Final Justice

Final Justice
By Paul Morantz
copyright January 2012

The Synanon legal Department was jolted again in again in June of 1984 when Judge Aubrey E Robinson, for the United States District Court of Columbia, held that the Synanon attorneys assertion of the attorney-client privilege to avoid testifying was barred by the crime – fraud exception. Synanon appealed, and on February 8, 1985 the decision was issued by United States courts of appeal for the District of Columbia circuit affirming the decision.

As it did so often through its history, Synanon established legal precedent, much of it by its wrongdoing.

The decision noted that Synanon had been founded by Charles Dederich for the purposes of rehabilitating drug addicts and engaging in research and public education in 1958. But over the years Synanon moved into diverse and lucrative investment and commercial enterprises generating a large wealth much of which found its way into the pockets of the Dederich family and other Synanon leaders. As a result the IRS commenced an audit of Synanon in 1979 to determine whether to revoke its tax exempt status.

Further, the court stated that in 1970s Synanon began to employ “extreme measures” to stifle media or other external scrutiny and to silence disaffected members. These measures included lawsuits and violent attacks directed at media, former members, attorneys involved in litigation against Synanon or anyone else viewed as an “enemy.”

Once lawyers began to fight back and seek discovery Synanon executives and its legal Department embarked on a massive and systematic program to destroy and alter subpoened evidence or evidence sought pursuant to civil discovery requests. The court noted that most of the litigation took place in California which included lawsuits against Time, Inc., ABC and Paul Morantz, an attorney who would frequently represented parties in suits against Synanon. The court even noted that Synanon had sued a school teacher who wrote a letter to her United States Sen. complaining about Synanon activities. Paul Morantz, the court stated, was a target of violence as well as lawsuits. It noted on October 10, 1978 Mr. Morantz was bitten by a 4 foot Rattlesnake placesd in his mail box by two Synanon “Imperial Marines.” Both the Marines and Charles Dederich pled nolo contendere to charges filed in connection with the attack.

The decision cited the testimony of Bette Fleischman and George Farnsworth and summarized again the court’s findings in the Bernstein case and adopted the same. The court also granted and ordered sealed the names of the attorneys involved and it was granted on the grounds to safeguard secrecy of grand jury proceedings and to protect attorneys against disclosures that might reflect adversely on their professional reputations. So these proceedings against the attorneys were referred to as John Doe and James Roe, who represented Synanon from July to November of 1983. Noting that there had been findings that “Synanon perpetrated a continuing fraud connected with, but not limited to, the actual destruction of records, and the latter cover-up was designed to further an ongoing conspiracy to manipulate the process of the courts for Synanon’s own ends,” and this fraud necessarily involve the attorneys, the court ruled that the attorney-client privilege could not be invoked.

The court further noted that in February 1984, Judge Richey had adopted the Bernstein court findings re-evidence destruction and dismissed the tax case Synanon brought because of the findings of misconduct and fraud up on the courts.

Investigating these charges, a grand jury investigation of Synanon for possible crimes of obstruction of justice, fraudulent statements to government agencies, attempts to employ its officers in conspiracy and racketeering was instituted. On May 17, 1984 wherein the two Synanon lawyers refused to testify invoking the attorney-client privilege.

On appeal, it was noted that Atty. client privilege does not apply to communications made in furtherance of a crime, fraud or other misconduct. All that is required is a sufficient prima facie showing that a violation occurred serious enough to defeat the privilege and establish a relationship between the communication at issue and the violation. Proof is sufficient if it is established that the client was engaged in or planning a criminal or fraudulent scheme when it sought the advice of counsel to further the scheme.

Synanon tried to minimize the seriousness of this misconduct by claiming it as incidental discovery abuse. But the court noted discovery abuse had a deleterious effect on the judicial system. And harsher penalties against litigants were needed. Further, the abuse in this case was “serious” misconduct. Synanon simply had attempted to emasculate the court’s ability to ascertain the truth which strikes at the heart of the judicial process.

