Fall of Synanon V (Enter the IRS)
Dedicated to Thomas Lawler and Frank Hertz
By Paul Morantz
© Sept. 2010
I can remember sitting on my couch—an uncomfortable new 70’s design single piece merged into an oak frame that was so uncomfortable my friends celebrated when it was finally gone. It seemed with ABC’s secret pay-off to Synanon and the cancellation of the ready to be filmed ABC’s movie on my fight with Synanon me my world had been upturned (See Fall of Synanon II).
After the convictions of Chuck Dederich, Lance Kenton and Joe Musico for attempting to murder me I had felt safe at least and even curious over which way Synanon would evolve. Absent Dederich control, over time, it might return to charity endeavors. Many similar organizations, including the Catholic Church, had gone through similar periods of paranoia and terror. But now the fear was ABC’s dirty deed might return their mindset to invincibility. I questioned again was my life safe; would it ever be safe?
And then the phone rang and the caller identified himself as Frank (Frances) Hertz of the Department of Justice, saying the IRS had requested they look into Synanon. Hertz would later tell me I responded, “Where in the fuck have you guys been?”
The IRS investigation had been assigned to Hertz and Thomas Lawler. What surprised me was how little they knew about Synanon. They didn’t even know who I was or what happened to me . The IRS was looking into the $500,000 pre-retirement bonus paid to Charles Dederich in 1977 and other possible inappropriate raiding of the charitable trust. All they had been told about me is that I might be somebody who knows a lot about Synanon. I responded this was small stuff and began to tell the story.
To say I got their attention would be to say the least. Lawler and Hertz would be in the end the most dedicated of all lawyers who fought Synanon and would be the ones who took them down.
All the Synanon memos (See Fall of Synanon II and The True History of Synanon Violence and How it Started ) were provided, as well as witnesses. I learned that charities do not have an absolute right not to pay taxes. It is a gift bestowed on belief the organization is serving the public and thus it is a subsidization of that charity by the people. And in the case of Bobby Jones University versus IRS, the United States Supreme Court ruled that if a charity committed acts that violated our public policy than the waiver of taxes is revoked and revoked for the period that the wrongful acts were committed. In the Bobby Jones case, the College did not allow black and white dating. It didn’t take much to see if that was sufficient to retroactively revoke non-tax charitable status Synanon had big problems for violating public policy by 4 years of terrorism.
I was hiredt as a consultant as was sociologist Richard Ofshe and we both went to Washington DC where we worked on the Government’s summary judgment motion along with Hertz and Lawler. The motion was two-pronged. One, use all the Synanon memos, i.e. their records, to prove the conspiracy. Second, was use the case of Synanon v. Bernstein where Synanon had been found to have destroyed documents relating to its violent activities which resulted in Synanon’s lawsuit against the Boston House being dismissed (proved up with help from Hertz and Lawler ).
The Boston House was the Washington DC apartment house being sought by Synanon in September of 1978 to be turned into a Synanon Embassy to the White House. After Dederich and Howard Garfield had arrest warrants issued for assaulting a photographer Dederich had fled to Europe with his entourage (See Fall of Synanon I). Synanon then sued to get out of its purchase contract of the Boston House for $5,600,000 claiming it had been given false zoning information (Wash. D.C. seemed to be resisting Synanon’s move) and the owner—the very brave Stuart Bernstein– sued back for the damages caused by Synanon harassing its tenants to drive them out so they could be replaced by Synanon members and claiming Synanon concealed that it was a “violent cult.” Because Synanon’s terrorism of tenants was an issue, Synanon’s case was thrown out when the court heard evidence of Synanon’s destruction of evidence. After an 11 day evidentiary hearing Judge Leonard Braman found Synanon officers and attorneys perjured themselves in an attempt to secure favorable discovery rulings, at the same time destroying many corporate records. See Synanon Foundation, Inc. v. Bernstein, No. 7189-78 (D.C.Sup.Ct. October 12, 1983), aff’d, 503 A.2d 1254 (D.C.App.1986).3 Synanon Church v. United States, 579 F.Supp. 967, 972-76 (D.D.C.1984 (for details of Boston House purchase story see Synanon v. Bernstein in Synanon Legal decisions)
The United States argued this ruling against Synanon was binding against them in all cases and therefore since Synanon had destroyed evidence relevant to the issue of whether it had committed terrorism it was estopped from denying the challenges of the IRS decision that it owed back taxes and penalties for committing its conspiracy of violence towards its enemies.
