Murder charges against rehab center are a first in California

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Paloma EsquivelPaloma EsquivelContact Reporter

Gary Benefield was in rough shape when a driver from the substance abuse treatment company A Better Tomorrow met him at the San Diego airport in 2010.

It was the day before his 53rd birthday. The longtime smoker had recently been hospitalized for pneumonia and was tethered to an oxygen tank, which he had relied on for years. He was seeking treatment for a drinking problem and had signed himself up for a round of detox and rehab.

Sometime that night, he collapsed by his bed at a Murrieta residential facility and died. The house manager, who was supposed to check on him regularly, had fallen asleep. Benefield’s body was found in the morning.

The family sued, reaching an out-of-court settlement.

What came next sent a jolt through California’s large drug and alcohol rehabilitation industry. The state attorney general’s office pursued second-degree murder charges against A Better Tomorrow and four of its employees — the first time in California history that a corporation had been accused of murder, according to the facility’s attorneys.

The indictment, returned by a Riverside County grand jury, comes as California prosecutors have moved aggressively against healthcare providers accused of putting profits before patients. Just this month, a Rowland Heights doctor was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison after a Los Angeles jury found her guilty of second-degree murder for overprescribing drugs to three patients who fatally overdosed, one of the first such murder convictions in the nation.
Doctor convicted of murder for patients’ drug overdoses gets 30 years to life in prison
Doctor convicted of murder for patients’ drug overdoses gets 30 years to life in prison

Legal experts say the criminal case against A Better Tomorrow is a warning to California’s treatment centers — an industry with more than 1,500 facilities across the state.

The prosecutor has argued that the company, in its drive for profit, accepted a client it was not prepared to care for and killed him by failing to refill his oxygen and allowing employees with little or no medical training to give him drugs that made it harder for him to breathe. Benefield was the fourth person to die after checking into the facility in a little over two years.

At a recent hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Elaine M. Kiefer said she found some practices at the facility “troubling to say the least” but questioned whether they amount to murder.

To prove the corporation guilty, prosecutors have to show that its employees, acting in the scope of their duties, knowingly acted in ways that endangered Benefield’s life, legal experts said.

Defense attorneys have asked Kiefer to throw out the charges, accusing the attorney general’s office of prosecutorial misconduct and saying Deputy Atty. Gen. Joel Samuels unfairly presented evidence to the grand jury. The prosecutor, they said, failed to call as a witness the coroner who found that Benefield died of natural causes.

“There simply was no homicide here,” attorney Benjamin Gluck told the court.

Kelly Strader, a professor at Southwestern Law School, said the attorney general’s office may have filed the charges as a warning to treatment facilities “that you’d better clean up your act. We’re going to take this very seriously.”

A 2012 report by the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, which outlined the four deaths at A Better Tomorrow, among others, said that the state had failed to police treatment homes, “with deadly results.”

In March 2008, Roberta McMinn, 68, died three days after being admitted to A Better Tomorrow. Her death was attributed to heart disease and intoxication with an antidepressant, the Senate report said.

State investigators concluded that the facility had done nothing wrong in her case. But the report said “there appeared to be grounds for further investigation,” given indications “the program was providing medical care, contrary to state law.”

In February 2009, another client with a history of medical problems died the day he arrived for treatment, after apparently suffering a seizure, the report said.

Later that year, a third client died after being taken to a hospital. The facility’s records showed that he was incontinent, jaundiced and weak when he arrived and had told employees he suffered from liver disease, according to the Senate report, but he was not medically assessed.

Separate death investigations by the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs following those cases found the company deficient for failing to provide “safe and healthful accommodations” and for not completing a “physical health assessment” for a client who died.
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Two former employees of A Better Tomorrow’s call center, where salespeople handled calls from prospective clients, described in court records how they worked in a high-pressure environment with a mandate to fill beds. Former Operations Director Jose Ochoa said in a declaration filed as part of a lawsuit brought by Benefield’s widow that staff “were under tremendous pressure to bring in paying clients … regardless of any health issues.”

Michael Cartwright, chairman and chief executive of American Addiction Centers, which was formed in 2011 following a merger involving A Better Tomorrow and other health-related businesses, said that far from focusing on profits, employees’ “number one focus is to save lives.” In an interview with The Times, Cartwright said people in treatment frequently die.