Further it was held that the attorney’s knowledge of the actual cover-up did not need to be established for the government to sustain its burden. An attorney’s ignorance of his clients misconduct does not shelter that client and consequences of his own wrongdoing. So whether they knew or not, if there advice was sought to assist in the unlawful scheme, the attorney-client privilege did not apply. As long as the attorneys were instruments in the ongoing cover up the privilege did not apply regardless of the attorneys intent or knowledge of participation.

The attorney did not have to talk as to past acts of misconduct, but to the extent the same was talked about during the subject of the cover-up they would have to so reveal what was said.


On January 29, l986 inevitable affirming of judge Braman’s decision in Bernstein was handed down by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The court confirmed that the evidence established indisputably that Synanon willfully destroyed evidence and that Phil Bourdette and Dan Garrett had attempted to deceive the courts, “conduct which the administration of justice cannot tolerate.”


In 1987, United States Courts of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the Synanon tax case that was also thrown out because of the destruction of evidence.

On August 1, 1989, 5 Synanon members pled guilty arising out of the Court charges for the destruction of evidence. Pleading guilty were Jady (Cecilia) Dederich, David Benjamin, Dan Sorkin, Miriam Bourdett and Elizabeth Missakian. They pled to a single charge of contempt for failing to obey a court order to produce tapes. In pleading, each admitted to destroying or altering tape recordings “to keep them out of hands of opposing litigants because they were deemed adverse to Synanon.”

But the only one to ever do jail time, was poor Steve Simon whom Maslow, himself, had sent West to Synanon.


Yet despite all this, with Dederich living in imposed isolation in Synanon, his family and leaders carried on, hoping that it might eventually payoff the tax liens.

But they were done in on June 2, 1986 by Forbes Magazine which ran a story entitled “Selling Synanon,” saying ADGAP, one of the most successful marketers of promotional items, is not quite what it seems. It stated while Synanon sold itself as a do good organization through a persuasive sales force, obtaining clients including Western Union, IBM, RCA and Heinz, it may not be all that it seems. And while Synanon claims that it will pull in an estimated $30 million in 1986, it noted a grand jury last October in Washington DC indicted 9 key Synanon officials, including Phil Bourdette and Jady Dederich on a 22 count indictment alleging that the members conspired to defraud the IRS, and that Synanon now has federal liens of $55.6 million in back taxes and penalties against the organization.

Other legal problems, it noted, was that in 1978 a Los Angeles attorney, Paul Morantz, who brought a series of suits against the organization, was almost killed when bitten by a Rattlesnake Synanon members had placed in his mailbox and Dederich and 2 members were convicted of the crime.

Forbes concluded that there no longer was any effectiveness in the rehabilitation program pitch Synanon salespeople used on Fortune 500 companies. And, it added, Dederich was quoted as once saying, “I don’t know how to cure a dope fiend. I never did.”

Forbes noted that several of its 500 companies may have been unfamiliar with Synanon’s full history due to a lack of recent national stories, but now knowledge was flowing. A spokesman for IBM said it was doubtful the organization would do further business with Synanon. An executive for Westinghouse stated the same. The article concluded Synanon apparently knew more about to training persistent sales corps then they knew how to successfully cure a drug addict.

Now the money was stopped. By 1988 900 faithful still lived in Badger, all other properties were sold. In 1991 all the tax liens were levied and the doors of Synanon were shut.

When I read the article I felt a little sorry for Synanon. It was true it no longer was a drug rehab, but they didn’t understand what the old man meant when he said “I don’t know how to cure a dope fiend. I never did.” Dederich was just telling the truth; he concluded that most who left turned back to drugs, so he really didn’t know how to cure them. But if he completed his thought he would have said he only knew that while they stayed, most stop using. It was an unfortunate conclusion on his part because he missed the bull’s-eye mainly due to his own massive ego. Yes, many who left went back to drugs. But also, some did not. It didn’t matter what the stats were; lives were saved. Synanon was never the success Dederich made the Public believe, but nor was it the failure he feared when changing its course of path. He had found something, stared in the right direction, but what was in the way unfortunately were the flaws of a lost childhood, lost mother and wives, a Step-Daddy he hated and his own insecure driven ambition. Instead of a systems of loving rewards he keyed on hateful punishments.