During the course of the litigation I became close with Hertz and Lawler . They were tireless investigators and came up with considerable new evidence including who got Phil Ritter.
But the moment I remember most was one day when Hertz called and said they had some information for me but did not want to give it by telephone. They flew me to Washington DC instead for a barbecue thrown in my honor. After I was well fed, the right amount of wine consumed, I was advised that Synanon at one time had hired a hit man to assassinate me. The price was $10,000 and at the last moment Dederich had bellowed, in substance, “Why pay $10,000? What did I train the Imperial Marines for? We can do it ourselves?”
And so in one final moment of tremendous narcissism Dederich had saved my life. I laughed when advised joking that my life was worth certainly more than that. But it was on the flight home, staring out the window it finally sunk in how close to death I really had been.
The government’s summary motion was granted and Synanon appealed. Finally in l987 in Synanon Church, Appellant, v. United States of America., 820 F.2d 421 (D.C. Cir. 1987) Judges approved the granting of the motion.
Key was the evidentiary hearing held prior in Synanon vs. Bernstein in July 1983 that found Synanon had destroyed Think Table tapes and other evidence (See Fall of Synanon I). Important was that Lawler and Hertz got George Farnsworth and Bette Fleichman to talk. Bette, a long time member, was daughter of the late Stanley Fleischman a handicapped respected first amendment lawyer who had donated work to Synanon. He tried to do something to stop Synanon’s violence direction and was told to “fuck off” by Dan Garrett. Farnsworth, who is the creator and monitor of the Synanon web site, was found working for the government. He told the truth. On July 8, 1983 Bette Fleishman executed a declaration that while a Synanon member who, at the direction of Synanon executives, participated in the destruction of subpoenaed evidence as did on September 12, 1983 by George Farnsworth. Both stated they worked on a secret Synanon project to destroy and alter information in Synanon’s computer indices of the tape recordings and transcripts contained in the Synanon Synanon archives.
Superior Court Judge Leonard Braman on October 12, 1983, 4 years and 2 days after the rattlesnake, ruled in Bernstein finding that Synanon had willfully destroyed and altered Synanon audio tapes that had been requested by the defense.
The destruction was described in detail by in the ruling turning down Synanon’s appeal in Bernstein:
Bernstein v. Synanon:
“The defendants served their first discovery request, consisting of 54 interrogatories, on February 6, 1979. Nineteen of these interrogatories were directed to the issue of whether or not Synanon was a violent organization. (Interrogatories 32-50.) Four interrogatories requested tapes that had been broadcast over an in-house Synanon communication network, the “wire,” transcripts of those tapes, and indices. Major sources of programming for the “wire” were the taped and live pronouncements of Charles Dederich, Synanon’s founder and leader. Dederich would hold morning meetings called “Think Tables,” in which he would often spell out new directions for the organization. “Think Table” discussions were taped, and written summaries were created of the topics discussed. Synanon maintained an archive 1259*1259 of 10,000 tapes, some of which were transcribed. It also employed an archivist, Steve Simon, who supervised the creation of a computerized subject matter index to existing transcripts of tapes, referencing the tape number for easy listening access. The index also included some untranscribed tapes. The subject matter index was not an index of “wire” broadcasts; the only way to identify the material broadcast over the Synanon “wire” was to examine daily broadcasting logs kept by the organization. As yet unaware of the existence of a subject matter index for all transcripts and some tapes at the time that the first set of interrogatories was filed, the defendants requested Synanon to identify all indices of tapes of Charles Dederich or Edward Siegel that were broadcast over the wire, or indices of transcripts of tapes of Dederich or Siegel broadcast over the wire, for the period January 1, 1977, through July 30, 1978. (Interrogatory 53.) In responding to this interrogatory, the defendants said that no index of wire broadcasts existed. The three other interrogatories requesting tapes and transcripts were as follows: In interrogatory 28, the defendants requested Synanon to identify all tapes or transcripts of wire broadcasts that referred to the period in May and June of 1978 when Synanon was in residence at the Boston House. In interrogatory 32, Synanon was asked to identify all documents, tapes, and transcripts of tapes referring to Bill and Sylvia Crawford, former Synanon residents who allegedly were harassed by Synanon after they left the organization. In interrogatory 34, the defendants asked Synanon to identify all tapes and transcripts of wire broadcasts including any discussion of Charles Dederich’s policy on vasectomies for male Synanon residents.
