When Patrick Desmond died of a drug and alcohol overdose while a patient at Narconon of Georgia on June 11, 2008, one of the first things the organization’s executive director did was report it – not to state regulators, but to the Church of Scientology and the leader of a church-run secular organization.
"Narconon is, essentially it is scientology. And they're trying to pretend that it's not," said Canton native Luke Catton. "There is no real separation, it's only on paper, it's only corporate separation, it's not like there's a difference between Narconon and Scientology, it is part of Scientology, it is Scientology."
The son of former Scientologists, Catton became president of Narconon’s flagship U.S. rehabilitation facility, Narconon Arrowhead in Canadian, Oklahoma at the age of 23. He also rose to a high position within the Church of Scientology before leaving the faith. Now, like others who have fallen away from Scientology, he has been labeled a “Suppressive Person” (S.P.) by his former fellow congregants. He is shunned and ridiculed by them.
Catton contends Narconon has two goals: recruit people into the Church of Scientology and make money. Helping people with drug and alcohol addiction is, he said, a means to those ends.
“The greater purpose is to indoctrinate people to become scientologists,” he said.
When he was president of Narconon Arrowhead, Catton said the facility would receive daily calls from executives at Narconon International asking for updates – but not about the progress of patient treatment.
“The executive director of Narconon International used to call into Arrowhead every day wanting to know… the gross income – GI – ‘what’s the G-I at?’ He wouldn't call and say ‘how many graduates do you have?’ He wouldn't call and say ‘What's your success rate like right now? How's your retention rate?’ He wouldn't ask those things, he'd call and want to know how much money was in,” said Catton.
Catton estimated that together, the Narconon facilities in the U.S. earn approximately $1 million a week in “G-I.”
Of the money each center such as Narconon of Georgia earns, Catton said ten-percent is sent to Narconon International in the form of a licensing fee for the Scientology-based materials used in drug and alcohol rehabilitation and education. In turn, he continued, Narconon International pays ten-percent of its revenue to the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE), a secular organization operated by the Church of Scientology.
Narconon of Georgia Executive Director Mary Rieser has repeatedly denied any connection between her organization and the Church of Scientology.
“I am a scientologist, that's my church. But they don't manage here. That's my church,” she said during an interview in her office. Tucked away under her desk were leather bound books on Scientology. She became extremely flustered when a television photographer stepped behind her desk in the course of shooting an interview and demanded to know whether he had taken pictures of the books. He had not.
So, if the Church of Scientology doesn’t manage Narconon of Georgia, why, then, did Rieser report events surrounding the death of Patrick Desmond to the director of special affairs at the local Church of Scientology and the Office of Special Affairs at Scientology headquarters in Los Angeles?
“Well I'm not gonna speak to why I did that,” she replied, “but that's not a governing body for me. That is my church so I don't know… if I'd been a Baptist I might have told my church.”
Catton refutes that absolutely.
“It’s well known protocol that when you have a legal situation such as this (the death of Patrick Desmond), that’s so devastating, you need to contact church representatives from the Office of Special Affairs or the local director of Special Affairs which,” he said, pointing to the address line on the email memo,” is done here. “It goes to Narconon International, ABLE International, to the local church and to the church international through the Office of Special Affairs.”
The memo to which Catton referred was held under court seal in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Patrick Desmond’s family at Narconon’s request and was released only last month.
Another memo released at the same time also indicates the intertwined nature of Narconon and the Church of Scientology as well as ABLE’s active hand in the minutia of Narconon of Georgia’s affairs.
Entitled “Things That Shouldn’t Be,” the memo chronicles Reiser’s difficulties with another Scientologist, Maria Delgado. The Desmond family contends when Reiser could not obtain a state license for an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility, she had Delgado and her husband, Don, set up a corporation through which she could provide housing to her patients anyway. But the relationship between Rieser and the Delgados soured when Maria and Don, who formed their company while still employeed at Narconon, divorced. By that time, security among the Sandy Springs apartments Delgado rented for Narconon patients had become almost nonexistent.
Then the Church of Scientology International sent a mission that included the executive director of ABLE. The mission shuffled staff within the local church and within Delgado Development. Don was replaced with Maria’s new fiancé on orders from the church mission.
“The purpose of Narconon and housing seemed to have become to support org (church) staff,” Rieser wrote.
As conditions in patient housing continued to deteriorate, Rieser wrote, she tried to get other Scientology-affiliated organizations to intervene with Maria Delgado. But, she complained, Delgado was too high-ranking within the church.
Rieser wrote about checking on Narconon patients after hours during this period in 2008. “A few times, I found liquor and drug paraphernalia. I called the cops about a drug dealer who was dropping off heroin and I was on the prowl around several apartments looking for dealers. I felt the students were in danger and felt pretty alone at handling a dangerous scene.”
When questioned about security at the apartments she rented for Narconon patients at the Sovereign Place complex in Sandy Springs, Maria Delgado said she did try to heighten security. How?
“You know, (by making) sure that the montirs were going, putting more policies in (place),” she testified in a deposition. She also said she increased the use of Breathalyzers and urinalysis drug tests. But she also admitted that the results were never documented.
The Delgados, who were named in the Desmonds’ lawsuit, have now settled out of court.
If it was that dangerous, then why not shut down housing? Even after Patrick Desmond got drunk, left with two former patients, shot heroin and died, Narconon and Delgado Development both continued to accept patients. Neither issued warnings to residents or their families. Catton said neither the church nor its affiliates would have allowed that.
“They have such intense pressure to make money every single week that to say, ‘Whoa, things aren't okay, we can't bring anybody in for a couple of weeks’ would not have been acceptable to Narconon International, to ABLE, to the church to anybody. It's not acceptable to not make money,” Catton said.
Catton shook his head in amazement when looking at the two Reiser memos.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in public before now,” he said. “For people to know that obviously there is a direct channel between Narconon and the churches and the church international… it completely refutes anything they’re trying to say that they are separate. There are orders taken, there are orders given that run back and forth. It is not an entirely separate organization. This demonstrates very clearly the connection between them. It’s not just the connection. It is a direct channel.”