ATLANTA - A Georgia drug rehab program with ties to the Church of Scientology is now under a state investigation after Channel 2 Action News showed inspectors new evidence. The review comes after Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer spoke with an insider, ready to blow the whistle on lies told to the courts and the state.
Drug rehab programs in Georgia can be licensed in different ways. An inpatient program means patients have around-the-clock supervision and more state oversight. Outpatient programs treat addicts during the day only.
But a Channel 2 investigation found an outpatient program that posed as inpatient to bring in more money and showed state leaders evidence they have missed for a decade.
Channel 2 Action News and our partners AM 750 and Now 95.5FM News/Talk WSB and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first broke the story of a patient who died, sparking new questions about whether Narconon of Georgia is running an illegal residential treatment program.
Explore our joint investigation into Georgia Narconon:
- Part 1 of Channel 2's Jodie Fleischer's report
- Hear WSB Radio's Pete Combs' reports
- Read reporter Christian Boone's story on AJC.com
Patrick Desmond died in 2008 of a heroin overdose. Records show he'd spent the evening getting drunk with Brad Taylor, his housing monitor. Others in the program at the time said Desmond was left with two Narconon flunkees and known heroin addicts.
"Patrick was such a sweetheart. He was a big guy. He was a gentle giant," said former patient and legal administrator of Naconon, Allison Riepe.
Riepe met Desmond at Narconon of Georgia. She was a recovering addict who was working there. He was an alcoholic, looking for help.
"I still can't believe (it). Out of all the people I ever expected to overdose, he wouldn't have been one that would have been on my radar," Riepe said.
Whistleblower: "It's all about the money"
Fleischer asked Riepe why Narconon allows people to stay if they're all using drugs and drinking.
"Cause they're paying to be there. It's all about the money," Riepe responded.
"Thirty thousand dollars is in the area of what we paid for the six months program," said Patrick's father, Rick Desmond.
Desmond said the executive director assured him it was a residential program. Just like it's advertised on Narconon's website.
"He was an addict. He had a problem. He could not take care of himself. He knew that. We knew that. The state of Florida knew that," Desmond said.
The day after Patrick's death, his friend Allison Riepe says her boss, Mary Rieser, called her that night about housing.
"There was alcohol readily available. If you wanted drugs, it was there," Riepe said. "She knew there were problems, because she came to me and said open housing."
Riepe says the very next day, she rented apartments at Berkeley Landing in Duluth, the new site of Narconon's housing. But the trouble followed and she blames Mary Rieser.
"She would get the clients coming in the door, and she would go ahead and get the money up front, and then we couldn't (get the money)," Riepe said.
"Sometimes people say, 'Oh, I only brought one check, and we'll forward it,'" Rieser said.
New Evidence Surfaces
Narconon's executive director denies any control over housing because her program is only licensed for outpatient treatment.
"Anybody who walked through these doors has signed that they know that we are outpatient," Rieser said.
However Channel 2 found evidence that the Florida Drug Court was told that Narconon was an inpatient drug treatment facility.
The evidence includes documents with Narconon's letterhead with the word "outpatient" when reporting Patrick's death to state investigators, but letterhead on letters sent to Florida courts omitted the word "outpatient".
"If we're going to make a big thing about letterhead and that I'm some conspirator ... There was a period of time when there was different letterhead, only one person chose not to use it," Rieser said.
Allison Riepe tells Flesicher a different story.
"I was directed by her to manipulate the letterhead," Riepe said. "Looking back, I'm like, God if I hadn't done it, would he still be alive?"
Riepe says she sent the altered letterhead to courts throughout the country.
State Investigators Taking Action
Records show about a dozen complaints in the last decade, but the state of Georgia has taken no action against Narconon.
In April, the inspector determined the facility was 'operating a residential' program. Two months later, all three deficiencies cited were retracted, despite Narconon's own website which calls the Georgia program a long-term residential facility.
"I have been here for 11 years, and I think if the state thought I were running an inpatient, they would say something about it," Rieser said.
Fleischer questioned the commissioner of the Department of Community Health, David Cook, about the unsubstantiated complaints of poor housing and whether the inspectors are overlooking that Narconon is not supposed to have housing.
"Well I don't think so. I think you have to be able to go into a court of law and you have to prove they actually have housing," said Cook.
the Department of Community Health does not have subpoena power to prove a case, but a lawsuit over the death of Patrick Desmond does.
"If they are in fact running a residential treatment facility and they're not licensed to do that, then that becomes a real problem," said Cook. "We'll be taking a very close look at it. All of what you've said does concern me."
State officials said they hadn't looked at any of those records until Channel 2 Action News started asking questions.