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Sep 8, 2018

The messy truth about victim compensation

Co-produced with PRX Logo

Carl and Darlene Givens lost their son, Jamar, when he was just 23 years-old. He was shot to death in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents applied to the state’s victim compensation for help. Every state has this type of fund to help crime victims and their families cover lost wages, hospital bills and funeral expenses. But seven states, including Ohio, restrict access to those funds if the victim has a criminal background.

The Givens’ application was turned down because Jamar had gotten into trouble with the law as a juvenile. Reveal teams up with The Marshall Project to investigate inequality in the victim compensation system, and finds that these bans hit African Americans the hardest.

In the second part of the show, Reveal reporters Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter show how some rehab facilities exploit their clients by using them for free labor and offering them little real treatment.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: The victims who don’t count
  • Visit: The Marshall Project

Credits

Alysia Santo, reporter at The Marshall Project

Kirsten Danis, managing editor at The Marshall Project

Tom Meagher, deputy managing editor at The Marshall Project

Kate Osborn, producer  

Cheryl Devall, senior radio editor

Kevin Sullivan, executive producer

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:19:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
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Speaker 1: This episode is sponsored by Wondery and their new podcast Dr. Death.
Over the last couple of months, investigative reporter Laura Beil has been reporting on a prominent doctor in Dallas who maimed or killed 33 patients. Dr. Death goes beyond the doctor and looks at the system that failed to protect those 33 patients at every possible turn. Over the course of six episodes, you'll hear harrowing stories from patients who survived and the doctors who tried and failed to stop him. It's an incredible story that reveals how the systems we place so much trust in can fail us. Stay tuned to the end of the episode for an exclusive preview.
Find Dr. Death on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Visit Wondery.FM to learn more.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.
Notorious gangsters are synonymous with the cities they called home. In Chicago, Al Capone; Los Vegas, Bugsy Malone; in New York City, John Gotti; in Cleveland, in the 1970s, a guy named John Nardi wanted to be on top.
Jerry Capeci: Nardi's a well-connected gangster in the Cleveland underworld. He's into the usual gangster stuff: Bookmaking, loan sharking, extortion, protection rackets. He's a mob associate with hopes of becoming a made man, meaning inducted into the crime family.
Al Letson: Jerry Capeci has been writing about gangsters and organized crime since the 1980s. While Nardi was a gangster, Jerry says, he was not part of the Cleveland crime family.
Jerry Capeci: He's what wiseguys would call "An earner." He makes money and he pays tribute to crime family mobsters for their protection.
Al Letson: Nardi is beginning to grow his power base in Cleveland, but he's also getting himself into money trouble.
Jerry Capeci: He's a heavy gambler, and this leads him into some more risky endeavors like major drug dealing as he looks to get a bigger slice of the rackets.
Al Letson: Around the same time, in May of 1976, John Scalish, the longtime Cleveland mob boss, dies.
Jerry Capeci: Nardi feels he's earned the right to become the new leader. That's a real "pie in the sky" idea, and he begins to see more power and a bigger slice of the pie. He begins forming alliances with other gangsters who, like him, are outside the mob's inner circle and earning less money and respect.
Al Letson: One of those gangsters is Danny Greene.

 

Jerry Capeci: Danny Greene, like him, is a independent, violent gangster. He's a loose cannon, just like Nardi. He refuses to bow down to the new mafia administration.

 

Al Letson: Greene doesn't just refuse to bow down to the new mafia administration, he goes to war with them.

 

Jerry Capeci: Greene's men kidnap and kill the Cleveland family underboss.

 

Al Letson: This guy, the underboss, is second in command. He's also the cousin of the new defacto mob boss, the one Greene and Nardi want to unseat.

 

Jerry Capeci: A [deadly 00:04:03] shooting war begins. Bombings.

 

Al Letson: These bombings become almost a regular occurrence in Cleveland in 1976, and were recreated in a Hollywood film called: Kill The Irishman. Most of the bombings are done by remote control. The outsiders bombed the mob guys in power. The mob guys bombed them back. Back and forth, back and forth, in this massive struggle for control of the Cleveland mob.

 

Then one afternoon in May of 1977, John Nardi is walking to his car.

 

Jerry Capeci: They pushed a button, he's blown up. He dies soon after, and his rebellion certainly turns out to be a very bad idea.

 

Kate Osborn: John Nardi, for three decades a prominent member of Cleveland's crime syndicates, was killed today by a bomb rigged to the ignition of his car. Nardi's murder brings the number of organized crime figures slain in Cleveland this year to four.

 

Al Letson: Soon after his death, the Cleveland mafia is broken up. But there's a little known side story to Nardi's murder, after he died his widow filled out an application for help from the state of Ohio from a pool of money called a victim's compensation fund. It provides victims of crime and their families with money for things like medical expenses, lost wages and funeral expenses. Every state has a fund like it. John Nardi's widow ended up collecting $50,000 from Ohio's fund, and voters there were furious. How could a known mob family end up getting all that money from the state?

 

In 1982, state lawmakers banned people who had felony convictions from being able to use the fund, but it's not just people with convictions. Since Nardi had never been convicted lawmakers also banned people with a preponderance of evidence that they may have committed a crime. This law has had a lot of unintended consequences, and it has to do with the concept of who's a victim and who gets to decide. That's what we're exploring on today's show.

 

We start with our partners, The Marshall Project. Their reporter Alysia Santo has been investigating victim compensation funds for more than a year, and what she found is that not all victims are treated equally. She and producer Kate Osborn get started in Ohio.

