I-Team: Patients Struggle at Scientology Rehab Center

CBS KLAS-TV 8 News, Las Vegas/October 31, 2012

Caliente, Nevada - Former patients and employees are speaking out about a Nevada drug rehab center they describe as having mold and lice – and requires patients to try to move objects with their mind.

Narconon, an unlicensed rehabilitation center in Caliente, Nev., is connected to the Church of Scientology, but many parents sending their children there claim they were never told that.

The I-Team has been investigating Narconon for nearly three years. The center is about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas in Lincoln County.

It's rarely inspected and is isolated from the outside world.

A break on the pool table for a game between a once-broken family, when a drug addiction tore the Vandergriend family apart.

Justin Vandergriend, an opiate addict, went into therapy, paid for by his parents for a sum of $35,000.

He described the therapy he received as not conventional.

"Talking to walls, sitting two inches from somebody in a chair, looking them eye to eye," Vandergriend said, describing his therapy. "Almost as if you're trying to steal their soul and if you were to move, flinch, act irritated whatsoever, they would throw you out and put you back in for a new two hours."

He also said he had 42 days of sauna detoxification treatments.

"After 15,000 milligrams of niacin, it's pretty much a hot burn that goes through your skin," he said.

Narconon's therapy books are written by the late L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

Hubbard's religion taught that the body was infested by alien spirits he called thetans.

Hubbard wrote in 1968 the spirits dated back 75 million years ago from a galactic civil war against an overlord named Xenu.

"There was times they would throw an ashtray up there and they would say, 'Try to levitate this with your mind. Control this ashtray,'" Vandergriend said.

Recovering alcoholic John Anchondo is another former Narconon patient.

"It's crazy," he said. "How do you tell an ashtray to lift up? I mean, come on."

He said that inevitably failing the ashtray test set patients back.

"They say, 'You flunk,'" Anchondo said.

After completing the program, Narconon chose Anchondo to sell the treatment plan to other families.

Anchondo said Narconon deceptively markets themselves to parents.

Justin Vandergriend's mother, Camille, said she called a number of 800 numbers trying to find a drug rehab center for her son.

"I talked to one gal who I was very impressed with and she in turn had a representative call me back," Camille Vandergriend said. "Unbeknownst to me, he was a representative from Narconon."

A source currently employed at Narconon told the I-Team they buy up several of the top websites shown on Google for drug rehab, redirecting calls to a Narconon phone bank.

"It was all bull****," Anchondo said. "The whole thing was to get them into our centers. If they didn't have money, then we'd refer them out to some homeless -- but man, I was good.

Anchondo further claimed Narconon's finely-polished marketing effort was built on lies.

"I'd tell them, 'Look. Either they're going to die, or you know, send them to us.' I'm not going to lie to you. I did save a lot of people. The thing was, they didn't understand it was Scientology. You couldn't tell them that. It was like, why?'"

Anchondo said the secrecy came from the "top of the brass."

Caliente is the kind of town built around a train stop where the train doesn't stop anymore.

There is one thing that does stops here -- people's willingness to talk on camera about Narconon.

Just south of the town, the Narconon lodge is on a hillside surrounded by ranch land.

The I-Team attempted to speak with Narconon management.

At first, a woman named Kate approached the I-Team and declined an interview.

Another manager a day later gave the I-Team a cease-and-desist letter.

The I-Team then headed toward the former Caliente Hot Springs Motel in town.

Narconon leases the motel and keeps patients there.

"There's mold in our room," Justin Vandergriend said. "Within the first two nights, me and my roommate Yann were experiencing bites from bed bugs."

After the I-Team's visit to Caliente, Narconon sent an overnight package to 8 News NOW.

It included promotional materials and a letter from the executive director thanking the I-Team for their time and attention.

Inside were dozens of testimonial letters from former patients. But because their names were not included, the I-Team cannot verify their statements.

Vandergriend said he received the therapy he needed, not from Narconon, but from another drug rehab center.

The smiles and the fun the Vandergriend family have now hide a pain -- a pain in feeling they nearly lost their son, not from what his family didn't do, but in where they chose to send him.

Camille Vandergriend said she "absolutely" let her son down.

Narconon is not licensed as a drug rehab facility in the state of Nevada but is allowed to operate because of what some officials call a gaping loophole.

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