Tulsa - The CEO of Narconon Arrowhead told the Tulsa World last week the facility offers a "finder's fee" to find drug rehabilitation patients, which he said is a common practice among rehab facilities.
Narconon Arrowhead CEO Gary W. Smith said the facility pays finder's fees to about a dozen interventionists or "field representatives" on a regular basis.
"We're not the only program that does this," Smith said. "It's not an uncommon practice."
Drug addiction counselors and former students of Narconon also confirmed they make tens of thousands every year from finder's fees and more from interventions.
The facility is under investigation after three patient deaths there in less than a year.
An investigation of Narconon by the Tulsa World also found a network of more than 200 websites.
It's not unusual for the families of people addicted to drugs to turn to the Internet for help. Hillary Holten's family did it. Stacy Murphy's family did, too, according to family spokesmen.
Murphy, a 20-year-old from Owasso, and Holten, a 21-year-old from Carrollton, Texas, found their way to Narconon Arrowhead, a drug detoxification center rooted in Scientology.
Both women, "students" of the facility, died there before completing the program. Murphy died July 19 and Holten on April 11.
Since their deaths and the October 2011 death of Gabriel Graves, a 32-year-old Claremore man, the drug rehab facility has been under investigation by multiple state agencies for alleged criminal and statutory violations, agency officials have confirmed.
Several former Narconon students or families of students interviewed by the World said they contacted drug addiction counselors through various websites. The counselors then recommended the family look into Narconon for rehab.
Search the Internet for help with drug rehab, and there's a chance you'll find one of 235 websites owned and operated by Dena Goad of Bixby. Goad owns her own business involving 1-800-hotline numbers attached to her websites, she said.
Her 235 websites include OklahomaDrugRehabs.net, HeroinAddictionTreatments.net, MethRehab.org and AddictionTreatmentTexas.org, according to the sites' registration.
Goad, who said she was a former drug addict, graduated from Narconon before she started her business several years ago. Goad's family found Narconon through an Internet search, she said.
Goad and her husband, Christopher Clancy, do interventions for people around the nation, she said.
Clancy charges between $500 and $750 usually, plus airfare if he flies, Goad said.
On top of the intervention fee, Goad earns a "finder's fee" from drug rehabs, usually 2 percent to 5 percent of whatever the patient pays to the facility, she said.
According to Narconon's IRS filings as a nonprofit, the program paid $161,757 to Goad in 2008.
Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, said offering a finder's fee is a questionable practice.
"We, as an advocacy program, find that unethical and inappropriate," Brose said.
Smith declined to be specific about the amount of finder's fees.
Smith said the rehab facility's own 800 hotline gets nearly 2,000 calls per week and can only accept 10 people at the most.
Asked why the organization needs to pay a finder's fee if it gets 2,000 calls a week, Smith said it's the facility's policy.
"That's the way we are set up, so I don't know what to tell you," he said. "Again, we're not the only one that does this. It doesn't violate any law."
The organization's 2008, 2009 and 2010 tax filings don't specify how much was spent on finder's fees but lists more than $4 million spent on salaries, other compensation and employee benefits in 2010.
Goad's contracted service in the 2008 filing amounting to more than $161,000, records show.
Smith confirmed Goad's services were for finder's fees.
Narconon in Oklahoma
Narconon has had a 20-year history in Oklahoma, and its parent company, Narconon International, has rehabilitation programs across the world, according to information produced by the company. The programs include more than 20 in the U.S. and programs in the Netherlands, Ukraine, Taiwan, Spain, South Africa and more, the company claims.
Narconon Arrowhead, the Oklahoma branch and flagship training site for other programs, has treated more than 10,000 people for drug addiction since beginning in the state and boasts a success rate higher than 70 percent, according to a news release sent by the organization.
The Narconon program has become a target of national criticism and virtual attacks by the online hacker-backed group Anonymous due to its deep ties to Scientology.
The program's unorthodox approach to treatment includes five-hour daily sauna sessions and ingesting vitamins. Additionally, the patrons go through training based on teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, according to literature used at the facility.
Narconon currently has about 170 staff, Smith said. Among the staff are seven licensed practical nurses, one medical director who is a licensed doctor of osteopathic medicine, three licensed alcohol and drug counselors and about 33 other specially trained or certified staff, according to a news release.
The Oklahoma program is currently certified through the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The state Health Department is also involved in the Narconon investigation to determine whether all certification standards have been met, a department spokesman confirmed.
Investigations by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office are also ongoing.