The Scientology-linked drug rehabilitation program known as Narconon of Georgia is again in trouble with the law. This time, agents from the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's office and Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter are looking for evidence of insurance fraud.
Armed with a search warrant, half a dozen agents, accompanied by two Gwinnett County Police officers, searched the Narconon offices in Norcross, questioning employees as they showed up for work and hauling away more than a dozen computers and boxes full of documents.
"We have credible information that indicates that insurance fraud is taking place with Narconon," said Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.
Much of that information was supplied by the family of 19-year old Emily Morton of Rome, who said Narconon tried to bill United Health Care $166,000 for her treatment after they were told they had paid the bill in full - $15,000 cash.
"They were billing for doctor visits – one amount was for $58,000.00. And she never even saw the doctor," Morton said.
The doctor visits were billed under two names: Dr. Casey Locarnini at the Dunwoody Urgent Care Clinic and Dr. Lisa Robbins at the Robbins Health Care Alliance in Stone Mountain.
When asked about billings for treatment of Emily Morton, Dawn Warner, an employee of Robbins Health Care Alliance, emailed the following statement:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have NEVER authorized Narcanon or anyone associated with Narcanon to bill ANY insurance under Dr. Robbins. We have NOT seen any of Narcanon's students in several years. Since this does not effect the privacy of our patients, I can tell you we have never seen a patient named Emily Morton. If they indeed did bill under Dr. Robbins this is insurance fraud. I would like to find out how many times they have done this sort of thing. I simply cannot believe that Narcanon would have the gall to try something like this again. Thank you for your assistance.
Similarly, News-Talk WSB received a statement from Douglas Chalmers, Jr., an attorney who represents Dr. Locarnini:
"A number of weeks ago, Dr. Locarnini provided notice that he was terminating his contract with Narconon. This past week, he retained our law firm to fully investigate the billing issues that have been brought to his attention…. For a variety of reasons, including protecting the privacy and confidentiality of his patients, he is not able to comment further at this time."
Hudgens said both Warner and Locarnini were cooperating with his office.
"From talking to some of the physicians," Hudgens told WSB's Pete Combs, "They have not performed the services that have been billed for."
Georgia law states that only a person, not a corporation, can be charged with insurance fraud.
Investigators hauling away computers and documents said they were looking for who might have been responsible for any false billings to insurance companies. Not only will they analyze the documents for that information, but they will also analyze the computers themselves.
"Each individual normally has passwords. So if we can tie down the password to the person, then we will be able to determine who it was that submitted the claims," said Insurance Commission Fraud Unit Lead Investigator Sherry Mowell.
Friday's raid was the latest in a series of legal challenges confronting Narconon, which critics have claimed is controlled by the Church of Scientology.
In February, Narconon of Georgia and its parent company, Narconon International, settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit in the death of patient Patrick Desmond in 2008. That investigation led to the initiation of licensure revocation proceedings by the Georgia Department of Community Health.
Narconon's flagship facility, Arrowhead in southeastern Oklahoma, is embroiled in several lawsuits over the deaths of four patients. In all, Narconon facilities nationwide face approximately 20 lawsuits.
An attorney for former Narconon of Georgia Executive Director Mary Reiser said he was withholding comment on Friday's raid until he could get a look at the search warrant.