Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


A family’s Scientology drug rehab nightmare: The Narconon ‘Fresh Start’ scam strikes again

Twice recently we heard from families going through the now-familiar Narconon nightmare: Desperate to find help for a son or daughter, they are fooled by Scientology’s slick online operation that convinces parents they are talking to a legitimate drug rehab. And only after sending their loved one across the country at great expense do they learn that they’ve been suckered into Scientology’s unregulated, unsafe quack cold-turkey rehabs that deliver Scientology training, not drug counseling. One of those families is determined to fight back, and is allowing us to publish this account they wrote up of what they went through. We’re hoping at a later date to bring you more information about them, including their names, after they’ve had a chance to talk with attorney Graham Berry.

Our son is 54, and he has a serious addiction problem. As our medical care is obtained though BayCare of Florida, I searched the Internet for BayCare drug rehab centers for him. While reviewing the BayCare St Anthony’s Hospital of St. Petersburg website for help with drug addiction a phone number popped up stating “call for help with drug addiction.”

Thinking it was St Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg I called and spoke to Josh Penn who stated that with the type of addiction our son had it was extremely urgent that he get him help ASAP. Josh Penn sent a website that had information on the program called Fresh Start that looked and sounded like it would be of help. We were advised that it was a top notch facility. The treatment was professional and our son would be helped. He stated that there was a medical staff and certified counselors.

Josh Penn explained that there needed to be an intervention and since time was of the essence he would have someone call ASAP if we agreed. As we were at our wits’ end, we spoke to our son’s fiancée, who agreed that this was something we should try. We were physically and mentally exhausted and desperate.


Josh Penn sated that we would receive a call from the Admission Director, Dan Carmichael. We received a call from Dan Carmichael, Admissions Director, who stated that the facility was out of network with most insurance plans but that they would verify our son’s insurance. The most it could cost would be $20,000.00, but that they would work on that and maybe we would get some money back.

That same day we received a call from the interventionist, Tommy Widman. We agreed for him to come to our area from Ohio and begin the process. We had to give Tommy Widman our credit card number over the phone so that he could book an airplane ticket for the next day from Ohio to Tampa. We were apprehensive about providing our credit card number over the phone but we felt that we had to take a chance to get our son help.

The next day we picked Tommy Widman up from the Tampa airport. He requested that we stop for lunch. We then took him to the Quality Inn in Tarpon Springs in order to make a reservation for the evening. We then took him to our home in Palm Harbor to discuss the next steps.

We spent several hours talking about our son and what we wished for him. Tommy Widman said that this facility was the best rehabilitation center that he knew of and if his family was in need of care he would send them to this facility. Tommy stated that his wife was a counselor and sent many clients to this facility.

Tommy said that he needed to meet our son at his house the next morning as time was of the essence. He would explain to him what was happening and that he needed help immediately. He would explain that he had to get on a plane and agree to go to the rehab in California with him.

The next day we picked Tommy up at the motel at 7 the next morning and took him to meet with our son. Tommy took him into the garage where they spoke for about a half hour. Once they came out of the garage our son stated that he agreed to go with Tommy. Tommy requested our credit card again and booked two airplane tickets to California. We were on our way to the airport by 9 am that same day.

The fee for Tommy Widman to perform the intervention was $3,000. His check had to be written prior to leaving for the airport. The total charge for the plane ticket from Ohio and the two tickets to California plus the hotel room in Tarpon Springs was $1,856.56.

I told Dan Carmichael, the Admission Director, that we would need to get a home equity loan to pay for the treatment. He said that it would take too long and he needed $17,500 prior to admitting our son to the facility. I contacted my 401K provider to see if I could withdraw the funds from my 401K account. I was advised that the stock could not be sold until the next Monday and then I would need to wait for the check to be processed and sent to me. I explained why the urgency of the request and since I was so upset, the representative’s supervisor approved an emergency withdrawal and wired the funds directly to my checking account. At Dan Carmichael’s insistence I had to send Dan a copy of the check by text immediately.