 

Kate Osborn: Okay, it's on the right. Do you see anything that looks like a funeral home?

 

Alysia Santo: It's Wednesday in May and the sun is shining in Cincinnati, Ohio. It's the kind of spring day where you wish you didn't have to go to work or to school, that you could just sit on your porch. But today, Kate and I are going to spend the morning at a funeral home.

 

Kate Osborn: J.C. Battle & Sons Funeral Home.

 

Alysia Santo: Great.

 

An immaculate three-story house on this quiet block.

 

Lynwood Battle: Hello.

 

Alysia Santo: Hi.

 

Kate Osborn: Hi there.

 

Lynwood Battle: Come right in.

 

Kate Osborn: Are you J.C.?

 

Lynwood Battle: I'm Lynwood.

 

Alysia Santo: Oh, hi.

 

Lynwood Battle: Hi.

 

Alysia Santo: I'm Alysia.

 

Kate Osborn: I'm Kate Osborn.

 

Lynwood Battle: Alysia.

 

Alysia Santo: J.C. Battle & Sons has been in business since 1933. Lynwood and J.C. are the third generation of Battles to run the place. Lynwood says this job is more of a calling.

 

Lynwood Battle: We are committed to taking care of families in the absolute worst day of their lives.

 

Alysia Santo: That means counseling families through their grief, all the paperwork and the cost. For customers who are struggling, the brothers offer the Battle special.

 

Lynwood Battle: You have a choice of four metal caskets, that's 3295.

 

Alysia Santo: 3295, about half of what funeral normal costs. That's still a lot of money for many families who are sometimes dealing with a sudden loss.

 

Lynwood Battle: Then we find out that he was a victim of crime, then it's, "Oh, well, you might be qualified to receive some compensation back from the state."

 

Alysia Santo: Out of the victim compensation fund. Every state has a victim compensation fund, and most of the money comes court fees, not taxes. But a lot of people don't know this money is out there. I didn't before I started working on this story. Sometime people find out from their funeral directors, that's what happened with Carl and Darlene Givens. The couple lives just 15 minutes west of J.C. Battle & Sons in an area of Cincinnati called Price Hill.

 

Darlene Givens: We just had an anniversary on May the 15th, and it'll be 31 years.

 

Kate Osborn: Oh, congratulations.

 

Alysia Santo: Carl's in his 70s with a young face. He's 19 years older than Darlene. She's petite with tired eyes but deep smile lines, and her face can beam with light when she's talking about her son, Jamar, who they lost in 2016.

 

Darlene Givens: Throughout his growing up, children were always in our home because of Jamar. Every day he'd bring someone to the door, asked us to cloth them or feed them, which we did.

 

Carl Givens: Yeah, to add to that, he was loved by so many people. I used to wonder one thing that Jamar ... I asked him, said "Jamar, how could you relate to so many different people?" Everybody knew Jamar.

 

Alysia Santo: Jamar lived with his parents and brother Kershawn, all in a single-family house on the corner of a busy intersection. Carl and Darlene always worried about their boys. Darlene says she had a bad feeling about certain parts of their neighborhood, streets she says are rough, and would tell Jamar to steer clear.

 

Carl and Darlene would constantly call their sons to see what they were up to, even as the boys became young men. Then one night in 2016, when Jamar was 23-years-old, he didn't come home. Darlene called. He didn't answer. She left a voicemail.

 

Darlene Givens: I'm probably the last person on his phone because I was calling like, "Jamar, where are you? I'm about to leave for work. I need you to call me as soon as you get this." I went on about my day at work, and around 10:00 my husband called. He was crying. I get to the house and there's about 800 people surrounding by my house. He met me as I was getting out of the car and he's saying that they're saying something happened to Jamar.

 

Alysia Santo: The police said the Givens should come into the station.

 

Darlene Givens: That's when they told us that they had identified our son and he was killed. Shot. He didn't suffer. I do know his body was moved from where he was shot at and just thrown in an area like he was a dog or something and left there. It was horrible. Unimaginable. Sorry.

 

They told me that it was him. They identified him. He had his identification in his pocket and his dental records. It was definitely him. My head just dropped. I was just in shock. Kind of still in shock, but I'm learning to bear it. It's still very difficult.

 

After they told me, and we came back home, and then I had to think about ... the coroner had his body, so I had to call them. Then we decided on a funeral home, still doing this, not even knowing how I was going to pay for all this because I didn't have insurance.

 

Alysia Santo: When the funeral director told Darlene about Ohio's victim compensation fund, she was relieved. They applied right away.

 

Months passed. Police charged a man with the murder, they never discovered the motive. Darlene considers her son a victim, but in July of 2016, she got a letter.

 

Darlene Givens: From the victims of crimes stating that they did not pay for it. I'm thinking like, "Oh my gosh. Why didn't he ..." I didn't know what to think.

 

Alysia Santo: Darlene thought the funeral had already been paid for, not realizing that the process is lengthy and only covers reimbursement, but she hadn't gone to the Battles for the funeral and didn't really understand the process.

 

Darlene Givens: I opened it and I read it and I got to the middle part of it as it was explaining the law.

 

Alysia Santo: This is how they told you, right?

 

Darlene Givens: Okay, it says, "Information we received by the attorney general's office shows that Jamar Givens was a adjudicated delinquent for aggravated robbery at a first-degree felony on October the 8th, 2009.

