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State investigators fired for blowing the whistle on Scientology’s rehabs get hearing in Denver

[Rachel Bussett had a big day at the Byron White U.S. Courthouse in Denver]

Yesterday, attorney Rachel Bussett argued before the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, and we caught up with her after she’d gone through the heady experience.

“I’m feeling good about it. The heads in the courtroom were nodding,” she told us. It was a big moment for the 41-year-old Oklahoma City lawyer representing two former Oklahoma state investigators, Kim Poff and Michael DeLong, who found terrible conditions at Scientology’s flagship drug rehab, Narconon Arrowhead, but when they recommended that it be shut down after a series of deaths in 2012, their bosses buried the report and fired them when they complained.

Poff and DeLong filed suit over their terminations, but their cases were gutted and then dismissed by the district court in Oklahoma. Bussett was in Denver to argue to the appeals court that the lower court erred when it considered the retaliation claim in DeLong’s lawsuit but not in Poff’s, who had also sued over gender discrimination.

The meat of their lawsuits, Bussett says, was the claim that they had been fired because they dared to complain that their bosses were too afraid to take on the Church of Scientology. The suits should not have been dismissed without considering the retaliation claim in both — that was Bussett’s argument to the appellate judges, and she felt she got a good reception.

A decision from the court may not be coming for six months or more, she says, which puts back yet again the chances we’ll get our hands on the central document in these cases — the actual investigative report that Poff and DeLong wrote after studying conditions at Narconon Arrowhead, where three patients had died over a nine month period ending with the overdose death of Stacy Murphy on July 19, 2012.

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Bussett pointed out to us, however, that the state civil trial over Stacy Murphy’s death is rapidly approaching — it’s scheduled for May in Tulsa, and we know from our previous reporting that the attorney representing Stacy Murphy’s family, Gary Richardson, also received a copy of the Poff and DeLong report under court order. Will the trial finally give us access to the report, as well as the many depositions that Richardson has taken while he investigated numerous deaths at the facility?

Narconon Arrowhead remains open, but we’ve received reports from our sources that it’s operating on fumes, with just a handful of patients in a facility that was built to house 250. Oklahoma was the place where Scientology leader David Miscavige was trying to take Narconon in a new direction — large facilities that not only brought in steady income but also might qualify for government subsidies and insurance plans. After opening a clinic on an Indian reservation in 1990, Narconon moved to the large center on Lake Arrowhead in 2002. But the deaths of Gabriel Graves, Hillary Holten, and Stacy Murphy between October 2011 and July 2012 made even sleepy Oklahoma government agencies take notice. Attorneys also took notice, and over the next three years dozens of lawsuits were filed against Narconon facilities not only in Oklahoma but also in California, Nevada, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, and Michigan.

The deaths had made more public what activists had long tried to warn the public about Narconon — not only that it was a Scientology front, but that instead of the drug counseling it promises, patients are put through beginning Scientology training, the same exercises and processes that are delivered in Scientology churches. Lawsuits also alleged substandard conditions and facilities that were rife with drug use and even drugs traded for sex. (The staffs of Narconon clinics are made up by recent graduates of the program.)

Scientology paid to make many of those lawsuits go away, and Miscavige shifted to a new focus for his rehab empire: Instead of big facilities looking for tax money, he’s gone to small, boutique clinics aimed at wealthy and celebrity clients. So a new Narconon in Ojai, California, for example, was housed in Larry Hagman’s estate, which the church paid $5 million for. It has only six beds, the maximum allowed for it to remain unregulated in the state of California. Exclusive, unregulated, quiet — that’s what Miscavige has shifted to after being sued so many times.

Bussett, meanwhile, tells us there’s another way that documents may be coming: After Kim Poff was fired by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services (ODMHSAS), she was hired at the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS), but she then was let go from that position after we reported on her lawsuit against ODMHSAS. So then, Bussett filed another wrongful termination lawsuit against DHS, and she says it’s moving into discovery.

We asked Bussett about how her clients were coping since being fired. She said that Poff is now working in Colorado. “She couldn’t get another job in Oklahoma. And Michael has gone back to school because he can’t really work in law enforcement.”

Well, we hope that before too long, we can obtain and make public the actual work they did investigating Scientology’s rehab empire, which their bosses then buried. We figure they’re owed that much, at least.

 
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Aaron Smith-Levin on Leah Remini

Says Aaron: “In this video I discuss Leah Remini’s invitation to have any current Scientologist appear on her A&E series, Scientology and the Aftermath, and why, based on church policy, it can’t happen.”

 

 
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HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.

 
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Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,698 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,801 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,295 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,335 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,047 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 514 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,632 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,802 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,122 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,097 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 453 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,755 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 862 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,264 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,137 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 718 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,223 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,467 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,576 days.

 
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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on March 23, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail 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. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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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