Dan also pressed that I had to sign the enrollment form and fax it to him ASAP. I signed the contract under duress because Dan said it had to be at the facility before our son arrived to be be admitted.

After my bank provided a copy of the check that I texted to Dan, I found that they had altered what I wrote on the check and replaced it with a typed version. They did not change the monitory amount but they fraudulently altered my personal check.

After our son landed in California we did not hear from him at all. We received updates daily from Roger who said our son was relaxed and doing really great. Roger said he was taking him on sightseeing trips. Roger said he really liked our son and thought that he was a great guy. I asked Roger how the food was as that would be important to him. He said it was excellent. We assumed that our son was in good hands. Roger said that he would soon be transferred to the next phase at the mountain retreat.

A week later we received a call from a counselor who said she was taking care of our son at the mountain location. She said he was fine just not sleeping well. We spoke to her for about an hour providing as much information that we could hoping that it may help her with his recovery. We later found that she was not a counselor but a recent graduate of the program and not a licensed or certified counselor.

Four days after that I received a call from Tanner from the mountain location who stated that our son wanted to leave because it was not sanitary and had bugs. Tanner stated that since they were in the mountains there would bound to be bugs. He said that our son was just having problems with the program. I told him that I would look into his request to leave the program and call him back. I called multiple times but he never answered any of my calls. I later found out that Tanner too was a recent graduate of the program and not a licensed or certified counselor.

Our son called his fiancée and told her that he was certain that this was a cult and he had to get out of there ASAP. He pleaded with her to please get him a plane ticket home. He said the place was awful. It was dirty and full of bugs. They put him in a sauna for five hours at a time without any water. His room was terrible and the window was covered with only cardboard. The food was bad. He had to buy his own soda or drinks and hide them in his room. The gym was outside and freezing. He was not told to bring a coat with him.


Our son stated that the facility did not want him to leave. His fiancée tried to reach him to make sure that he was OK. We were all so upset that we were on our way to drive to California to pick him up. She finally heard from him and thankfully he was on his way to the airport.

We did not have the address of the California locations. Once we received the address of the mountain location at the Sunshine Summit Lodge at 35025 Highway 79 in Warner Springs CA we found that it was owned and run by Narconon Fresh Start and the Church of Scientology. The contract that I signed and the check I texted to Dan was for Fresh Start Programs. The release form and the claims submitted to the insurance company were submitted by Narconon.

As Catholics we would never have suggested that our son go to this facility.

The supervision and counselling were not performed by a licensed or certified addiction counselor but instead by recent graduates of the program, often with little more than a year of sobriety themselves. The facility was not clean and in good repair. Conditions differed considerably from what we were led to expect.

The medical insurance companies should be advised that this is healthcare fraud. And the claim should be reversed with the funds being returned. When our son got to the facility he was told that a bill in the amount of another $17,500 would be sent to his insurance company and he would be responsible for 50 percent of that plus a $6,000 deductible.

The public needs to be informed to prevent harm to others. Dan Carmichael’s name is listed on multiple complaints. These people prey on parents under duress to help their children need to be protected against this type of fraud.

We have calls in to the Scientology/Narconon officials named in the story and we’ll let you know if they respond.


Bryan Seymour teases 10-part series

We knew this was coming, but wow, ten parts. 7News Australia has put up a teaser trailer for Bryan Seymour’s upcoming story that will begin airing in a week. We’ll post the video when we can find an embeddable version.