 

Alysia Santo: Darlene's application was denied. The state would not be paying for Jamar's funeral. The reason? That 1982 state law that bars Ohio from giving money to crime victims who have criminal records within the past 10 years; and Jamar had a record. He had been found guilty in juvenile court for his part in a robbery, a record that isn't supposed to follow you into adulthood. But in Jamar's case it did, meaning his family wouldn't be getting any help.

 

Carl Givens: Right now we're living paycheck to paycheck. You know what I mean? Any additional anything is rough, we can't meet it.

 

Alysia Santo: Carl used to work full-time for General Motors when they still made cars in Cincinnati back in the late '80s. He picks up odd jobs now. Darlene works more than full-time as a certified nursing assistant.

 

Carl Givens: It's been a tough road. She missed work. I just get a Social Security check once a month, and that's nothing. Her salary is not the greatest either. You take missing a day, what a day can do to you, that's the difference in making that bill you're supposed to pay.

 

Alysia Santo: I always knew that in some states having a record meant you could be denied some forms of public housing or get barred from getting some jobs or lose your right to vote, but I didn't know a criminal record could stop you from getting help if you became the victim of a crime.

 

Ohio attorney Michael Downing has worked with clients like the Givens for decades. We figured he might be able to explain the logic behind the law.

 

Michael Downing: Logic has no role in it. The logic is entirely political in my opinion, in that the legislature does not want to be perceived as giving away money to people who don't deserve it. I think the assumption is that criminals are criminals. It's a moral calculus.

 

Alysia Santo: Michael told us that after decades in practice he finally stopped working with crime victims in part because he was discouraged by the tough restrictions on the victim compensation fund.

 

Michael Downing: Some people when they get these letters feel that the state is telling them you don't deserve our help, and they're right.

 

Alysia Santo: That that's what the state is telling them?

 

Michael Downing: They're right that that's what the state is telling them.

 

Alysia Santo: When I first learned about Ohio's law, I wanted to know exactly what the state was telling victims and family members, and how often people were being denied. In 2017, I reached out to the Ohio Attorney General's office which runs the fund. I asked them for data and documentation about the denials.

 

After almost a year, they finally handed over hundreds of letters along with the original applications. Here's what I found: 552 people were rejected in 2016 for criminal history, that's almost one-fifth of all the denials issued that year. In all of those letters was Darlene.

 

Darlene Givens: Therefore, while the attorney general office sympathize with you for your loss, no reward can be granted on this claim.

 

Alysia Santo: About a quarter of those denials are family of homicide victims. For the most part it's mothers and fathers like the Givens being told the state would not help them bury their child. For Darlene, Jamar's past had nothing to do with his victimization.

 

Darlene Givens: Jamar served that time. He moved on. He was not out in the community robbing anyone, harming anyone. He learned his lesson from that.

 

Alysia Santo: My producer, Kate, and I traveled to the attorney general's office in Columbus, Ohio to find out why they were denying so many folks like Carl and Darlene.

 

Kate Osborn: Hi.

 

Alysia Santo: Hey.

 

Matt Kanai: Hi. I'm Matt Kanai.

 

Kate Osborn: I'm Kate.

 

Matt Kanai: Kate, it's nice to meet you.

 

Alysia Santo: We sat down with Matt Kanai, who oversees the victim compensation fund, and I got to ask him about it.

 

In some ways these rules, what they seem to do, it creates a situation where this office is deciding who counts as a victim and who doesn't.

 

Matt Kanai: No. We don't take the position that it minimizes their victimization in any way. It's important to remember that the compensation program isn't like a charity grant, right? It's a compensation grant. It's an act of grace by the state that says if you had expenses, we'll pay for some of these expenses. It doesn't apply to every victim, right? It's not saying you aren't a victim. It's saying that there are only certain types of people and certain types of victimization that we address. I don't think it's the same as saying you're not a victim.

 

Alysia Santo: In your opinion, should compensation not be available to people due to previous criminal behavior that just might not at all be related to the later victimization?

 

Matt Kanai: I mean I can't really speak as to my opinion, I can really only speak to the law. My understanding is that the purpose of the law ... and please understand this law was passed like in 1980, so I was six-years-old when this law was passed ... A lot of what that comes down to is this feeling of, "If you don't respect the law and you break the law, then you don't get the benefit of this other side of the law." It's kind of like saying, "If you don't come with clean hands to the compensation fund, then the fund turns you away."

 

Alysia Santo: Matt said there would be fewer denials if people with criminal records or their families were told, "Don't bother applying. You'll be turned down."

 

Ohio is one of seven states with laws restricting people with criminal pasts from getting help; but Ohio's law is one of the most restrictive, it bans anyone with any type of felony from getting compensation. Whether the-

 

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  Section 2 of 3          [00:19:00 - 00:38:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Alysia Santo: ... One with any type of felony from getting compensation whether the crime was violent or not, things like a drug possession or failing to pay child support.

 

David Singleton: One of the things that outrages me the most about this is that people with money and power are treated differently in our justice system. They're not policed the same way.

 

Alysia Santo: David Singleton is an attorney in Cincinnati. He represented Jamar Givens when he was incarcerated in juvenile detention.

 

David Singleton: White folks, and black folks, and Latinos, we all commit crimes. If you are white and privileged, you're not going to be subject to the same police involvement, you're not going to be policed the same way. That's just not fair that we're going to deny people when they are victims of crime compensation, particularly in Jamar's case where his adjudication was juvenile.