“Synanon responded to some of the interrogatories. It refused to answer the questions directed to the issue of violence or the question on the “vasectomy policy,” on the ground that those interrogatories were not likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. In addition, it stated that it would be unduly burdensome for it to identify material contained in tapes in the Synanon archives. The defendants filed a motion to compel answers, and on January 18, 1980, Judge William S. Thompson began a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, Dan L. Garrett, Jr., then general counsel for Synanon, sought to be admitted pro hac vice in order to argue against the motion to compel. Judge Thompson declined to grant this request on the ground that Garrett was potentially a witness in the case. Nevertheless, Garrett sat at counsel table, and through counsel represented that no index, summary or referencing of tapes in the Synanon archives had ever been accomplished. Garrett’s position was that it would be unduly burdensome to require Synanon to respond to the interrogatories requesting it to identify tapes on certain subjects, because someone would have to listen to all the tapes in the archives in order to comply. The defendants produced an affidavit that had been filed in another case, in which Garrett’s son had stated that Synanon employed Steve Simon specifically to index and reference the tapes. Garrett’s counsel represented to the court that Garrett would be “willing to state under oath or as an officer of the court or in any capacity that such indices do not exist.” When counsel for defendants asked to put Garrett on the stand in order to cross-examine him about the existence of an index, Synanon’s counsel objected, telling the court that cross-examination would be “gratuitous.”
“Judge Thompson agreed, and relying partly on Garrett’s representations as an officer of the court, he limited the scope of defendants’ interrogatories to delete any requirement that Synanon identify particular tapes covering any substantial period of time. He limited interrogatory 28, compelling Synanon to provide only tapes of wire broadcasts made during June or July 1978. He eliminated the request for tapes of Dederich’s statements on vasectomies, ordering the identification only of existing tape transcripts and indices referring to the subject. He similarly narrowed interrogatory 1260*1260 53 to eliminate the requirement that tapes be identified, ordering Synanon to identify only indices of tapes or transcripts of tapes of wire broadcasts by Charles Dederich or Ed Siegel from January 1, 1977 through July 30, 1978. Finally, Judge Thompson required Synanon to respond to interrogatories 47 through 50 to the extent of identifying any indices and paper documents referring to former Synanon residents threatened or beaten by the organization. Judge Thompson’s January 23, 1980, order compelling answers to interrogatories is the only existing order compelling discovery ever entered in this litigation.
“In February 1980, Dan Garrett left Synanon, and was replaced as general counsel by Phillip Bourdette. Bourdette was subsequently admitted pro hac vice and was among counsel of record for Synanon in the trial court. On February 29, 1980, Synanon filed supplemental answers to the interrogatories in response to Judge Thompson’s order. In regard to interrogatories 47 through 50 — requesting documents referring to former Synanon residents who were harassed by the organization — Synanon’s supplemental response was minimal. In regard to interrogatory 28 (which required Synanon to provide all wire broadcast tapes for June and July, 1978 that referred to Synanon’s departure from the Boston House), and to interrogatory 53 (which required Synanon to identify all indices of tapes or tape transcripts of broadcasts by Dederich or Siegel from 1977-78), Synanon referred the defendants to the programming log for wire broadcasts, and stated that no index or abstract showing the content of any broadcasts existed. In a subsequent request for production of documents, filed April 16, 1980, the defendants identified and requested 103 potentially relevant tapes from the wire log that were broadcast in June and July 1978. Synanon ultimately produced four of these. The defendants also requested approximately 400 other tapes in which violence or money-making activities of Synanon were discussed. A small number of these tapes was produced. Defendants requested tapes or transcripts of tapes of telephone conversations to the Boston House from June 15 through June 19, 1978, and Synanon provided a limited response. Defendants also requested a tape of a phone conversation on June 17 between Dan Garrett and Synanon’s attorney, and a tape of a wire broadcast on June 23, 1978, both of which defendants said they could not locate.
