Rock Center   |  April 05, 2013

Narconon rehab recruits Scientologists, says former exec

Two former executives for Narconon, the Scientology-linked drug rehabilitation program, speak exclusively to Rock Center’s Harry Smith. They say that Narconon was used to recruit Scientologists and preyed on vulnerable people. Narconon and the Church of Scientology deny those claims.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> report tonight grows out of months of suspicion of a drug center. it's run by narconon . if you've seen our previous programming, you know narconon is run by the church of scientology . harry smith 's reporting prompted two former execs to step out of the shadows. tonight they join harry to share their experiences.

>> reporter: if you're about to send one of your loved ones to narconon arrowhead , should you be concerned for their safety?

>> absolutely. i would be concerned. i personally would never recommend to anybody that they should send their loved one to narconon .

>> reporter: this is lucas cape capen, the former president of the church of scientology in oklahoma. last year we reported on three young people who died there in nine months. jill's son gabriel died there in 2011 . the cause of death couldn't be determined.

>> reporter: do you feel like they were completely forthcoming with you on the phone about who they were, what their procedures were?

>> no.

>> jillian said they say shshe is filled with sorrow and regret about sending gabriel to narconon .

>> i just wish i had never taken him there. i wish that with everything inside me.

>> capin and his colleague, both executives who cut ties with narconon three years ago, say that though no one died on their watch, they feel compelled to speak out about what they say are the program's failings.

>> reporter: we did a story last summer about three young people who died at narconon . did you see the story?

>> i did. i feel terrible about it. it could have been prevented. if those families would have gotten the truth about what they were getting into, they would have absolutely not sent their families there. and i apologize.

>> reporter: what were they getting into? they say a crash course in scientology . patients are called students and they study a series of eight books based on the writings of scientology founder l. ron hubba hubbard .

>> they can confront their own problems and solve their own problems and bring themselves up by their own bootstraps.

>> reporter: narconon touts himself as a non-medication rehabilitation program. it's method is five hours a day in a saun a, all part of a larger system of life skills training that narconon has helped tens of thousands lead drug-free lives.

>> you are taught in hubbard 's language that you are the expert in mental health .

>> reporter: this is lucas caten as a young man. he arrived at narconon as a patient when he was 28 years old. his parents were concerned he was drinking too much. he got a job there as a council already in 2000 and quickly worked his way up to president. for a time and years afterward, he believed the program was helpful and gave this 2009 testimonial to the church of scientology .

>> there is not a more comprehensive rehabilitation program available than narconon .

>> reporter: in this process while you were at narconon , did you become a sicientologist?

>> i did. everything was dedicated toward the purpose of scientology 's aims. that is what you're doing at narconon , you're advancing the aims of scientology .

>> reporter: from your perspective, and you were president of narconon arrowhead , does the church of scientology use narconon as a way to recruit church members?

>> absolutely it does.

>> reporter: the other goal, caten says, was to pull in revenue. the program cost $30,000 per patient.

>> so you were willing to lie to them or misrepresent who you are or take people who aren't really qualified, anything to bring in the money to keep the facility going week after week after week.

>> reporter: in a statement to nbc news, the church of scientology says the treatment of narconon is comparable to other treatment programs.

>> reporter: he also came to the program in 1996 . he also got hired on as staff. he, too, became a scientologist. he, too, gave a testimony to the program.

>> there is no way i would have gotten where i am without the narconon program.

>> reporter: he took a position as director of narconon 's system as director.

>> reporter: if you are on the staff of narconon , beyond the teachingof l. n hubbard , are there any instructions whatsoever in your dealing with people with drugs and alcohol.

>> none.

>> reporter: zero?

>> zero.

>> reporter: he showed us certificates that he received as a, quote, unquote, certified drug and alcohol counselor in michigan. they came from an organization called the pita group, run by a narconon arrowhead contractor.

>> reporter: that's the kind of thing you got?

>> yeah. they put a seal on it to make it look official. stick it on your wall and an unsuspecting public will be none the wiser.

>> what did you do to get this?

