Criminal case opened against Narconon rehab

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation found a local drug rehab program lying to families and investigators, and now, new claims could be criminal.
           
"It shatters everyone and it touches everyone," Mary Morton said of her teenage daughter Emily's addiction.
           
She told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer that Narconon of Georgia filed insurance claims, even after the family had already paid in full for Morton’s daughter's care.  
           
Morton found Narconon’s rehab program on the Internet. She hoped it would be the last program they would need.
           
"You're a desperate parent. You want to save your child," said Morton.
           
The family handed over Emily's driver’s license and insurance card for the program. Morton toured Narconon's classrooms and eventually signed an agreement, outlining the total Narconon program service fee of $15,000.
           
"We were instructed to bring two checks, one for the $15,000 for the program and one for the housing," said Morton, adding that Narconon told her their insurance plan probably wouldn't cover it.
           
"But I also didn't care, I would have paid anything," she said.
           
Seven months later, she logged onto her insurance company's website and noticed bill after bill from Narconon, totaling more than $166,000.
          
She said Narconon even billed for weeks her daughter was sent home for bad behavior, dozens of Sundays when Morton picked her up, and a full week after she left the program.
           
"It was ridiculous, they billed $58,000 for doctor visits that she never saw a doctor," said Morton.
           
The doctor listed on all but one of Emily Morton's bills was Narconon's medical director, Casey Locarnini, who runs an urgent care clinic in Dunwoody. Locarnini declined Fleischer's request for an on-camera interview, but said he did not know Narconon had billed insurance in his name until he heard it from Channel 2.
           
One of Emily Morton's bills listed Narconon's former medical director, Dr. Lisa Robbins, who described her former role under oath in 2010.
           
"I was hired by them to do the physicals on their patients," said Robbins.
           
But she said she never visited the Narconon facility.
           
Robbins' practice manager Dawn Warner said, "If they indeed did bill under Dr. Robbins, this is insurance fraud. She's never seen a patient named Emily Morton.”

Warner added that Robbins "never authorized Narconon or anyone associated with Narconon to bill any insurance under Dr. Robbins."
           
"Sounds like a problem to me," said Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, after Fleischer showed him the evidence.
           
Hudgens immediately opened a criminal case. Eight of Emily Morton's bills listed care entitled “partial hospitalization.”

Her insurance company did cover some of the payments but stopped in October. The company rejected claims saying, coverage was not available for her stay at Narconon, but could continue with outpatient providers. That shows it was under the impression Narconon provided inpatient care, but Narconon is only licensed for outpatient care.
           
"If they have done it in one case, chances are they have done it multiple times," said Hudgens.
           
He said fraud investigators cannot charge an entire company. They would have to find a specific person who's responsible. A conviction can bring two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
           
Fleischer questioned Narconon of Georgia's executive director, Mary Rieser, last fall after uncovering evidence the program was advertising as a residential facility.
           
"I'm telling you, I do not represent this as inpatient. How could I get away with that? Somebody comes in, they're not going to see beds," said Rieser.
           
But state records showed 21 out of 28 patients told inspectors they were part of Narconon's residential program. The housing portion cost patients $1,600 per month, and they were assigned four to an apartment in Duluth.
           
"They didn't say it's just an apartment complex that anybody can live in. It's ridiculous. They are preying on the most vulnerable of people," said Morton.
           
Narconon is now fighting to keep its state license. Rieser and Locarnini both resigned within the last two weeks.    
           
"Not one more person needs to be checked in there, not today, not tonight not tomorrow. It needs to stop now," said Morton.

She said her daughter is now is now midway through a different program that appears to be working.



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