“On June 19, 1980, the defendants filed a motion for sanctions based on Synanon’s incomplete response to the document production requests. On May 7, 1981, following a hearing, Judge John D. Fauntleroy ordered Synanon to produce all of these documents and tapes within 90 days. Synanon moved for reconsideration of this order, and requested an evidentiary hearing on the question of whether any of the identified tapes existed. On October 3, 1981, Synanon’s general counsel, and counsel of record in the case, Phillip Bourdette, filed an affidavit with Judge Fauntleroy stating that he had personally supervised a search of the Synanon archives and could find no additional material responsive to the document production request. At hearings in November 1981 and April 1982, Steven Simon, the Synanon archivist, stated that Synanon tapes were routinely “recycled,” and that although none of the requested tapes now existed, they had not been deliberately destroyed. Based on this testimony, on April 26, 1982, Judge Fauntleroy vacated his order of May 7, 1981 compelling production of documents.
“Defendants subsequently filed a second motion for sanctions, which was denied by Judge Carlisle E. Pratt on June 25, 1982. On February 8, 1983, the case was assigned to Judge Leonard Braman. In July 1983, defendants obtained information that 1261*1261 Synanon, with the active participation of its in-house legal staff—including Dan Garrett and Phillip Bourdette—had engaged in a massive scheme, in anticipation of and in response to discovery requests in this case and in several others, to delete incriminating information from tapes in the Synanon archives and to burn or hide other tapes that could not successfully be “doctored.” Defendants also discovered the existence of the subject-matter index, and were informed that Steve Simon, Synanon’s archivist, had supervised a project at the direction of the Synanon legal department to eliminate incriminating topic headings so as to make access to the remaining tapes more difficult. Defendants obtained this information from affidavits by two former Synanon residents who had witnessed and participated in the destruction, Bette Fleishman and George Farnsworth. Based on these affidavits, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss Synanon’s complaint. Defendants alleged that dismissal of the complaint was warranted as a sanction for Synanon’s willful abuse of discovery under Super.Ct.Civ.R. 37. Defendants also argued that the participation by Synanon’s legal counsel, Garrett and Bourdette, in the destruction of tapes and documents, and their attempts to mislead Judges Thompson and Fauntleroy, had worked a fraud upon the court that independently warranted dismissal of the action.
“Judge Leonard Braman held an eleven-day evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss. Farnsworth testified, and defendants presented a videotape of Fleishman. According to their testimony, in October of 1978, Dan Garrett and Steve Simon and another Synanon resident spent two weeks in a trailer listening to tapes. Simon told Fleishman that incriminating tapes were destroyed during that period. In November 1978, tapes were flown out of the Synanon archives to a different location where they were burned at Steven Simon’s direction. In December, more tapes were destroyed. Also in that month, Phillip Bourdette ordered all tape recordings and tape summaries distributed throughout Synanon to be turned over to the legal department. In response to this order, Farnsworth testified, he collected tapes and his wife gave them to Bourdette. In March of 1979 — immediately following the filing of defendants’ first set of interrogatories—Steve Simon approached Farnsworth, who was in charge of the archive computer system. That system contained the transcript subject matter index (organized by key word) and a tape inventory that could identify all tapes by title or date. Simon told Farnsworth that the indices were dangerous and needed to be purged. Simon also told him that he had the approval of the legal department for this project. Farnsworth provided Simon with a complete printout of indices by title, date and subject matter. Simon marked those entries on the printout for which he wanted Farnsworth to delete the corresponding data file. Farnsworth deleted key words from the subject lists and tape numbers from the tape inventory. He burned all evidence of deletion. Farnsworth revealed that the computer tape inventory, that was presented to Judge Fauntleroy in connection with Simon’s testimony that led to a vacation of that court’s previous order compelling production of documents (see p. 1261 supra) was an intentionally changed inventory from which entire tapes had been deleted at Simon’s direction.