“The population that we work with on a daily basis has health problems, mental health problems. Multiple scenarios occur where people pass away inside treatment facilities,” he said.

Benefield, who lived in Springerville, Ariz., decided to enter rehab in the summer of 2010, after being hospitalized with pneumonia. He and his wife set about searching for a facility that could handle his medical needs.

He was “totally pumped to go,” his stepdaughter, Jessica Barker, recalled.

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Jody Brueske, a call center worker for A Better Tomorrow who sold Benefield a stint in detox and rehab, said she asked her boss, Tami Scarcella, whether they could accommodate Benefield’s need for oxygen. Scarcella assured her they could, Brueske said in grand jury testimony. But Ochoa, who was fired in 2012, said he told a company director, James Fent, that they were not equipped to care for Benefield.

When Benefield arrived at the airport, he was met by driver Robert Swensrud, who noticed that he smelled of alcohol and that he was staggering and wheezing. His oxygen had been drained for the flight.

“I could immediately tell that he was very sick,” Swensrud said in a declaration filed in support of Kelly Benefield’s lawsuit. Swensrud said he asked Benefield if he wanted his oxygen tank filled and Benefield declined, saying he would be fine before arriving at the facility.

Swensrud said he called his supervisor, Meg Dean, who told him to give Benefield two tablets of Serax, an anti-anxiety drug often used to treat alcohol withdrawal, to calm him. He gave Benefield the pills from a “‘house supply’ of prescription medicines.”

In court records and state investigative reports, multiple employees similarly described giving detox clients medications before they had been prescribed.

When Benefield arrived at the detox home in Murrieta, House Manager Kris McCausland gave him more Serax and Trazodone, an antidepressant, according to a report by a state licensing official who investigated the death. McCausland told the official that Benefield had said he would be fine without his oxygen tank filled until the next day.

State experts Dr. David Smith, who served as medical director for the agency that previously regulated treatment facilities in California, and Dr. Joseph Cohen, the former chief forensic pathologist for Riverside County, told the grand jury that Serax would have inhibited Benefield’s breathing, compounding his lack of supplemental oxygen and ultimately contributing to his death. Both men were retained as experts in Kelly Benefield’s civil lawsuit.

The grand jury indicted the company, McCausland, Fent, Dean and Jerrod Menz, the founder of A Better Tomorrow, on murder and dependent adult abuse charges. Scarcella was indicted for dependent adult abuse.
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Defense attorneys note that the county pathologist who issued the death report determined that Benefield died of heart and lung disease. Dr. Mark A. Fajardo, now the coroner in Los Angeles County, said in a court declaration that he did not believe the lack of oxygen or drugs given to Benefield at the facility contributed to his death and that he was never contacted by the attorney general’s office.

Cartwright said the company is not responsible for the death. “There’s nothing [the treatment center] could have done differently that could have changed the outcome for Mr. Benefield, and we’re sorry for that,” he said.

Attorneys for the defendants declined to comment or did not return calls for comment. Samuels, the deputy attorney general, also declined to comment.

In their investigation into Benefield’s death, state licensing officials found the company deficient in 14 areas, including dispensing sample medications to residents, providing medication without a prescription, filling out medication logs in advance and providing medical-related services beyond the scope of its license.

In the months after Benefield died, the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs moved to revoke the license for the house where he was admitted. By then, the company had already closed it.

In 2013, after a man with a history of physical and mental illness committed suicide at another Murrieta facility run by A Better Tomorrow, state licensing officials faulted the firm for failing to regularly observe him during detox, failing to refer him to a higher level of care and recording inaccurate information on death report documents, according to state records.

Barker, Benefield’s stepdaughter, said his death left a hole in her family. She recalled him as a man who pulled out all the stops at Christmas, loved his motorcycle and lovingly raised his two stepchildren as his own.

He “should still be here,” she said.

Twitter: @palomaesquivel

Sterling Heights police sergeant sentenced to probation for drunken driving-Sentenced to alcoholics Anonymous meetings

Will this ever end >?


Sterling Heights police sergeant sentenced to probation for drunken driving

Sterling Heights police Sgt. Kevin Reese

Five months after a jury convicted him of drunken driving, a demoted Sterling Heights police commander was sentenced on March 17 to nine months of probation.

