NORCROSS, Ga. - A Norcross drug rehab center that's been the subject of a series of Channel 2 Action News investigations was raided by law enforcement Friday.
"Police search warrant, police search warrant!" yelled investigators with the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's Fraud Unit and the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office as they executed search warrants at Narconon of Georgia on Peachtree Parkway.
They went in with guns and came out with evidence in an ongoing criminal case against the facility.
"Everything you see us seizing, we have to go through it, analyze it, follow up on it, so this is going to take a while," said Sherry Mowell,
director of the Insurance Commissioner's Fraud Unit.
They filled so many boxes with financial paperwork and medical records, they had to go rent a U-Haul van to drive it all back to their office.
Nearly two dozen computer hard drives and laptops will be important for tracing which employees were responsible for billing.
"The difficulty with these cases when you're working with an organization is statements that are given say 'they did this' and 'they did that,' and that's hard for us to pinpoint the actual individual," said Gwinnet County District Attorney Danny Porter.
Mary Morton said she paid in full for treatment for her daughter, Emily Morton, only to find out their insurance was then billed $166,000.
"It was ridiculous, they billed for $58,000 for doctor visits that she never saw a doctor," said Mary Morton.
Eight of Emily Morton's bills said
"partial hospitalization," which her insurance company rejected, saying "coverage is not available" for "your continued stay at Narconon."
The insurance company said care could continue with an outpatient facility, indicating the company did not know Narconon is only licensed as an outpatient facility.
Last fall, Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer caught the program advertising as a residential facility, which brings in more money and promises a higher level of care.
The director at the time denied it, but Georgia's Department of Community Health has since taken steps to try to revoke the facility's license to operate.
The facility's longtime executive director resigned in January, within weeks of when two doctors whose names were on insurance bills said they never authorized the treatments.
In some cases, they said they didn't even treat the patient. Investigators say those doctors are cooperating.
"The insurance case basically involves services that were not
provided and also services that were supposedly authorized by doctors who did not authorize them," said Porter.
A large part of the investigation will be determining which Narconon employee or employees were responsible for submitting the insurance
bills and who directed them to do so.
"Each individual normally has a password, so if we can tie down the password to the person, we'll be able to determine who it was that submitted the claims," Mowell said.
State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens had worried some evidence might be destroyed after Channel 2's stories exposed the potentially criminal activity. Friday, his investigators were pleased with what they found.
"It appears everything is
intact, but we will not know that until we go through each and every document," Mowell said.
Investigators made no arrests Friday. They first plan to examine all of the evidence seized. Mowell says that could take months.
None of the Narconon employees present during the execution of the search warrants wanted to comment. Neither did attorney Steven Sadow, who now represents the center's former executive director.
Last Fall, Fleischer uncovered evidence of direct links between Narconon of Georgia and the Church of Scientology.
The drug treatment program requires patients spend hours each day in a sauna, take megadoses of the vitamin Niacin, and study communication techniques taught when joining the church.
Many former patients who have contacted Channel 2 say it did nothing to help their drug addiction.
"It's ridiculous. They are preying on the most vulnerable of people," said Mary Morton, who was thrilled to hear about Friday's search warrants.
She says she hopes her case is the one that gets the facility closed for good.
"Not one more person needs to be checked in there, not today, not tonight, not tomorrow. It needs to stop now," said Morton.
Narconon sent Fleischer a statement about the investigation, saying, "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."