State officials called to testify before grand jury on Narconon Arrowhead

Tulsa World/August 17, 2014

By Ziva Branstetter

State officials and a former Narconon Arrowhead executive have been called to testify before a multicounty grand jury that is investigating the drug rehabilitation facility, where three patients have died since 2011, the Tulsa World has learned.

Meanwhile, a national association that certifies drug addiction counselors has sued Narconon Arrowhead, the Church of Scientology and 80 related defendants in federal court. The lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma’s Eastern U.S. District Court in Muskogee, alleges that Narconon employees falsely claimed to be accredited by the National Association of Forensic Counselors “in order to bait vulnerable victims into the Scientology religion.”

Tulsa attorney David Keesling, who represents the National Association of Forensic Counselors, said the lawsuit is the first to “connect the dots” linking the Church of Scientology, its leader, David Miscavige, and a host of related entities to Narconon’s programs.

Narconon claims that it operates 100 drug rehabilitation and treatment centers in 30 countries, and that its Oklahoma facility is the largest.

In addition to the federal suit, 10 lawsuits have been filed in Pittsburg County District Court alleging wrongful deaths of Narconon patients, negligence, fraud and other claims against the drug rehabilitation facility.

Narconon Arrowhead is located on the shores of Lake Eufaula near Canadian, northeast of McAlester. The facility can house up to 200 patients, known in the program as students.

Narconon Arrowhead is the flagship branch of an international drug-rehabilitation organization rooted in the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The program’s unorthodox treatment includes five-hour daily sauna sessions and large doses of niacin — vitamin B3. Additionally, patients go through training based on Hubbard’s teachings.

A multiagency investigation of Narconon Arrowhead began after Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, died from a drug overdose at the facility in July 2012. Her death followed the deaths of patients Gabriel Graves in 2011 and Hillary Holten in 2012.

Attorney David Riggs, representing Narconon Arrowhead, said he is aware of the grand jury investigation and that “we provided the information that they wanted.”

Riggs said Narconon was never told the outcome of the law enforcement investigation into patient deaths.

He said Narconon could not comment on the lawsuit's claims and patient deaths due to privacy laws.

“It’s really hard to protect people from themselves. … I would just like people to understand there is another side to this story,” he said.

Eric Tenorio, a supervisor at Narconon Arrowhead and other locations for 12 years, said the centers operate as a recruiting tool for the Church of Scientology. He said he eventually left his job and began filing complaints about Narconon, including that employees falsely claimed to be certified drug counselors.

“Those deaths were, in my opinion, completely avoidable if they just would have paid attention and did what they were supposed to do,” Tenorio said.

Like most people who work in Narconon facilities, Tenorio was a patient first.

Tenorio, who now lives in New York, said he testified before the multicounty grand jury in Oklahoma City about five weeks ago regarding Narconon’s practices. The investigation involves allegations that include insurance fraud, which Tenorio said he reported to the state Attorney General’s Office and other agencies.

“None of the stuff that Narconon is doing is considered medical treatment. Basically what you are doing is trying to get people to become Scientologists,” he said.

“Part of Narconon’s license with the state of Oklahoma states that the clients are supposed to be directed to the proper level of care after detox by a licensed counselor. Not one person is directed to anything except Narconon.”

The Oklahoma Insurance Department confirmed to the World that officials there had received subpoenas to testify before a grand jury investigating Narconon. Insurance Department Deputy Commissioner Paul Wilkening said he is among the officials who have been called to testify.

Deputy Commissioner Mike Rhodes said: “This is an active investigation, and we can’t talk to you about it at this time.”

Following a raid on its Georgia office last year, Narconon agreed to surrender its license there to avoid criminal prosecution. State investigators uncovered nearly $3 million in alleged insurance fraud by Narconon of Georgia, according to news reports.

Following the deaths at Arrowhead, state lawmakers passed legislation touted as giving the state more authority to regulate the facility. Tenorio and other critics say the state has failed to act against Narconon despite repeated, documented complaints.

In July, the World asked the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to provide any public records related to Narconon Arrowhead, including inspection and investigative reports, generated during the past year.

The department responded last week, saying there were no public records it is allowed by law to release.

In an email, Jeff Dismukes, a department spokesman, said: “There is not a continuing active investigation. All related information for previous investigative activity has been provided to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office for review and guidance.”

Dismukes said that during the past year, a facility that Narconon Arrowhead operated in McAlester was closed after the state rejected its application to provide medical detoxification services. Dismukes said that request was rejected “due to outstanding deficiencies.”

“The organization is currently only certified to deliver nonmedical detoxification services at their location in Canadian,” he stated.

Narconon Arrowhead then sought certification as a residential substance abuse treatment center but withdrew its application before Department of Mental Health site visits, Dismukes said.

The facility has now applied for certification as a substance abuse halfway house, defined by state law as one that provides “low intensity substance abuse treatment in a supportive living environment to facilitate the individual’s reintegration into the community.”

“This application is currently being processed to determine whether they meet all applicable standards,” Dismukes said.

Riggs said Narconon Arrowhead is “changing their mission” to comply with the new state law. He said he believes criticism of Narconon and the Church of Scientology is coming from shadowy groups such as “Anonymous.”

“I know how controversial Scientology is and how people say they’re down there proselytizing,” he said.

Riggs said that while “undisputably the theories are based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard,” those in the Narconon program are free to attend any church they wish.

“There are always going to be a lot of critics, especially among the medical community,” he said.

The federal lawsuit claims that Narconon and its employees use hundreds of websites nationwide to recruit people with drug and substance abuse problems into its programs. The suit names 12 people in Oklahoma, including Narconon Arrowhead’s executive director, Gary Smith.

The lawsuit alleging trademark infringement and civil conspiracy seeks relief including an injunction ordering the defendants to stop claiming NAFC accreditation and using its logos.

The defendants “operate over 400 websites containing purported certifications of staff members that, in reality, have been suspended, revoked, or never existed or otherwise have improperly used the NAFC credentials,” the lawsuit states.

“Ultimately, the promotion of the Narconon Network is done to further the goals and purposes of the Church of Scientology to ‘clear’ the world and for a planetary dissemination of Scientology ideals,” it states.

A Scientology flier, filed as an exhibit in the lawsuit, describes “clear” as “a state achieved through auditing or an individual who has achieved this state. A clear is a being who no longer has his own reactive mind.”

Another exhibit contains a memo from a Scientology affiliate to the Narconon Network. The memo describes the “only reason” for Narconon’s existence is “to sell LRH’s (L. Ron Hubbard’s) tech to the society and get it used as the tech to handle criminality, drug rehabilitation and education. Anyone not actively supporting or doing this will receive no mercy.”

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