Sgt. Kevin Reese, 45, was ordered by 41-A District Visiting Judge Theodore Metry to not consume alcohol or illegal drugs, to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and to avoid arrests. The judge also ordered Reese to pay fines and court costs totaling $900.

Reese was an off-duty lieutenant when he crashed his sport utility vehicle into a Shelby Township ditch in 2014.

He faced up to 93 days in jail after a jury deliberated approximately 30 minutes last October before finding him guilty of drunken driving. Reese avoided the possibility of a longer sentence when Metry granted a directed verdict of acquittal on a second, more severe charge of operating while intoxicated with a high blood-alcohol content, which could have included jail time.

BAD NEWS ! Washington-state-senate-bill-provides-12-step-sponsors-freedom-from-civil-court-testimony

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Here is it folks. A slippery slope- I hope there are some politicians and judges  who see how bad this really is. Honestly – I need a break. AA is just too big , too infested, too powerful- too HOLLYWOOD>..

Please call   your congressman , your councilpersons, your assembly man /woman and The Chief Justice of your State Supreme Courts, to discuss your bad experience and ask them to stop the practice of sending everyone to AA , always suggest the other option including The Sinclair Method using Naltrexone and Vivitrol for starters.

Drunk Driver kills person in Accident says AA didn’t work for him

Driver in fatal Franklin County crash given 7 years

  • By NEIL HARVEY, BH News Service
  • 0
  • For most of his life, alcohol was a part of each day, Ronald Lee Bowker said Monday in Franklin County Circuit Court.

    The 52-year-old electrician said he tried Alcoholics Anonymous but claimed it just didn’t work for him. He sought medication that might curb his thirst but said his doctor wouldn’t prescribe it. He told a probation officer his father had always been a heavy drinker and, before that, his grandparents, too.

    “I just couldn’t get away from it,” Bowker recalled.

    His brand of choice was Icehouse — a lager with a percentage of alcohol by volume that is somewhat higher than most domestic beers — and he told his probation officer he usually drank five or six 24-ounce cans every night.

    Bowker was driving drunk on the afternoon of April 24 when his 1999 Chevrolet Silverado crossed the centerline on Burnt Chimney Road and collided head-on with a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria. The driver of the Ford, 58-year-old Trinkle Lee Cook of Moneta, was killed. Read full story here.

Hopefully one day soon- Americans will know about Vivitrol , Natrexone and other non AA help that would help people addicted to alcohol. Another life would be saved and this man could also have a life free from addiction

SMART RECOVERY, SOS, LIFERING, WOMEN FOR SOBRIETY, Moderation Management, The Sinclair Method, Hams Harm Reduction . These are free options.

NON 12 step paid treatment list: Practical Recovery, in San Diego,  St Judes Retreats in New York State, The Goodman Center in Knoxville, Tenn., Alternatives in Los Angeles, Center for Optimal Living in NYC run by Andrew Tatarsky, Center for Motivation and Chnage run by Jeff Foote, Books by Lance Dodes, Books by Stanton Peele, Book by Hank Hayes You’ve Been Lied to. Book by Amy Lee Coy, FROM DEATH DO I PART>

VICE looking for WOMEN PREYED on Sexually while they were attending AA or ex- AA members who were harmed.

vice on hbo pic

I am re posting this request from a VICE reporter _ Thanks for contacting her.

I have been contacted by a VICE reporter, Cecilia— the online magazine not the TV show. Millions of readers are there.

Here we go…please share everywhere. FACE BOOK and twitter too.

“Hi, my name is Cecilia and I’m a reporter with VICE.

Right now, I’m reporting a piece on the culture of sexual predation in AA.

For this article, I am hoping to speak with female AA attendees (current or former) who have been sexually assaulted or preyed on by male AA attendees.

I am more than willing to work with sources to protect their identities. To reach me, please shoot me an e-mail at Thanks so much for your time.”

Gabrielle Glaser and Monica Richardson give Alcoholics Anonymous a run for its money- a low rating for Healing and minus 1 star rating for safety around alcohol overuse issues and here’s why…


Once again the article in The Atlantic by journalist Gabrielle Glaser was trending on twitter yesterday, then back on to The ATLANTIC Article last year about how AA is not the safest or smartest place to go for any kind of REAL healing from Alcohol overuse issues.

