Besieged by allegations of credit card and insurance fraud, negligence and even a wrongful death, Narconon of Georgia is now the focus of a class action lawsuit filed by families of patients who say they were bamboozled and left heartbroken by the Scientology-based drug rehab program.
“They’re [a total scam],” said attorney Jeff Harris, who filed the suit Tuesday on behalf of seven people and their families – eleven victims in all – who claim they were defrauded by Narconon of Georgia.
The 41-page lawsuit accuses Narconon of Georgia of fraud, deceptive practices and negligence. It also names the Religious Technology Center, Inc. (RTC); the Association for Better Living and Education International (ABLE); and Narconon International as defendants.
“These are organizations that lead from the Church of Scientology to Narconon of Georgia. Through these organizations, the church controls every action of Narconon of Georgia and other facilities like it around the country,” Harris said.
“The lawsuit has not been served,” said Narconon of Georgia attorney Brian McEvoy in a statement to WSB Radio News. “However, from what we understand, this case lacks merit and is simply an attempt to obtain money from a non-profit dedicated to helping address this nation’s drug epidemic.”
MANY VICTIMS, ONE STORY
The suit contains many of the complaints that WSB’s Pete Combs has reported from families of patients (Narconon calls them “students”) since he first broke this story last year. According to the complaint, they were promised:
- Narconon of Georgia (NNGA) was a properly licensed, "in-patient," residential facility;
- NNGA had a success rate of over 70%;
- the Narconon ''New Life Detoxification Program" would remove drug residues and other toxic substances from the patient's body;
- NNGA provided a drug-free environment;
- NNGA provided drug and alcohol rehabilitation and treatment; and
- NNGA had properly trained staff.
In every case, the plaintiffs said they were desperate to get help for their addicted loved ones and that they turned to what they thought were independent drug referral agencies they had found on the internet.
“I was calling all these places on the internet only to find they’re all associated with Narconon,” said Teri Dacy, whose son, Jonathan, died months after enrolling at Narconon of Georgia.
When she finally talked with someone at the Norcross rehab facility, “They told us they had a complete medical staff, inpatient program, 24/7 counseling. They said they work with different organizations and financial institutions and they would try to get us a medical loan and grants.”
Instead, the Dacy’s and at least one other family listed as plaintiffs in the class action suit said Narconon obtained credit cards in their names without prior consent, and then charged those cards to the limit.
“I never authorized my name to nothing,” said Athens-Clarke County firefighter Ben Burgess, who said Narconon of Georgia acquired credit cards in his name and in his wife’s name as well.
“I thought I was going to have a stinking heart attack! I said, ‘No! I don’t do this! Not credit cards!’ I know what that leads to. I’d never pay it off.”
Indeed, Burgess said he lost his house as a result of the Narconon debt and wound up moving his family into a mobile home.
HARRIS: THEY KNOW IT’S A SCAM
In the complaint, attorney Harris outlines the corporate structure that he alleges the Church of Scientology uses to control Narconon treatment centers around the world.
“Our contention is that from the top down, everyone involved knows there is no basis for this program in science. It’s the equivalent of a pharmaceutical manufacturer erroneously claiming that they have some magic pill that will cure cancer,” he said.
The suit, filed in Gwinnett County State Court, asks for restitution from Narconon – demanding that the organization pay back all money received from them, as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.
Harris said the suit is expanding to add more plaintiffs in Georgia and other states. For more information, check out a website set up by his law firm, Harris, Penn, Lowry, LLP: http://www.hpllegal.com/narconon-class-action.