Drug Rehab Center Tricked Patient Into Studying Scientology, Lawsuit Says

The LAist/February 3, 2014

By Jean Trinh

A family has sued Narconon Fresh Start for disguising itself as a drug rehabilitation facility when it is really a center for teaching Scientology practices, such as screaming commands at ashtrays.

The family of patient Jack Welch claims in the lawsuit that the "program has patients unwittingly practicing and studying Scientology in place of counseling for substance abuse." The lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 29, accuses Narconon of breach of contract, fraud and negligence, according to Tony Ortega of The Underground Bunker. The suit can be viewed in its entirety here.

While Stacy Welch was looking for a drug rehab center for her 19-year-old son Jack Welch, she ran across a website that appeared to be independent. A consultant from the site called her and told her to send Jack to the "Fresh Start" program, and never made any mention of Narconon. He told the family that they needed to get their son into Fresh Start as soon as possible or he "would wind up dead."

He set the parents up for a phone call with Fresh Start's Intake Director, Josh Penn, who told them the facility had a 76 percent success rate (while Ortega reported "even Narconon’s own legal affairs officer has admitted that there’s no science for the ludicrous success rates the program claims").

The family, believing the consultant's word on the success rate, agreed to pay a non-refundable $33,000 upfront fee to the company. While Jack's father, David Welch, voiced concerns he thought that he saw a reference to a L. Ron Hubbard book on the Fresh Start website, Penn assured him that it had "nothing to do with Scientology."

Scientology claims it is not affiliated with Narconon. Karin Pouw, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology told LAist, "The Church has no information about this suit. We are not a party to it."

The Welch family signed a contract with "Fresh Start" that identified the program as secular. The contract mentioned that William Benitrez, who started the program, was inspired by a book called The Fundamentals of Thought; however, the family believes the full title of the book, Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought was left out on purpose to disguise its religious affiliations.

Fresh Start told Jack that he needed to go to a medical detox program in Murrieta, Calif. before entering rehab. The suit claims there were no medical personnel on site, and that the staffers at the detox center drank alcohol. Fresh Start charged an extra $3,250 for this treatment, which the Welches didn't realize until after the fact.

When he arrived at the rehab facility in Caliente, Nevada, Jack had to sign a statement affirming he wasn't a journalist (one of Scientology's top enemies) and wouldn't sue Narconon. He wasn't allowed to speak to his family on the phone for weeks after he arrived. When he was allowed to talk on the phone, a Narconon staff member would be in the room with him; he says he and the other people there were afraid to speak badly about the center in fear of the backlash from staff members.

Jack claimed that the staff members didn't have any medical or counseling qualifications—except for having gone through the program themselves. Jack says nobody ever spoke to him about his drug abuse once. The students would have to read books written by L. Ron Hubbard, "scream commands at ashtrays at the top of their lungs," and participate in a form of auditing at the center.

Jack also alleges the facility made the patients practice a "Purification Rundown" which required them to take up to 5,000 mg of Niacin a day after vigorous exercise and then sit in a sauna for six hours a day for five weeks. If they complained about the Niacin, they would be punished, including having to spend more hours in the sauna. The lawsuit says:

"Jack experienced severe dehydration, headaches, and persistent diarrhea during the sauna program. The Niacin made his skin feel as if he had a bad, lasting sunburn. He observed many of his fellow students likewise becoming ill during the sauna program. Each time Jack complained to the staff supervisor on duty about his severe headaches and feeling ill, he was told to get back in the ‘Box’ and, ‘What turns it on, turns it off’."

Jack's parents rescued him from the facility after he called them on Nov. 19 and hinted to his family he needed to leave. The lawsuit claims Jack has sustained tremors, anxiety and paranoia from his time at Narconon.

A Las Vegas CBS 8 reporter, Nathan Baca, reported on the Caliente Narconon location in 2012 and interviewed patients and former employees speaking out against the facility (who had similar claims to the Welch family). He said Narconon was "rarely inspected" and "isolated from the outside world."

The Star reported there is an ongoing investigation at the Narconon's Oklahoma facility after three families have filed lawsuits over three clients who have died there. Rev. Yvette Shank, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, told the Star that although Narconon “has its origins” in the religious writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is a “secular” program that “teaches no belief system.”

One of Narconon's most notorious patients is Johnny Lewis, a "Sons Of Anarchy" actor who killed his 81-year-old landlady and her cat at a Los Feliz home before jumping to his death in 2012. Lewis was the son of two Scientologists, and he went through the Narconon program in 2004. His photo was on the Narconon website until his death.

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