that incoming patients are taken to get high so they can qualify for the medical detox and the insurance payments. Here’s what former Narconon executive Eric Tenorio said in our comments…


(End of added note.)

Things in federal court move at a glacial pace, so the trial may not happen for many months. But considering how many other suits against Narconon are still in discovery phase or dealing with motions to dismiss, and are usually working towards a settlement, it seems unusual for a trial to be set. But Chen sounds determined: “The parties are ordered to meet and confer and to file a joint proposed trial plan within two weeks of the date of this order,” he writes.

Little says he’s encouraged by the development, and looks forward to putting on evidence Narconon will find difficult to refute. “They’re hurting people. People are physically being hurt by Narconon. It needs to be stopped,” he says. “We have more calls and people asking to hire us than we could ever handle. I can’t imagine what it’s like at Ryan Hamilton’s office.”

As we’ve seen in other lawsuits involving Scientology, the church’s strategy is to file motion after motion to delay or derail rather than to settle or go to trial.

“If Narconon and Scientology want to have a decade-long war, I have nothing else to do and I’m not going away,” Little says.

Little adds that he expects that another decision to go to trial may be coming soon in another case filed by his firm, Saeed and Little of Indianapolis. That case involves a Michigan woman named Candice Tyler who alleges horrific mistreatment at Narconon Freedom Center, a rehab associated with Per Wickstrom (he owns the building) in Albion, Michigan.

“She got sick during the Narconon sauna and niacin treatment and went to a hospital. They found that she was allergic to niacin and told her not to take any more of it. But when she was taken back to Narconon, they gave it to her anyway,” Little says.

Meanwhile, he adds, Scientology is suing its own insurers — we’ve seen several cases of this ourselves — because their insurers want to settle Narconon lawsuits rather than fight them. “It’s really unusual,” Little says. “AIG wants to settle. Scientology wants to fight. Well, we’re prepared to go the distance with them.”

Take a look at Judge Chen’s decision, and give us your thoughts.


Burgoon v. Narconon: Order re trial


Gibney compares Apple ‘cult’ and Scientology

Hey, our old outfit, the Village Voice, has a nice piece this morning about Alex Gibney giving a talk after a screening of his new documentary on Steve Jobs. During his talk, Gibney made a parallel to one of his other great films this year, his documentary on Scientology, Going Clear

“There is a cult of Mac,” Gibney says. “And there are certain parallels with the Church of Scientology. I’m not aware, though, of people showing up, Apple technicians, showing up on doorsteps with GoPros on their foreheads trying to intimidate you in that way.

“There is a passion for the person and the products that’s so deep that any criticism can’t be tolerated, and that I do find interesting. Why should that be? Can’t we discuss how pitifully paid the workers are in China and how bad the environment is there, even as we may admire some of the technological aspects of the Apple products? But there seems to be a need to deify that stuff in a way that brooks all criticism, and that does approach the religious.”



We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Tony Ortega’s upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

Sept 15: Phoenix, Barrett the Honors College, Arizona State University, ASU in Downtown Phoenix campus, Walter Cronkite Theater, 5:30 pm

Sept 23: Cleveland, Parma Heights Library, 7pm sponsored by Center for Inquiry – Northeast Ohio

Sept 24: Minneapolis, sponsored by Minnesota Atheists — venue TBD

Sept 27: Portland, Friendly House, 1737 NW 26th Ave, 12:45 pm, sponsored by Humanists of Portland

Sept 28: Seattle, Razzi’s Pizzeria, 7 pm, with Seattle Skeptics and Seattle Atheists

Sept 29: Vancouver, BC, Seven Dining Lounge, 7 pm

Oct 23: Sydney, Giant Dwarf Theatre (with Sen. Nick Xenophon)

Oct 25: Melbourne, venue secured (announcement coming later)

Oct 28: Adelaide (with Sen. Nick Xenophon)

Oct 30: Perth

Past dates: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24)


Posted by Tony Ortega on August 28, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward

UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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