 

Alysia Santo: Juvenile records are supposed to be sealed to protect kids from adult consequences. In fact, we couldn't pull Jamar's records to verify all the details about his crime. The Victim Fund in Ohio could and they used it to deny Darlene and Carl compensation.

 

In Ohio, a juvenile criminal past can follow you into death. Kate and I drive a few hours north of Cincinnati to Cleveland, where Antonio Mason lives with his family. To get into his home, we walked up a narrow ramp connecting his house to the street. Antonio welcomed us in, we sat on the couch. He was in his wheelchair.

 

Antonio Mason: A drunk driver was doing 103 miles an hour, and ran into my car from the back and sent it up a pole.

 

Alysia Santo: What are the results of the accident?

 

Antonio Mason: He got 12 years, I got paralyzed from the chest down. He got the better end of it.

 

Alysia Santo: Antonio is remarkably grounded. Not optimistic and sunny, but honest and clear about what it takes for him to live every day. When the accident happened, it was at the beginning of the fall semester of his sophomore year of college. He was a starting guard on the Cuyahoga Community College men's basketball team and was studying to be a gym teacher.

 

Antonio Mason: I was going to school trying to live, trying to make a better way.

 

Alysia Santo: After, he was in rehab relearning-

 

Antonio Mason: Everything. How to put my socks on, to washing myself up, to turning in the bed. The turning side to side, it was crazy, everything.

 

Alysia Santo: Antonio also needed financial help to make his house and car wheelchair accessible. He applied to the Victim Compensation Fund for help.

 

Were you hopeful when you had first applied that you were going to get some help from the state?

 

Antonio Mason: I just knew I was, I was going to get some kind of help. The incident, I was paralyzed, I hadn't been in trouble as an adult, period. They always said that your juvenile record is sealed, they can't use it against you as an adult, yet they still found a way to use something that happened when I was a juvenile.

 

Alysia Santo: The state denied Antonio's application because he'd been in trouble when he was a kid. He had a couple of charges, one for drug possession and another for trafficking. He says he had moved on.

 

Antonio Mason: It pretty much was like basketball, basketball, basketball. As long as you stayed in the gym, you stayed out of trouble. That was pretty much it; you stayed in the gym, you stayed out of trouble.

 

Alysia Santo: The gym is pretty far off for him now, and he faces a constant pressure.

 

Antonio Mason: A ton of them. It's always bills, always piled on and keep coming.

 

Alysia Santo: Bills for his health care and the new handicap adjusted car he just got. He's trying to save up for a wheelchair accessible home, but he only gets about $750 a month for disability. Most people in his position can turn to the Ohio Victim Compensation Fund, which awards victims up to $50,000. Antonio got nothing.

 

Antonio Mason: It's like, all right at that age I'm not allowed to buy tobacco, I'm not allowed to drink liquor. I'm not allowed to do anything, but I'm allowed to get something that will haunt me for the rest of my life on my record. It's so unfair, that's so unfair.

 

Alysia Santo: The Ohio Crime Victims Fund closed out with a $15 million surplus, that's how much left over money they had. They have a lot of money, they're just not giving it out.

 

Antonio Mason: I don't know what to say to that. What the hell? They say that we're the criminals.

 

Alysia Santo: Antonio was surprised that the fund had so much money left over, millions of dollars a year for at least the past 10 years. There's something else I found that didn't surprise him as much; in the forms where people noted the victim's race, we found that the majority of those people, 61%, who were turned down for having a record were black.

 

I took that information to Matt Kanai at the Ohio Attorney General's Office. He's the lawyer we met earlier who oversees the Victim Compensation Fund. I asked him a straightforward question, why are black people hurt the most by this law?

 

Matt Kanai: My reaction to that is that I don't necessarily find that surprising. There were analysis of the 2010 census data that suggested that African Americans were disproportionately incarcerated at a rate about six times the average for white Americans.

 

Alysia Santo: Okay, so Matt says it's not surprising to him that black victims are disproportionately affected. He says the Attorney General first became concerned about this law about three years ago after he was approached from family members of murder victims who were denied because they had criminal histories.

 

I asked Matt about Antonio's case and why a paralyzed car accident victim would be denied.

 

Matt Kanai: I think I would be hard pressed to find any law that is universally applied in such a way that every person in society agrees that it never has an unjust conclusion.

 

Alysia Santo: Matt's been saying, "This is the law. We don't have a choice, we have to follow it." In fact, they do have a choice in some cases. Under the law, the Attorney General's office is allowed to turn down people for crimes they were never convicted of. They can decide, "Maybe the person should have been found guilty, but got away with it." In 2016, they did that 24 times.

 

Matt Kanai: The standard reason why that exists is because that there are people who are obviously guilty of a crime, but for whatever reason they're not convicted.

 

Alysia Santo: Matt Shaughnessy is a former police officer and firefighter who now works as an attorney who helps people file victim compensation claims. He says he deals with this type of thing a lot.

 

Matt S.: It's a very frustrating thing because it's thin evidence.

 

Alysia Santo: He told me something else, something really surprising. He said that sometimes the AG's office is digging up old accusations that were never even prosecuted.

 

Matt S.: Oftentimes, a prosecutor's already made a decision not to charge or to drop the charges, not to pursue it because there's not enough evidence there. Yet the Attorney General turns around and reads a police report and says, "Denied."