“In April of 1979, Farnsworth approached Bourdette in order to attempt to confirm that his deletion at Simon’s order of parts of the transcript index and tape inventory was legal. Bourdette said that he knew what Simon was doing and that Simon was not acting on his own. Bourdette explained that the goal of the deletion project 1262*1262 was to make it difficult for people with whom Synanon was involved in litigation to zero in on relevant transcripts, and maintained that Farnsworth’s actions were legal as long as the particular items deleted had not yet been requested in litigation.
“On September 5, 1979, Farnsworth was present at a dinner meeting between Steve Simon and Dan Garrett where the progress of the erasure project was discussed. During September, Farnsworth deleted more references, and in January of 1980, he deleted an additional batch of topics. He estimated that he had deleted a total of 180 topic references.
“Despite the fact that, on January 18, 1980, Dan Garrett had represented to Judge Thompson that the only way to identify tapes relating to specific topics was to listen to each tape in the archive, Bette Fleishman testified (in the evidentiary hearing before Judge Braman) that in February of 1980 she was recruited to work in the archives deleting and erasing tapes on Simon’s instructions. She stated that Simon received information from Bourdette concerning materials sought in various lawsuits in which Synanon was involved. Simon in turn gave Fleishman a “sensitive subject” list, and she prepared logs of matters appearing on the list and delivered them to Simon. Simon, together with Bourdette’s wife and another Synanon attorney, then determined which material to destroy. Once the material was identified, Fleishman would burn the tape label and the topic log and erase the tapes. Other tapes were relabeled in order to avoid subpoenas and document requests in a number of different cases. Simon told Fleishman that he and Bourdette had agreed that Simon would have to lie in various proceedings. By the Summer of 1980, the indices were adjusted and the tape references corresponding to the topic index were erased. Fleishman estimated that more than 100 tapes were erased. During this period, Simon told Fleishman that he had perjured himself when he stated at his deposition that tapes were routinely recycled and that no tapes had been destroyed. In this regard Farnsworth testified before Judge Braman that to his knowledge no tapes were ever reused.
“Very little direct contradiction of the testimony of Farnsworth and Fleishman was presented by Synanon in the hearing before Judge Braman, since on key points Phillip Bourdette invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege, and other witnesses presented by Synanon had no direct knowledge of the erasure project.
“Judge Braman found Farnsworth and Fleishman credible. Based on their testimony, Judge Braman held that Synanon’s destruction of materials requested by the defendants through the discovery process warranted dismissal of the complaint. He found that the materials destroyed, among others, related to “violence, money, purchase of guns, legal terror tactics, Holy War, changing partners or love match.” This material, Judge Braman held, was relevant to the complaint because it bore on Synanon’s “nonprofit” status.
“The trial court in addition held that Synanon’s in-house attorneys had perpetrated a fraud on the court of sufficient magnitude to warrant dismissal of the complaint.”
The irony, of course, was that the destruction of evidence scheme was not so directed at the Bernstein litigation but the criminal prosecution of Charles Dederich, ABC and Time Magazine litigation and my civil suit for damages from the rattlesnake where I was demanding the same think table tapes that according to the summaries seized by LAPD at arrest of Dederich in December of l978 all discussed Synanon’s desire to physically attack its enemies. Bernstein had the summaries because we gave them to him. The witnesses to the evidence destruction were located by Department Justice lawyers Hertz and Lawler and the information was made available to Bernstein attorneys.