I often imagine Dederich seeing his “Synanon” closing before his eyes; did he feel guilt? He lived 6 more years in a Double- wide mobile home in a Tulare County trailer park, cared for to the end by his selected fourth wife, Ginny Schorin Dederich; living off money Chuck had hoarded since the Synanon heydays.

Today, the Del Mar is a swanky hotel, the Marconi Center is a nonprofit conference center and museum, the Tomales Bay property as a park while the Badger property turned into a housing development project. Only the old “hatchery” in Tulare County still stands—dipalpated– but under its name comes to life once a year as a home for an art exhibit.

Years after Badger closed, Rod Mullen and Naya Arbiter beame the caretakers bringing in parolees and addicts for counseling and cheap labor and trying to restore the property. The large living room still had portraits and sayings on the wall, although these new due devotees worshiped Bette Dederich, not Chuck. The couple eventually moved to Arizona and became involved in a clone called Amity, which went belly up after a financial scandal concerning the spending of close to $500,000.


Dederich always said Synanon would lead the way into the 21st century and as that era began, a Synanon website appeared, headed by George Farnsworth, one of the former members who told the truth about the tape destruction. George compiled a history of Synanon, its language and key events. I even contributed information. George wrote and asked if he could put my e-mail address on the site and I wrote back that was a lot better than giving out my mail box address and George posted my response on the site which got a few laughs.

Over the years, lots of Synanon members have written me, all wishing me well. I have met many and liked all. It really hurt when Bernie Kolb passed. Even though I knew his role in the tape destruction, I had always admired Phil Bourdette for the hours he put in trying to save Synanon from the mess he inherited from Dan Garrett and Howard Garfield. I forgave him for the tapes he gave me with the big gaps, and we have spoken from time to time on the telephone. I once even tried to refer a friend in his area to him for help. We had both started as public defenders, and we both went off in directions we thought were good, he just followed the wrong man. David Benjamin apologized,while some others would claim in denial they really didn’t know what was going on and when they did I pointed out the evidence that they knew and suggested they just admit they were human like everyone else.

I never heard from Lance Kenton.

The fact is, I felt I would never have been safe until Synanon was closed and felt such relief when it finally happened when my son was 6. When I was told by a lawyer in 1997 that Charles Dederich had died, I told him I would never forget his name for being the person who brought me that news. Then I promptly forgot the lawyer’s name, and read as the media once again told the story.

Dederich once said Synanon would be as famous as Coca-Cola and for a while it was. For a few shining moments it was the utopia Thoreau, Emerson and Skinner had dreamed of. Today, I ask students, doctors, attorneys, people on the street, “have you ever heard of Synanon?” And 98% of the time the answer is no. I find it hard to believe.

Often now, I regret at times it had to end, even though the great effect it had on my life’s direction, its alteration, personal losses and possibly loss of my health. The Catholic Church, the Mormons, most religions, had periods where they committed great atrocities, but somehow survived and each in some ways contributes positively. Once Dederich was removed, what if Synanon had ever seen or recognized the danger of the game and somehow found its way back to charitable purposes? It’s a question that unfortunately can never be answered.

But on the Synanon website, you can see that the members still enjoy their memories of the lives they shared on beautiful land built by their master. Farnsworth has told me that he worries that when it is time for him to go, there will be no one to carry on the Synanon website, and then Synanon will finally truly die. I believe someone will step forward and keep it going.

But if not, I can guarantee that this website will never fold. My heirs will maintain it. And it is here that Synanon will still live and when the time comes that real historians, not Rod Janzens, want to examine this human laboratory and learn what it tells us of man and culture, its good and bad, it is all here in one place, and with some humility I believe, objectively set forth by the person who for some reason when he made contact, gave up all to stop it and then spent a lifetime trying to understand why it all happened.

To anyone, who has actually completed reading all, my thanks and good wishes.

The end