 

Matt Kanai: We are entitled to look at the evidence and say, "No, you obviously committed this felony offense, so we're not going to pay." What that really protects you against are the cases where you do have good solid evidence of an offense and you're not letting the person slip by because they didn't ultimately get prosecuted and convicted.

 

Alysia Santo: As a criminal justice reporter, I often hear that the system is about getting justice for victims, but not all victims are treated equally. About a month ago while we were finishing this story, Republican Attorney General Mike Dewine announced a plan to loosen some of the restrictions.

 

He's running for Governor and he asked state lawmakers to allow people with criminal histories to qualify if they're applying on behalf of a victim who's a minor. He also asked to reduce how far back a person's criminal past is examined, from ten years to five. The bill's been introduced, but no word on whether it will become law.

 

Since Jamar Given's family was disqualified, his parents Carl and Darlene didn't get that help and have gone into debt. They've started to get collection notices for funeral expenses. I asked Darlene what it would have meant if Ohio had helped them.

 

Darlene Givens: Just it would have been comforting to know that the government or whoever runs these things cares. For what I've got out of it, it was he's just another victim or the type of victim they're looking for, put it that way. Even through death, he's victimized.

 

Al Letson: The Marshall Project's Alysia Santo brought us that story. It was produced by Kate Osborn with data analysis from Reveal's Micheal Corey.

 

Alysia reviewed victim compensation funds across the country and found that every year hundreds of thousands of victims apply to state funds, which paid out more than $348 million in 2016. As Alysia mentioned, seven states like Ohio have some sort of ban in place for people with a criminal past.

 

Our next story takes us to North Carolina where a program that's supposed to help victims of drug addiction instead uses them as free labor.

 

Ian Hayes: There's no real structured recovery, the only recovery that we got was work your tail off.

 

Al Letson: That's next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Our next story takes us to a busy café where a man names Ian Hayes is talking to Reveal reports Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter.

 

Ian Hayes: Feel free to have as much of this as you want, you've got to try it. No, I don't.

 

Al Letson: Over fries and grilled cheese sandwiches, they talk about what happened at a drug rehab outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Ian was a client there when he was struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Afterwords, he actually went to work there full time.

 

Ian Hayes: Any questions you have, I got you. Like I said, I know where all the bodies are buried for Christ's sake.

 

Al Letson: He has some secrets to tell about the program called Recovery Connections Community. Ian is 44 years old, but walks and talks with the swagger of a much younger man. He prides himself on always telling it like it is, no matter the consequences. He's battled with chronic addiction most of his life.

 

Ian Hayes: Am I clean and sober? Most of the time, but not always. I'm going to keep it real.

 

Al Letson: Recovery Connections is free and opens its doors to people like Ian who need help.

 

Ian Hayes: People who are down on their rope, they're desperate, they need to get somewhere. They can't go back to the house because the wife kicked them out, the mom or whatever, and they've got nowhere to go. This program is for people that really don't have any options. That's the catch.

 

Al Letson: While Recovery Connections is free, there's some ground rules for everyone in the program. They get housing and food, and in exchange they have to work full time jobs at local businesses.

 

Ian Hayes: You're going to work, work, work, work.

 

Al Letson: Recovery Connections keeps all their pay.

 

Ian Hayes: That's how the program works. That's how it's funded, by the residents working and the money that's made on the jobs goes back into the program.

 

Al Letson: Over time, Ian began to doubt where the money was going. The program's founder Jennifer Warren was always talking about money.

 

Ian Hayes: You all need to make some money. Money, money, money, money. That's where I was like, "You know what?" That was where I was starting to get pissed off.

 

Al Letson: Ian says Jennifer demanded that people work around the clock, 16 hours or more every day. The more they worked, the more money they brought in. Ian says instead of going to the program he saw money going somewhere else, into Jennifer's pockets. Ian grew so disillusioned that he quit his job there.

 

Amy Julia and Shoshana Walter are here with me in the studio to talk about what they found. Hello ladies.

 

Shoshana Walter: Hi Al.

 

Amy Julia H.: Hey Al.

 

Al Letson: Shoshana, can you start off by telling me how's this program set up and what happens to the people who take part in it?

 

Shoshana Walter: It's a two year long program, they basically spend the majority of their time working in these contract jobs at care homes. They don't get paid, all the money goes to the rehab program.

 

They work more than 16 hours per day as caregivers for elderly disabled and mentally ill patients. They're changing their diapers, they're bathing them. They're sometimes dispensing mediations, helping to feed them. They don't really get much training, if any training at all, in most of these jobs.

 

Al Letson: Amy Julia, how does this help them kick their drug habit?

 

Amy Julia H.: What they're told initially when they got into the program is that this structure and work is going to be good for them, it's going to keep their mind off drugs, idle hands are bad, work is supposed to help them. When they're working in these facilities, the facilities are often awash in drugs. Like Shoshana mentioned, some of these recovering drug addicts are actually tasked with dispensing narcotics and opiates.

 

Things went wrong all the time. People told us that on the job drug thefts were common, people would steal prescription pain killers and snort them. Often if they were tasked with dispensing drugs, which they also weren't allowed to do, you're supposed to have a special state certification to do that, they would take drugs meant for the patients and take them for themselves.

 

We actually talked to Ian, who you heard from earlier, who got the inside scoop on some of this.

 

Ian Hayes: The residents were going into sharps containers and taking the empty residual containers of morphine and squeezing them all into one cup to accumulate enough to get high.