For me, a long time ex member who was 13 stepped more then once as a teen and GOT OVER IT…..and just lived with it, realized— thanks to GOD,  my good brain and my sons, that AA was full of S**t …..yea I said it. Full of shit. No science, No research, and lots of religious rhetoric. Many MUSTS and do’s and don’ts and ” better be “of Service”  or else you’ll get drunk….kinda crap….but after 36 years with no booze -I walked away a very disenchanted camper.

Thanks to Gabrielle Glaser who documented the work I did  in 2009 -2010, my last two years in AA ( in Chapter Six of her book  HER BEST KEPT SECRET ) before I left in 2011, about Safety, sexual harassment, sexual predatory crimes and 13 Stepping,  I felt validated and not alone.

In her book Her Best Kept Secret, a New York Times Bestseller, Gabrielle Glaser explained to me and the world how alcohol was once a lovely thing to enjoy in The WHITE HOUSE by our First President, George Washington  &  MRS WASHINGTON, and her many guests.  I learned that most men, women and children were drinking hard cider  necessary until we figured out how to have  clean water.

Americans were neither puritanical or Prohibitionist  from the start…that came later—- along with the non drinking Billionaire Rockefeller, and  the famous AA Creator/founder , —–drunkard, scam artist and womanizer—-Bill Wilson and a few other religious fanatics like Frank Buchman who started the cult The Oxford groups. ( The place Bill Wilson really got sober).

Many decades passed before Courts and judges shoved millions of Americans into a lay person, unsupervised cult like pods of nobody’s for a Drunk driving ticket, a violent offense or whatever floats ones boat today —where EVERYONE says ””OH… I’m an Addict “”””” poor me.  I can’t control myself…blah blah blah.

It does make me wonder where those bad ass pioneering Americans with lots of tough skin, tenacity  and self control have disappeared to?

In her book, HER BEST KEPT SECRET – I also learned  that a Heroin kit could be bought in a Sears & Roebuck Catalog. She then explained  how women’s drinking was on the rise, why… and how were these ladies getting help. Maybe horse therapy in a fancy spa for 50 K was not enough.

Glaser never a problem drinker herself,  began investigating innocently at first, found her way down the same rabbit hole as me, and through Dee Dee Stout, a Harm Reduction Therapist in San Fransisco, who appeared in an episode of “PENN & TELLER Bullshit”  ——- introduced us and…       we met. 🙂 The rest is history.

There are times in life where I have met people, Gabrielle being one of them, that I now feel I could not have gone on with my film and my work without their help and their own driven path to seek out why AA and 12 step controls 95 % of all rehab in America . And why was it infested and controlling our Drug Courts  and the DUI system still to this day?

Her early research brought her into the halls of New York AA Headquarters where an employee made a joke about 13 stepping not realizing that someone might take notice.

Katie Couric heard us because of Gabrielle Glaser and her Book. CBS 48 Hours – episode THE SOBER TRUTH heard and told the story of the Karla Brada Murder because of her.

SO this is my ode to Gabrielle Glaser, in that her fierce voice and criticism was needed, and still needed to tell a very dark true story about what really goes on in those meetings and culture.

Gabrielle being one of the first persons to get the most articles written, criticizes what needed to be done, unlike some of us simple ex stepper bloggers could not get one journalist to hear our voices or write those stories.

The courageous women and men who we both met and interviewed has broken open a dirty little secret that felt it was untouchable, above the law and better then medicine and science. Yes – I am talking about Alcoholics Anonymous. It is not a government agency!

I highly recommend her book for those leaving AA, those thinking about leaving and those who are professionals who have been recommending it to their clients for decades.

For me —-she is my hero—-she is my friend— she is a great writer and without her—- we might…still be on yahoo groups or www.stinkin-  —anti AA groups fighting about if AA could ever be sued or was AA a cult or not- boy how sad that would be.

With dozens of anti AA blogs and ANTI FACEBOOK pages Gabrielle Glaser has managed to amass a long list of legitimate Newspaper, Magazine articles , radio show interviews and the Network news, Television shows to uncover, discover and discard the lie… that

AA is the one and only …and the last house on the block—-

which clearly we know now—-it is not true. Nor is it safe.

Your friend,