by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
NORCROSS, Ga. - Local families desperate to save a loved one from drug addiction thought they had found the answer. But now several families tell Channel 2 Action News their enrollment at Narconon of Georgia came with a shocking price: thousands of dollars billed to credit cards they never opened.
"I said 'What are you doing? This is not what we agreed to,'" Mike Dacy told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer, of his reaction upon learning Narconon opened two credit cards in his brother-in-law's name.
Dacy's son, Jonathan, enrolled at Narconon of Georgia in December 2009 for an addiction to pain pills.
"Jonathan was just full of love, he had a great sense of humor. Then there was the dark side that the addiction got a hold of," said his father.
Jonathan had been in and out of rehab for years. Dacy said the family was worried and desperate.
"This time he was really invested. He wanted to be a good dad to his son and he really wanted to change his life," said Terri Dacy, Jonathan's mother.
The Dacys found Narconon on the Internet and said, for the first time, Jonathan seemed excited and hopeful. When the family couldn't afford the $30,000 price tag, they said Narconon told them, "No problem."
"They would help with the financing. Everything we wanted to hear," said Mike Dacy.
But Narconon said the Dacy's credit history wasn't good enough, so in stepped Jonathan's uncle, Scott Maxey. Maxey said he gave his personal information over the phone simply to vouch that the family would pay.
"No one ever said,'We're going to open up two credit cards in your name,'" said Maxey, who lives in Chicago and has never been to Narconon.
He received two credit cards in the mail, followed by bills which showed they were already maxed out. Narconon of Georgia charged $3000 on a Capital One card and $7300 on a Citi card, all in one day, all in Maxey's name.
"I hit the roof, we all did," said Terri Dacy.
Tari Anderson had the same reaction after getting two cards in the mail. She had already written a $5,000 check to Narconon for her son's treatment.
"It seemed like what we needed. Then the next thing we know we have Discover card," said Anderson.
She and her husband also received a Capital One card and a total of $11,000 in charges. Then she said additional Narconon debits started showing up on her bank account. The family paid nearly $24,000 out of pocket.
"If they had asked me for a million dollars, I would have tried to find a way to get it to them," said Anderson.
But her son was only there for three and a half months, and a medical condition kept him from the program's main component, hours each day in a sauna.
"If all they want is your money, and they don't provide any services, then that could potentially become a criminal offense," said Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.
Fleischer showed Porter the families' credit card records. Days later, his investigators helped the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's fraud team execute a search warrant at Narconon.
They hauled away nearly two dozen hard drives and laptops, and boxes of financial and medical records.
"We're actively and vigorously pursuing an investigation," said Porter of the potential credit card fraud. He's hoping the computers will show which employees were using them when the cards were opened.
His office would also be the one to prosecute the state's ongoing insurance fraud case against Narconon, which resulted from a Channel 2 Action News investigation in January.
Fleischer exposed $166,000 in Narconon insurance bills for another family who had already paid for the program in full.
The Norcross facility continues to operate while appealing a license revocation by Georgia's Department of Community Health. That came just months after Channel 2, along with its news partners at WSB Radio and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, exposed evidence that the facility was advertising as an inpatient residential facility, when it is only licensed for outpatient care.
A former employee admitted altering the facility's letterhead to remove the word "outpatient" when corresponding with drug courts and probation officers whose clients required the higher level of care. The whistleblower said Narconon Executive Director Mary Rieser directed that. Rieser resigned in January.
"That's what Narconon really has a history of is saying one thing and doing another," said Luke Catton, who helped run Narconon's flagship Arrowhead facility in Oklahoma.
Catton, who has since become a Narconon whistleblower, helped expose the program's roots within the Church of Scientology, and questionable financial practices.
"They're doing whatever it takes to make sure somebody's going to come in the door. You remove all financial barriers and if it includes creative financing, then it does," said Catton.
The Arrowhead facility is named in a civil lawsuit filed by a former patient and her sister, who "Received two credit cards through the mail for which she did not apply." Her bills totaled $14,500 and now have a 23 percent interest rate.
"As soon as they have your money and it's really solidified then everything goes downhill after that," says Terri Dacy.
Jonathan left Narconon after only one month. He died three months later.
"My true feeling in the bottom of my heart is that they were directly responsible for my son's death," she said.
That was three years ago.
Capital One canceled the charge once the Dacys explained the situation.
Citi has refused to do the same, so the family is still paying off that Citi card.
"To this day, the pain is really harsh, really harsh," Terri Dacy said.
Narconon International and Narconon of Georgia both responded to Fleischer with statements.
"It would be contrary to Narconon's policy to engage in the type of conduct you are alleging. Narconon International and all Narconons are bound by strict state and federal privacy laws. Therefore, we cannot discuss any details about any individuals or their loved ones that claim to have been involved with our program without their written authorization," Clark Carr, President of Narconon International, said.
"Narconon is aware of the investigation. Narconon of Georgia follows customary and professional billing practices and procedures. Payment terms are clearly explained to all students. Narconon of Georgia has served the Atlanta community for the past decade offering drug education, prevention and rehabilitation services. Scores of successful Narconon graduates and their families can attest that the program has transformed lives through recovery and sobriety," Narconon of Georgia said in a statement.