 

Amy Julia H.: What he's talking about right there is the sharps containers are the medical waste, sort of the garbage cans for a lot of this. People would go in there and just steal the residual morphine. Another thing that was pretty common was that people would steal fentanyl pain patches, the patch is meant for people in chronic pain and they slowly release pain killers. That they would just take those off of the residents for themselves.

 

Ian Hayes: They were taking drugs off the residents that had patches on, they would take their patches off them and then suck the fentanyl out or do something to get it. A couple of women did that.

 

Amy Julia H.: Did they get kicked out?

 

Ian Hayes: No, you don't get kicked out for relapsing.

 

Amy Julia H.: We actually found that for most people who go through this program, it doesn't really help them at all. Most people don't make it to the two year mark.

 

Al Letson: Shoshana, why would people who are struggling with addiction work with vulnerable people in assisted living facilities that are full of drugs? That just doesn't make a lot of sense.

 

Shoshana Walter: Basically the adult care homes contract with Recovery Connections as if they were a staffing agency. It's cheap; they don't have to pay worker's compensation, they don't have to pay insurance, they don't have to pay overtime. Some of the facilities are only paying minimum wage for the Recovery Connections workers, which is about $7.25 an hour. It's a cheap source of labor for them.

 

Al Letson: What kind of facilities would take these people?

 

Shoshana Walter: We wanted to know that too, so we actually went to one of these facilities. This was back in December. It's called Candler Living Center, we went there around nine o'clock at night. It was super dark, there were trees all over the place. It was kind of secluded in this wooded rural area.

 

In the parking lot, we actually found a Recovery Connections worker. We followed him inside through this flimsy wooden door, totally unsecured. We walked down this dimly lit hallway into this cafeteria area. There were people everywhere, it was totally chaotic. There was this loud radio going, people milling around pacing back and forth.

 

To the right of us, there was this open office room where all the meds were being held; prescription pain killers and all sorts of medications.

 

Al Letson: Opioids would be in there?

 

Shoshana Walter: Opioids would be in there, absolutely. People were just running in and out, there were residents running in and out of there, staff members. No one really asking who we were or what we were doing there.

 

Al Letson: Amy Julia, did you guys get a chance to talk to any of the companies that own these homes?

 

Amy Julia H.: Yes, we talked to a lot of them. One of them, the company that owns Candler Living has said that they contract with the recovery center because they're cheap, they were a reliable source of labor. They said that they thought they were doing a good thing, that they were giving these people struggling with addiction a chance to gain job experience.

 

What they said though was that they've never had any problems with these rehab workers whatsoever, which is kind of surprising because when we talked to a lot of the rehab workers and former employees at these facilities they've said that this whole arrangement was a bad idea. There were drug thefts.

 

The thing that we did not touch upon was there were a lot of allegations of sexual assault as well. There were some really serious cases, seven cases that we had identified where these rehab workers were accused of sexually assaulting patients at the care homes.

 

Al Letson: Tell me more about that. What did you learn about the assaults and what happened?

 

Shoshana Walter: We heard about these assaults from employees at these care homes. Many of them were so concerned because none of the incidents they said had ever been reported to authorities, which is required under law. Some of the allegations were very serious, there was one rehab worker who was accused of sexually assaulting a disabled patient in the shower. It was never reported, never investigated.

 

The home did actually institute a policy preventing rehab workers from bathing-

 

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Amy Julia H.: Actually institute a policy preventing rehab workers from bathing female patients, but as far as we know, that rehab worker is still working in the care homes.

 

Al Letson: That's horrifying. Let's get back to the rehab itself. How do people with addictions end up in a place like this?

 

Amy Julia H.: We actually found a lot of participants at Recovery Connections were court-ordered there as part of their probation. You know, a judge will say, "Okay, I'm not going to send you to prison, but I require you to get treatment, or go to rehab for your drug problem." There are a lot of rehabs like this all over the country that advertise themselves as free, and specifically cater to people who don't have any money and don't have an insurance and therefore don't really have any place to turn.

 

Also, a lot of social workers at state-funded psych facilities, rehab centers, detox facilities, send people to Recovery Connections as well. We talked to one guy named Ryan [Bailey 00:38:58] who was ordered by a judge to complete treatment out of Cleveland Ohio. He had a charge of domestic violence for pushing his step-father during an argument related to his heroin addiction. He had some driving-related charges from his heroin addiction, and so he ended up at Recovery Connections and realized it was not at all the treatment that he needed to overcome that.

 

Ryan Bailey: And there was no real structured recovery. The only recovery that we got was, "Work your tail off. Wake up, go to work, do everything they tell you to." Or they'll put you on the move, put you on punishment, take what little bit of privileges or freedoms that you have from you. Keep you working 18, 20 hours a day, like every day of the week.

 

Al Letson: So people are working these crazy long days. Amy Julia, walk me through what a day is like in one of these rehab centers.

 

Amy Julia H.: It's incredibly structured, so people have told us that they wake up at 6:00 AM and they're going to work at the assisted living facilities, so they're working double shifts, usually 16 hours a day. That's common. After that, when they're back at the rehab facility, as Ryan was describing, if they're put on the move, that means that they always have to be working. So that can be cleaning up around the house, people told us that they had very strict rules and sort of these odd punishments where they would have to cut the front lawn with a pair of scissors or scrub the baseboards of the home with a baby toothbrush, and they would have to do this for hours and hours on end and this was ostensibly to help keep their mind off of their addictions.

 

But we talked to a lot of people that said it was about control, it was about sort of breaking them down.

