McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

March 22, 2013

Lawsuits allege Narconon Arrowhead counselors traded sex for drugs

McALESTER — Narconon Arrowhead counselors allegedly traded drugs for sex and fraudulently charged a patient’s credit card some $14,500, according to allegations in five lawsuits filed Thursday against the facility. 

The suits were filed in Pittsburg County District Court against Narconon of Oklahoma, Narconon International, Association of Better Living and Education International on behalf of family members of former clients of Narconon Arrowhead.

Also among the allegations, the suits say Narconon influenced a grandmother to take out a $7,000 loan to “save her grandson’s life” and charged some $14,500 to a credit card obtained without the cardholder’s knowledge. 

Narconon Arrowhead officials contend their mission “has always been to help people overcome addiction and prevent kids from becoming addicts ... and the lawsuits are “financially motivated and have no foundation of truth ...” according to a statement issued by the facility Thursday.

Narconon Arrowhead is a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Canadian affiliated with the Church of Scientology. The facility has been under investigation following the deaths of three Narconon clients found dead at the facility within a year. A fourth patient died while at the hospital.

The deaths also spurred legislation to regulate facilities such as Narconon Arrowhead. In February, Senate Bill 295 was passed out of the Senate unopposed and is set to go before the House Public Health committee this month before going for a House vote, according to co-author of the bill State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie.

“The purview is to give the department of mental health oversight of drug rehab facilities specifically due to concerns which began last summer at Narconon,”  Murphey said. “I think (the bill) will do fine in the House.”

Last year, local state Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, supported the legislation. Earlier this month, he said he had conducted his own investigation into the facility and no longer supports the bill. He also he had a family member go through the Narconon program after the deaths were reported.

Meanwhile, the five lawsuits filed Thursday follow a string of wrongful death lawsuits filed by Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson. Richardson also represents the families of three people found dead at the facility and who are also suing Narconon Arrowhead.

The lawsuits follow the July 19 death of Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, of Owasso, which prompted an investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office and the state department of mental health

The investigation later expanded to include three other deaths: Hillary Holten, 21, who was found dead at Narconon Arrowhead in April; Gabriel Graves, 32, who died at the facility in October, and Kaysie Dianne Werninck, 28, who died in 2009 at a local hospital while she was a client of the facility.

No criminal charges have been filed in the deaths. District 18 District Attorney Farley Ward said he is still looking into the case.

The five lawsuits filed Thursday allege false representation, fraud and deceit, non-disclosure or concealment, breach of contract and civil conspiracy.

According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Sue Newman and Dean Shobe, representatives of Narconon Arrowhead applied for credit cards in Newman’s name and allegedly without her knowledge, and charged about $14,500 to the cards at a 23 percent interest rate.

According to the lawsuit, the charges were allegedly made to the cards after Narconon reneged on an interest-free “loan and work program” allegedly set up with Newman when she couldn’t afford the $15,000 charge to enter the Narconon program.

Another suit was filed by Mary Cantu, the mother of a Narconon client. The suit alleges Narconon counselors “provided drugs and alcohol in exchange for sex” and that “drugs were readily available and constantly taken.”

The suit also alleges the Cantu’s son left the program and spent the night in a nearby park after he witnessed his roommate having a seizure.

Lisa Gray also filed suit, alleging she was told her son would receive treatment that he never received, and that he was charged $15,000 for the program and another $15,000 for “book work.” The suit also alleges the Narconon program is overseen by recovering drug addicts and alcoholics and is a “scheme or a sham and a front to recruit Scientologists.” The suit further alleges that no medical doctor is substantially involved in the program.

Two days after her son was admitted, Narconon officials contacted Gray’s husband  and received $10,000 after allegedly telling him payment was needed to be made to save his son’s life, her lawsuit alleges. Another $7,000 payment was made by the son’s grandmother “after she took out  loan because she was told (the program) would save (her grandsons) life,” the lawsuit states.

After admission to the program, the suit alleges that her son was not given his inhaler and had trouble breathing and that no doctor had seen him.

Vicky White’s suit alleges that before admitting her son, Narconon staff told her on numerous occasions she “had to do something now” or else her son could die. And although she couldn’t afford the program, she was allegedly told that “to save her son’s life,” financial arrangements could be made.

A separate filing by Gina Nelsen states she paid $25,000 in cash to admit her son after being convinced, based upon “misrepresentations, lies, deceit and fraudulent inducements” that she needed to place her son at the facility. Her suit also alleges the program is a scam, a recruiting tool and funding source for the Church of Scientology which uses “unscientifically based methods of treatment of students by former students” who are unqualified former and current drug addicts and alcoholics.

Nelson’s suit also alleges sex is exchanged for drugs on the property, and the treatment plan entails the reading of books written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.

Nelson filing also alleges Narconon failed to advise prospective clients that the Narconon program is “not accepted in the medical community as being valid or effective and that the program has more than a 70 percent success rate,” which according to the lawsuit is “unheard of.”

Each of the suits seeks more than $75,000.

In a statement issued Thursday, Narconon Arrowhead said “it is pretty clear that these lawsuits are financially motivated and have no foundation of truth contained in them.

“As in any lawsuit that is filed allegations are made which contain gossip and information that often times is not factual. It is in the courtroom where the truth will prevail.”

According to the statement, the Narconon organization has been helping people “overcome drug and alcohol addiction in the United States for 47 years and in Oklahoma for 23 years.”

“We are confident that justice will be served in these matters and Narconon will continue to achieve its purpose.”

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone.

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