The state Department of Mental Health “buried” an inspector general’s report recommending that Narconon Arrowhead be shut down after three patients died there, two lawsuits against the agency claim.
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services fired its inspector general, Kim Poff, and an investigator, Michael DeLong, last year after they objected to the agency’s withholding of the Narconon report, the lawsuits state.
Agency leaders, including Commissioner Terri White, “buried the report, recommendations and findings of Ms. Poff and Mr. DeLong because the Department did not want to get involved with litigation involving the Church of Scientology,” the lawsuit alleges.
It notes that Narconon Arrowhead has “significant financial backing” from the Church of Scientology.
Poff sued the agency for wrongful termination, civil conspiracy and other claims in Oklahoma County District Court on Aug. 4. DeLong filed a similar suit on July 30.
Both lawsuits name White, the department’s chief executive officer; Durand Crosby, chief operating officer; Cratus Dewayne Moore, general counsel; and Ellen Buettner, director of human resources for the agency. They also name the state and the board of directors for the Department of Mental Health.
The department did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the lawsuits’ allegations.
Rachel Bussett, an attorney representing Poff and DeLong, said their investigative report recommending that Narconon be closed was submitted to the Department of Mental Health in the fall of 2012. She said the two “were told to make changes (in the report) by top leadership” but refused to do so.
“They wouldn’t fall in line and do what they were told. … They didn’t toe the company line. They were retaliated against for speaking out about wrongdoing.”
Bussett said Poff has since been hired by another state agency, the Department of Human Services, where she formerly worked.
“I don’t believe DHS would have hired her back if they thought there was merit” to her firing by the Department of Mental Health, Bussett said.
Narconon Arrowhead is located on the shores of Lake Eufaula near Canadian, northeast of McAlester. The facility can house up to 200 patients, known in the program as students.
Narconon Arrowhead is the flagship branch of an international drug-rehabilitation organization rooted in the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The program’s unorthodox treatment includes five-hour daily sauna sessions and large doses of niacin — vitamin B3. Additionally, patients go through training based on Hubbard’s teachings.
A multiagency investigation of Narconon Arrowhead began after Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, died from a drug overdose at the facility in July 2012. Her death followed the deaths of patients Gabriel Graves in 2011 and Hillary Holten in 2012.
“Ms. Poff and her investigators determined that Narconon violated numerous state laws and recommended that the facility be shut down by ODMHSAS,” Poff’s lawsuit states. “Despite this recommendation and the finalization of the reports, leadership at ODMHSAS … had Ms. Poff repeatedly advise the board of directors for ODMHSAS that the investigation was still pending.
“Ms. Poff believed that by not releasing the report, the ODMHSAS failed to protect the interest of Oklahomans at the facilities in the past, present and future. We believe this position played significantly into the decision of the department to terminate her employment along with the employment of one of her investigators,” the lawsuit states.
The Tulsa World has requested a copy of Poff’s final report on Narconon Arrowhead.
A spokesman for the Department of Mental Health has said the agency turned over its findings related to the investigation to state Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office.
Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Pruitt, said in an email that “the AG’s office doesn’t typically confirm investigations.”
The World reported Sunday that a multicounty grand jury is investigating the facility and has called state officials and at least one former Narconon Arrowhead executive, Eric Tenorio, to testify. The investigation reportedly revolves around insurance fraud.
Following a raid on its Georgia office last year, Narconon agreed to surrender its license there to avoid criminal prosecution. State investigators uncovered nearly $3 million in alleged insurance fraud by Narconon of Georgia, according to news reports.
In Oklahoma, 10 lawsuits have been filed in Pittsburg County District Court alleging wrongful deaths of Narconon patients, negligence, fraud and other claims against the drug rehabilitation facility. Claims include that staff members were trading drugs for sex with patients and that the facility failed to provide medical treatment and oversight, leading to patient deaths.
Following the deaths at Arrowhead, state lawmakers passed legislation touted as giving the state more authority to regulate the facility.
After the law changed, Narconon Arrowhead sought certification as a residential substance abuse treatment center but withdrew its application before Department of Mental Health site visits. The facility has now applied for certification as a substance abuse halfway house, defined by state law as one that provides “low intensity substance abuse treatment in a supportive living environment to facilitate the individual’s reintegration into the community.”