 

Al Letson: That sounds really cult-like to me.

 

Amy Julia H.: Yeah. What a lot of people have said was that the most cult-like part of this was actually these therapy groups that they had that would happen once a week.

 

Ryan Bailey: Yeah, they break you down and then don't even bother to build you up. It was pretty much just tearing you down and tearing your self-esteem down, in order to get what they want out of you.

 

Amy Julia H.: And people had said that that was about all of the therapy they got. And what the rehab said was, "Oh, this was supposed to be an exercise that would sort of brin their flaws front and center and help them confront this and overcome it." But what people said was it was incredibly abusive. It would break them down, and again, this was all about control.

 

Al Letson: I've been in therapy, and that doesn't sound anything like therapy to me. So what happened to Ryan?

 

Amy Julia H.: Well, he ended up fleeing the program. He became homeless for awhile, he relapsed. He found out that as a result of all this, he violated his probation, so he actually currently has a warrant from Cleveland for his arrest, and as a result, he's been kind of on the run ever since. I mean, he has a hard time getting a job. He kind of has to lay low and he can't get a driver's license, so it's really affected his life for the worse.

 

Ryan Bailey: I can't even go back to Ohio, or they'll arrest me. I mean, I wouldn't go back and do that again if I had to. I would almost just rather take my chances on the street.

 

Al Letson: It hasn't worked out for Ryan, but as we'll hear, the program worked out pretty well for the woman who's behind this whole scheme. She turned the rehab into her own personal empire, complete with a collection of exotic animals.

 

Ian Hayes: 11 llamas, eight donkeys, plus sheep, goats, arctic fox.

 

Al Letson: That's coming up on Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. I'm talking to Reveal reporters Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter about their story: looking at Recovery Connections Community outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Now, it bills itself as a drug rehab program, but the therapy consists of sending clients to work 16 hours a day as caregivers at assisted living facilities and the workers never saw the money they made.

 

A woman, named Jennifer Warren, set up the program and seemed to profit off of it. So, Amy Julia, tell me more about this woman. What's she all about?

 

Amy Julia H.: She's a really interesting character. So she herself struggled with addiction. She was getting her PhD in clinical psychological, that's when she got hooked on crack cocaine. She dropped out. She went to this rehab program in North Carolina that had this similar model. It was a work-based rehab. It was free, but she had to turn over all of her pay to the rehab. Basically, she was in this rehab program, met some other people and she decided to start a rehab of her own, and it was called Recovery Ventures.

 

So she started this rehab program, but soon it began to sort of go off the rails for her. She got into some ethical problems. She was forcing people in her program to babysit her kids and color coordinate her closet and take care of her animals and was really blurring the line between helping the recovering drug addicts and helping herself. Because she was in part of this non-profit rehab program, she would have them solicit donations and some of them ended up going to her rather than to program participants.

 

Then sort of the final straw for all of this was when she started sleeping with one of her rehab participants, who she was counseling, and that's obviously a huge ethical breach. Some of her colleagues were trying to intervene and said, "You're jeopardizing your license. This is career suicide, what are you doing?" She held firm and said, "I love him. What am I supposed to do?" She continued all of this and that was kind of the final straw. She ended up getting fired. She lost her therapy license. She got into a lot of trouble, and then she ended up just starting a new program called Recovery Connections that was basically an identical version of her previous program, but this time she didn't have to answer to anyone. She was in charge.

 

Al Letson: So, Shoshana, she starts this new place, but does she continue the same behavior?

 

Shoshana Walter: Yes. The same exact thing, although this time she's running an unlicensed program, so there's no one, really, to hold her accountable. And there's another thing that we haven't told you about yet, which is her "animal therapy program."

 

Ian Hayes: Jennifer has like a ... Well, she's got a thing for collecting animals. She likes exotic animals.

 

Shoshana Walter: That's Ian Hayes again. He worked at the facility and was also a patient. He says that Jennifer Warren has an extensive exotic animal collection. They're basically like her pets. She uses the program to buy the animals and makes participants take care of them.

 

Al Letson: So what type of animals are we talking about? Like how many are we talking?

 

Amy Julia H.: There were hundreds. She keeps them at her house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. People have told us that her entire bedroom was full of cages of exotic birds, like toucans and parakeets and other tropical birds and then we asked Ian this question. Like how many animals are they? And here he is going through all of them.

 

Ian Hayes: Probably 50.

 

Amy Julia H.: 50 different types of [inaudible 00:46:43]?

 

Ian Hayes: Well, 50, you know, like three horses, plus 11 llamas, plus seven dogs, plus eight donkeys, plus sheep, goats, arctic fox.

 

Amy Julia H.: An arctic fox?

 

Ian Hayes: Yeah, two of 'em. Kinkajous.

 

Amy Julia H.: I don't even know what a kinkajou is.

 

Ian Hayes: Some cute, but violent looking monkey.

 

Al Letson: I hate monkeys. No, no, no, no, no. Okay. 11 llamas? 11 llamas. Like, no.

 

Amy Julia H.: What we also heard that was really sad is that some participants had to bury the llamas. Some of the llamas died, so part of their duties, after they're working at the assisted living facility is they come home and they have to bury a dead llama. It was very traumatic.

 

Al Letson: So what happened with Ian?

