Alleged Rehab Misconduct Prompts Washington State Internal Investigation

By Paul Gaita 07/11/17

One of the state-licensed drug treatment clinics in question has been the subject of four previous investigations over a six-year period.

man holding whistle highlighting corruption

A series of investigative reports by a Seattle, Washington-based television news program into misconduct at several state-licensed drug treatment clinics has spurred the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to order an internal examination of one of its own agencies, the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR). 

Investigators for the KING 5 series "Sobriety for Sale" spoke with whistleblowers about alleged incidents of counselors receiving cash bribes from clients to falsify drug tests and attendance records required for court cases at a half-dozen clinics throughout Pierce County and in the city of Spokane; state workers looking into these cases later alleged that they were prohibited from fully investigating these incidents by their own bosses at DBHR.

A spokesperson for DSHS confirmed that the internal investigation was underway, and added that KING 5 will be updated with their findings.

KING 5 began investigating claims of falsified treatment reports in March 2016, when public documents surfaced that alleged counselors at a state-licensed drug and alcohol clinic in Tacoma had falsified treatment reports for clients, including those with multiple driving under the influence (DUI) charges, which allowed them to claim they had completed court-ordered treatment without ever receiving any actual treatment.

The clinic, A Change Counseling, had been the subject of four previous investigations over a period of six years, beginning in 2008 when the Departments of Health and DSHS received word that owner Clarence Farmer had accepted $2,000 from a client to file false treatment reports that would allow him to avoid treatment classes.

Another case from 2013 found that a man responsible for a DUI crash that killed a Seattle woman had been a client of A Change; judges in Pierce County eventually stopped referring court-ordered cases to the clinic and refused admission of their evaluations to the Superior Court. A Change Counseling eventually closed in 2016, while Farmer was charged with two counts of "unprofessional conduct" in January 2017.

Allegations soon surfaced in regard to other state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment centers in Pierce County, all with connections to A Change Counseling. State regulators began looking at reports of bribery and fraudulent treatment records from Abracadabra and Doorway to Recovery, both owned by John Dorman, son-in-law of Clarence Farmer.

Public records also showed that Dorman was able to have state specialists blocked and even removed from investigating the clinics; Tammy Wright, who had discovered forged documents issued by Abracadabra, was dismissed from the investigation in 2011 by a deputy director at DBHR after receiving complaints from Dorman's legal team.

In 2016, DBHR inspector Mary Testa-Smith had uncovered reports that a Spokane clinic had failed to report that one of its clients had failed a half-dozen drug tests. But when the clinic's lawyers began issuing complaints about the investigation, Testa-Smith was dismissed, while the clinic received a reduced fine and a restored license, while no actions were filed against the client who had failed the drug test. "When attorneys start objecting and questioning, it seems like DBHR just kind of gives up," said Testa-Smith. "It hurts families, individuals and society if our work is not supported and not done."

In May 2017, the DBHR was barred from reducing violations or reaching settlements for the purpose of avoiding lawsuits by the passage of Senate Bill 5707. The investigation by DSHS represents its latest attempt to address the thousands of pages of testimony and public records that have amassed in regard to the allegations against DBHR.

The Department's Office of Review is now examining "the current rules and processes currently happening," according to a statement issued to KING 5.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.