Source Code

“I can very easily go 500 years ago back into France and give you the name, rank, and serial number of a lot of things, see? And I can give these things to you, but after I’ve run a few of them, I start running into ‘Let’s see, was her name Mary? or was it Marie? or was it … ? And did that happen at Agincourt? or was that at Poitiers?’ And next thing you know I’m in a fog. And if I go on this way very long, I’ll start wondering whether I even was alive yesterday because I haven’t entered it from a zone of certainty. See?” — L. Ron Hubbard, July 2, 1964


Overheard in the FreeZone

“It takes years to make a good auditor. It takes a lot of courage to be an auditor. An auditor faces in the preclear’s case all the horrors of the reactive mind, and gets the PC through it. Understand for an auditor to do a perfect job, he needs an organization that backs him up. In the freezone we don’t have the perfect set-up as auditors. We are missing the organization. We cope. Some auditors don’t have C/Ses. Some are not even trained in C/Sing and don’t use C/Ses. Some don’t have examiners. OK, so any auditing is better than no auditing, except auditing over missed withholds, but to get a person through the Bridge that takes a LOT of skill.”


Random Howdy

“OT 2 is where the bait and switch part of the long con kicks in. It switches from a pseudo Freudian-Jungian neo Buddhist self help scam to full blown Buck Rogers and Ming the Merciless malarkey. At this point Hubbard is softening up the marks for the big reveal that comes at OT 3.”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Arraignment scheduled for September 18.
Jay Spina, Medicare fraud: Sentencing is set for July 6 in White Plains, NY
Hanan and Rizza Islam and other family members, Medi-Cal fraud: Trial set for October 7 in Los Angeles

Civil litigation:
Luis and Rocio Garcia v. Scientology: Oral arguments set for July 30 at the Eleventh Circuit
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ Hearing on motion for reconsideration set for August 11
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: July 8 (plaintiff attorneys pro hac vice), August 31-Sept 1 (CSI/RTC demurrer against Riales, Masterson demurrer), Oct 7-19 (motions to compel arbitration)
Jane Doe v. Scientology (in Miami): Jane Doe dismissed the lawsuit on May 15 after the Clearwater Police dropped their criminal investigation of her allegations.
Matt and Kathy Feschbach bankruptcy appeal: Oral arguments were heard on March 11 in Jacksonville
Brian Statler Sr v. City of Inglewood: Amended complaint filed.


Scientology’s celebrities, ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and more!

[Jenna Elfman, Giovanni Ribisi, and Greta Van Susteren]

We’ve been building landing pages about David Miscavige’s favorite playthings, including celebrities and ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and we’re hoping you’ll join in and help us gather as much information as we can about them. Head on over and help us with links and photos and comments.

Scientology’s celebrities, from A to Z! Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Scientology’s ‘Ideal Orgs,’ from one end of the planet to the other! Help us build up pages about each these worldwide locations!

Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society!

Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in our weekly series. How many have you read?



[ONE year ago] Introducing ‘The Cult Awareness Podcast,’ recorded at HowdyCon 2019 in Los Angeles
[TWO years ago] Freed files: Scenes from a government investigation of Scientology
[THREE years ago] Facing government opposition, Scientology prepares to play dirty
[FOUR years ago] Field report: Visiting the mission that told the Church of Scientology to take a hike
[FIVE years ago] How to read a tabloid magazine story about the Church of Scientology: A primer
[SIX years ago] Scientology litigation update: The Garcias respond, and the NAFC plays hardball
[SEVEN years ago] Scientology Turns Over Documents, Laura DeCrescenzo Begins Process to Review Them
[EIGHT years ago] Tom Cruise’s Former Scientology Auditor: “He Should Let Katie Have Everything She Wants”
[NINE years ago] Scientology Fireworks! Commenters of the Week, Independence Day Edition


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 1,986 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,490 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 2,010 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,030 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 921 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,228 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,096 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,870 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,674 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,990 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 11,556 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,475 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 3,643 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,224 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,485 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,523 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,236 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,761 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,291 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,851 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,991 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,311 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,166 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,286 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,641 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,944 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,050 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,452 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,324 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,907 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,402 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,656 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,765 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on July 2, 2020 at 06:15

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post 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 new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, 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 can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2019 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2019), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | 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 | Shelly Miscavige, 14 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 | 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

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email