 

Amy Julia H.: Yeah, Ian had a rough time. He ended up going to the rehab center in 2014. He stayed for 16 months. He sort of saw things breaking down. He questioned the way the money was being spent. He would get into arguments with Jennifer over the way she was spending program funds on herself. He ultimately ended up leaving on not good terms, and because he struggles with addiction his entire life, he ended up relapsing. He was in a really dark place and after a couple of months, he actually ended up going back to the program as a participant. No longer as an administrator. So he was going through the program working 16 hour days at the assisted living facilities.

 

He did that for a couple of months and he finally realized nothing was going to change. This program was not going to work for him and it wasn't working for some other people as well, so he ended up leaving.

 

Al Letson: So how is she able to get away with this? I mean, how can she just keep doing the same thing over and over?

 

Shoshana Walter: It is amazing. There have been at least four state agencies that have investigated her, that have received so many, like dozens upon dozens of complaints about her, and she's managed to basically get out of trouble each and every single time.

 

Al Letson: So what does Warren say about all this? I mean, how does she defend herself?

 

Amy Julia H.: I think overall, she has sort of said that she's providing a valuable service. That there's not enough affordable treatment programs anywhere in the country. That it's better for people struggling with addiction to get some sort of rehab help than go into prison and she's sort of made this point to probation officers and courts all over the state.

 

Al Letson: So is there an alternative?

 

Shoshana Walter: You know, people generally feel like doing work and doing a good job at the work gives them a sense of self-esteem, but there are programs that doing that without working them excessive number of hours, depriving them of sleep and programs that also at the same time provide them with actual treatment for their addictions, where they might take classes, where they might actually have therapy or counseling. So I think there's that part of it and also, if a program is licensed, then there's some oversight and there's someone who can say, "This is abusive and this must stop."

 

Al Letson: Since we first came out with this story back in May, a lot has happened. Shoshana, can you bring us up to date?

 

Shoshana Walter: Well, right off the bat, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina called the rehab a "Horrific scheme that preys on people at their lowest." And he ordered a state-wide crackdown that involves at least 10 criminal and regulatory investigations into the program. They're looking at elder abuse, at fraud and other problems.

 

Al Letson: So is the program still open?

 

Shoshana Walter: The program is still open while the investigation is ongoing, but people on probation are no longer allowed to go there. The state probation department pulled them out. State social workers are no longer allowed to send people there and several of the care homes that were using the workers have canceled their contracts to the program.

 

We have heard, though, that Recovery Connections is still sending people to work at some of the homes. So we're going to keep track of what happens.

 

Al Letson: That's Reveal's Shoshana Walter along with Amy Julia Harris. Since they first started reporting on this story, they've received dozens of tips about other abusive work-based rehabs all over the country. They have created a reporting network where they're sharing these tips with local newsrooms and journalists. So far, more than 100 reporters have signed up. If you're interested in joining, go to revealnews.org/network.

 

Andy Donahue edited out story on rehab rackets in North Carolina. Thanks to Alysia Santo, Kirsten Danis and Tom Meagher, of the Marshall Project, for collaborating on our story about victim compensation funds. It was produced by Kate [Osbourne 00:51:41] and edited by our Executive Producer, Kevin Sullivan, with help from [Cheryl 00:51:45] Duvall and Senior Data Editor Michael Corey did the data analysis.

 

Our Production Manager's Mwende Hinojosa. Our Sound Design Team is the dynamic duo, 'J-Breezy', Mr Jim Briggs and Fernando 'My Man Yo' Arruda. They had help this week from [Katherine 00:52:00] [Raymondo 00:52:00]. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle is our Editor in Chief. Our theme music is by Camerado, Lightning.

 

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production for the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.

 

Speaker 2: This special preview comes from Wondery and their new podcast, Dr. Death.

 

Laura Beil: Imagine you're struggling with back pain. For months. No one can tell you what's wrong. Then, you find a doctor.

 

Speaker 3: In the words that he said that I wanted to hear was, "I can fix you." And you know, those are magic words. I was in pain, and somebody, a neurosurgeon said, "I can fix you."

 

Laura Beil: You trust he'll take care of your problem.

 

Speaker 4: Nothing but good reports and a list of accolades that were two pages long.

 

Speaker 5: When you talk to him, he's engaging, he seems very intelligent. He's witty, he's charming.

 

Speaker 6: He had always talked about, "I'm going to be a doctor."

 

Speaker 5: But he has this dark side that he likes to keep separate and hidden from everybody else.

 

Laura Beil: This is a story about 33 patients who put their trust in a prominent surgeon in Dallas.

 

Speaker 7: State your full name for the record.

 

Christopher D.: Christopher Daniel Duntsch.

 

Laura Beil: And wished they hadn't.

 

Speaker 8: This friend called me and said, "I believe that your doctor is on the news. That he has been killing patients."

 

Laura Beil: And it's a story about a system that failed to protect to them at every possible turn.

 

Speaker 3: I'm trying to stop this guy from being let operate anywhere, anytime, any place.

 

Speaker 7: Have you ever been under the influence of any drugs during the time that you were performing spinal surgeon on any patient?

 

Christopher D.: I take the fifth.

 

Speaker 9: This was not an operation that was performed. This was attempted murder.

 

Speaker 10: (singing)

 

Laura Beil: From Wondery, the network behind Dirty John, I'm your host and reporter Laura Beil. Dr. Death, our new, six-part series, premiers on September 4th. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts.

 

Christopher D.: That's not how that story's supposed to end, you know.

 

Speaker 11: From PRX.

 

  Section 3 of 3          [00:38:00 - 00:54:53]