2 Investigates: Patient death at Georgia Narconon

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

Patrick W. Desmond – “Ricko” to his friends and family.

ATLANTA - Patrick Desmond's mother describes him as kind-hearted and good-natured, but the former Marine died at 28-years-old, losing a battle against alcoholism.

Desmond's death in 2008 came as he took part in a worldwide drug treatment program, Narconon, already under fire for other patient deaths and ties to the Church of Scientology.

Now a Channel 2 investigation is raising questions about the Narconon program and its license in Georgia.

"As a parent, you're desperate. You want to get your child help. And besides, being court-ordered, my son wanted the help. He knew he needed the help," Desmond's mother, Colleen Desmond, said.

Desmond told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer they found Narconon of Georgia on the Internet. Colleen Desmond toured the classrooms in Norcross and visited the apartments at One Sovereign Place off Roswell Road.

"We were assured all along the line, this was an inpatient situation," Desmond said. Desmond said she had spoken to Mary Rieser, executive director of Narconon of Georgia.


Explore our joint investigation into Georgia Narconon:


Patients were supposed to be monitored 24 hours a day while learning communication skills, spending hours detoxing in a sauna, and taking mega doses of the vitamin niacin, Desmond said.

The treatment plan was espoused by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Desmond's Death

Desmond told Fleischer that at the time, she didn't know anything about that plan, or that her son Patrick was drinking and doing drugs with students and staff in those apartments.

Then she got a devastating phone call.

"The doctor said his alcohol content was very high. Patrick experimented that night for the first time with heroin," Desmond said. "I held him in his bed. Then the doctor came in and turned off the machines."

Narconon's executive director said she can't talk about Patrick Desmond's case because his family is suing her program after learning it is only licensed for outpatient treatment.

"There's things that people do to themselves," Rieser explained to Fleischer. "Of course it's sad. I can only try to guide the way for someone."

"I will never knowingly accept somebody here if I know they've been ordered inpatient because we're not," Rieser said.
 

Questions in Court

In a deposition, the Desmonds' attorney, Jeff Harris, questioned the Florida drug court administrator from Patrick's case, Lisa Mooty.

"Did she (Rieser) represent to you that Narconon of Georgia was a residential rehabilitation facility?" Harris asked in the deposition.

"She did indeed," replied Mooty, adding that she never would have signed off on an outpatient program for Patrick Desmond.

Randy Taylor, of Tennessee, testified that Rieser gave him the same sales pitch when his son, Brad, was ordered by a court to get one year of inpatient treatment.

"She said, 'That's not a problem. That's what we do here.' She said, 'We have inpatient facilities here,'" Taylor testified.

But several months into his time at Narconon of Georgia, Brad Taylor had already transitioned to a staff member.

He was the housing monitor who got drunk with Patrick Desmond at the apartments, the night Desmond overdosed, Taylor said in court proceedings.


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State Inspections

During an unannounced inspection in March, eight out of eight patients interviewed by state inspectors said they were in Narconon's "residential program." During a follow-up inspection in April, 21 out of 28 patients told inspectors they were residential. Two of those patients were under court orders and most were from out of state.

Fleischer asked Rieser why those patients would tell state inspectors they were in a residential program, if they were not.

"I wasn't there when they answered the question," Rieser replied. "These are not the most truthful people here. But I can promise you, somebody comes in, they sign several times that they know we're an outpatient (program)."

Now, more than four years after Patrick Desmond's death, Narconon's own website, still refers to the Georgia program as a "long-term residential facility."

"It breaks my heart. You send your child for help, and you think he's going to be cared for. But he wasn't cared for. He was just left to his own devices," Colleen Desmond said. "I feel the whole place was a total fake scam."

Tuesday on Channel 2 Action News at 5:

 A former employee blows the whistle on Narconon of Georgia, saying she was directed to alter the letterhead to mislead drug courts and probation officers around the country.

Our investigation found at least a dozen complaints filed against Georgia's Narconon program in the last decade, many claiming it was running an illegal housing operation. The state even denied its license once, but every single case has been dismissed with no penalty.

See what happened when we grilled the head of the Department of Community Health about it, and why he's now decided to open a new investigation, Tuesday at 5.