State shuts down Narconon drug rehab after Ch. 2 investigation exposed alleged fraud

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

ATLANTA —

Narconon of Georgia announced it will close its doors and cease operating as part of an agreement to avoid criminal prosecution.

Attorneys for the embattled program had been fighting state revocation of the facility's license, and were scheduled for a hearing next week. Today they withdrew that appeal. 

"I'm happy. I'm happy that it's no longer operating," said Mary Morton, who sent her daughter, Emily, to Narconon for treatment in 2012.

The Mortons paid in full for Emily's treatment, then months later noticed Narconon also billed their insurance company more than $166,000 for the same treatment. Some of the bills noted 'partial hospitalization', despite Narconon's outpatient license.

Two doctors whose license numbers were on the bills told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer they never provided drug treatment or therapy, and never authorized Narconon to bill for those services.

Georgia's Insurance Commissioner launched a criminal investigation and in April agents raided Narconon's Norcross headquarters, seizing computers and boxes of paperwork.

For more than a year, Channel 2 Action News has been investigating the drug treatment program, initially revealing evidence it was operating a residential inpatient facility, even though it was only licensed for outpatient treatment.

That allegation came to light after patient Patrick Desmond died of a drug overdose while enrolled in the program, following a night of drinking with Narconon staff. Desmond was sentenced to a residential inpatient treatment program by a drug court in Florida and the court administrator said Narconon of Georgia's director assured her it was a long-term residential facility.

Morton says she was told the same thing.

"Somebody has to hold them liable," said Morton, "They need to change the laws. They need to have better measures of accountability."

Morton disagrees with a decision by Georgia's insurance commissioner and the Gwinnett County District Attorney to end the criminal investigation into the corporation, in exchange for Narconon shutting down.

"I think that's ridiculous. I think they should be prosecuted," said Morton, who like many families, was surprised to learn the program was affiliated with the Church of Scientology.

Much of Narconon's coursework and cornerstone sauna regiment are rooted in the teachings of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Narconon of Georgia's founder and executive director Mary Rieser resigned in January after Morton shared her story with Channel 2.

"I think that Georgia failed everyone in the state that believed there should be justice. That's just my opinion," said Morton of the non-prosecution agreement.

But Gwinnet County District Attorney Danny Porter said the criminal investigation is still pending.

"Narconon as a corporate entity has been relieved of criminal liability, but no individual has," said Porter.

Porter confirms he is also investigating allegations that Narconon staffers opened credit cards in the names of patients' family members without permission, and then bill tens of thousands of dollars for the program.