>> wrote a check?

>> reporter: that's it? no test?

>> nothing.

>> reporter: it feels like fraud.

>> it is absolutely fraud.

>> reporter: the pita group denied the assertions and says it requires 20 hours of training and two years experience to obtain a certificate.

>> reporter: do you blame narconon for your daughter's death?

>> absolutely.

>> robert's daughter stacy died of an overdose inside narconon arrowhead in july. he and other families of the sde deceased have sued narconon . murray says the success rate of 75% is what drew them to narconon . you're thinking this might be the answer.

>> oh, yeah, because they tout such a high success rate.

>> reporter: he says that number is a complete fabrication.

>> it's well known internally they cannot produce that success rate.

>> reporter: they know inside?

>> absolutely they know.

>> reporter: narconon says it stands by its statistics. caten stepped down as president in 2004 but stayed close to the program. for the next two years, he worked at a contractor, selling narconon drugs to drug addictions all over the country.

>> i had generic web sites for people to look for drug treatment and rehab help.

>> reporter: so if i went on the internet looking for drug treatment , i would land on your site.

>> land on a site, pick up the phone . i or someone i employed would answer your response or your e-mail and start taking down information, asking pertinent questions, looking for key things, whether or not you had money, whether or not you had some type of insurance. they really teach you to listen -- they even use the term listen for the money.

>> listen for the money.

>> listen for the money.

>> reporter: caten says he referred those who could afford it to narconon . others he referred elsewhere. he made a 10% commission or $3,000 for every person who went to a narconon facility.

>> reporter: did you make good money doing this?

>> yeah. i used to.

>> reporter: in a given year, how much?

>> easily 150, $200,000.

>> reporter: do you think narconon preys on vulnerable people?

>> i absolutely believe narconon preys on vulnerable people. that's part of the sales techniques . one of the techniques they do is called finding your ruin, and they teach people who are on the phone with families, find out what are the biggest problems in their lives? what are one of the things they're most afraid is going to happen? and you hit that over and over and over again until they break down and go, oh, my gosh, we have to do something. and you're there to tell them, well, we have the answer.

>> reporter: and where are the regulators, you ask? caten says as president of narconon arrowhead , he helped narconon take advantage of loopholes in oklahoma state law to avoid any kind of meaningful regulation by the state. does the state have kind of a hands-off policy when it comes to that facility?

>> absolutely they have a hands-off policy. they don't know how to handle it. the state, unfortunately, has not done their job.

>> reporter: the state regulatory agency says narconon arrowhead is currently certified to provide non-medical detoxification services, and that an investigation into the deaths is ongoing. catten says he started an on-line scientology when he started looking at reports in 2010 . when he started to question church authorities, he was excommunicated. he left because of what he calls poor management and fraud. both men say they're ashamed of their vovinvolvement with narconon and scientology .

>> it's definitely embarrassing. i don't go around telling people i meet, i used to be in a cult.

>> reporter: used to be in a cult.

>> yeah, because i don't like to say i wasted this time doing this activity that i thought was right, when in actual fact, it's just pseudo science . it's a guy selling snake oil .

>> reporter: the church of scientology denied our request for on-camera interviews. but in statements they both said narconon is not a state of recruitment for the church and said only a small percentage of the patients join scientology . in an e-mail to nbc news, gary smith said, of narconon arrowhead 's current staff, 25% are employees. and nothing in the procedures puts money to the person who is suffering. they also said catten has ties to scientology advocates.

>> reporter: we'll be in communication with narconon , and the first thing we're going to hear, you guys are discredited, you're out to destroy narconon , you're not to be trusted.

>> right.

>> reporter: to which you would say what?

>> to me personally, i think it's quite the opposite. why would i incriminate myself? why would i give up my certifications? why would i do all these things? it's purely so the truth can come out so people can stop hurting and people can stop dying so there can be full transparency.

>> reporter: they go to great lengths at quieting people.

>> they're not going to do that with me. i'm going to tell the truth and they can't stop me.

>> something tells me there will be more on this topic.