IRS v. Synanon
Synanon filed suit to regain its tax-exempt status in l982. A ruling and opinion by United States District Court Judge Charles R. Richey dated February 9, 1984 dismissed the tax case because of Synanon’s “willful, systematic, and extensive destruction and alteration of documents and tapes relevant to a determination of Synanon’s tax-exempt status”; and held an in camera submission demonstrated Synanon’s continuing concealment of its scheme of evidence destruction and alteration throughout both the Bernstein and the tax cases.The court in the IRS case adopted the Bernstein court findings and Synanon appealed. In l987 in Synanon Church, Appellant, v. United States of America Synanon’s appeal was lost. The result would be the end of Synanon. It was stated:
“The record in this case demonstrates “the most egregious conduct” by an officer of the court, including “the perpetration of fraud” and “a corruption of the judicial process itself.” The evidence presented to Judge Braman shows the existence of an “`unconscionable plan or scheme’” by counsel of record, Phillip Bourdette, and another lawyer for Synanon, 1263*1263 Dan Garrett, “`designed to improperly influence the court in its decision.’” Id. at 631 (citation omitted). There is no question that counsel for Synanon attempted to perpetrate a fraud upon at least two trial judges, with the intent of preventing “`the judicial machinery [from] perform[ing] in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging cases that are presented for adjudication.
… “In sum, the participation by Synanon’s high officials and counsel, in successful attempts to deceive the court and to influence its decisions, was conduct which the administration of justice cannot tolerate. Indeed counsel’s behavior was “such a violation of a lawyer’s duty to the court — a duty imposed not alone by principles of honesty and good morals but also by a code of ethics adopted as rules of court [—] as to amount to a fraud on the court for which equity will grant relief.”
All that was left was for Synanon to contest the tax and penalties and when that appeal failed too, on l991 the doors of Synanon shut forever with the sale of Badger properties.
Santa Monica in the heat of my battles was sold to Pritikin Center in l978. Nathan Pritikin was the diet guru of the late 70’s. Pritikin began to suffer severe pain and complications related to his decades-long fight with leukemia, which had been in remission for 27 years. He committed suicide on February 21, 1985. The building was then purchased and became the now trendy Del Mar Hotel and Restaurant on the Santa Monica beach, possessing a very well known pick up bar, where for 2 decades I would wind and dine trying all the time to convince my waiters they really should not charge me.
The Marin County facilities were put up for sale in the early l980’s. Interest was expressed by Werner Erhard and est (See How I Saved the Los Angeles Police Departent ) and the community feared another Synanon might grow. Beryl Buck , however, had died in l975, leaving her estate of 7 million to be spent on Marin charitable purposes. Her investments so went through the roof (today its 923 million) that charities were moving into Marin for purposes of applying for benefits. The Trustees decided the most charitable thing it could do was purchase Synanon and eventually turn it into a park . After Synanon vacated I was invited up north to tour the facility. I entered even Dederich’s former bedroom. I found a Synanon coffee cup which I still have and a Synanon pen. Inside the library, a book had written on inside page, “To Chuck, Eternal Vigilance….Ivan Ujeta, Imperial Marine.” I noted the book’s place and told the authorities. Today I wish I had kept it.
Frank Hertz and Thomas Lawler were the lawyers who ended the Synanon danger. They took what I started, what Fremlin and Brown, Watson and Carroll carried forward, and rode it to the end. Six lawyers who were my heroes. Each gone in my life over space and time, but never forgotten.
While there was prosecution for destruction of evidence, and Steve Simon went to jail, it is not believed the California State Bar ever took action against a Synanon attorney. On May 17, 1984 Synanon lawyers summoned before a grand jury asserted the fifth amendment. On June 15, 1984, Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that Synano’s attorneys’ invocation of the attorney-client privilege to avoid testifying was barred by the crime-fraud exception. Synanon appealed but lost in 1985.
Charles Dederich died in l997 living alone cared for by his love match Ginny Schorin to the end. I always wonder if we had not closed it…would have Synanon ever mutated back to something serving the public. I told the attorney who called me to inform that Dederich had died I would now never forget him as the man who told me.
I have forgotten the lawyer’s name.