Pitkin County Jail inmate settles Scientology case in federal court
A Roaring Fork Valley man with a recent spate of local arrests has settled a lawsuit with a Fort Collins rehab facility that he claims held him prisoner and subjected him to the practice of Scientology.
Ben Levy, 28, sued A Life Worth Saving, which is part of the California-based Narconon International, last June. Narconon has no connection to Narcotics Anonymous or other 12-step programs.
An order entered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty said that a settlement has been reached on all of Levy’s claims for negligence, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery. Levy’s suit sought at least $75,000.
His attorney, Ryan Hamilton of Las Vegas, did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday. Ryan Gill, one of the attorneys for Narconon, said he couldn’t discuss the settlement.
Levy, meanwhile, is in the custody of Pitkin County Jail on unrelated criminal charges.
Suit: Facility held Levy against his will
Filed in the U.S. District Court of Denver, Levy’s suit said he entered the rehab facility in July 2013 to address his addiction to painkillers, which he got hooked on after he injured his back as a ski instructor.
Levy’s suit said the facility billed its program as secular and that he would undergo cognitive behavioral therapy, but it actually was a front for Scientology.
The suit alleges the Fort Collins facility “alarmed” Levy by its “strange treatments,” “including patients made to scream at ashtrays” and treating his abuse with Scientology, a new-age religion that’s been shrouded in controversy over the years, with many critics accusing it of being a for-profit cult. The Church of Scientology, founded by Ron Hubbard, also has gained fame with such high-profile members as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
According to the suit, in one instance, during a so-called touch assist in which a counselor was supposed to touch Levy to help him relax, instead the female counselor “grabbed his crotch. Ben told the counselor to leave him alone.”
Levy, after a short stint at the rehab center, decided to leave. But his request was denied before a staff official dropped him off at a homeless shelter in Fort Collins without any money or credit cards, the suit alleged.
“Ben was left to his own devices to find his way back to his home in Basalt, Colorado, several hours away,” the suit said, adding that Narconon contacted Levy’s wife instructing her not to let him back in their home.
“Consequently, Ben was forced to involve the police to gain entry into his own home,” the suit said.
Narconon, which filed motions to dismisses the complaint, also denied the allegations in its formal answer to the lawsuit.
“The allegation that Plaintiff received Scientology instead of substance-abuse counseling is not supported by any factual allegations,” Narconon said in a motion to dismiss the case.
Narconon’s attorneys also said in court filings that Levy’s contention that he was left at a homeless shelter without money or credit cards was “misleading at best.”
“Had Plaintiff arrived with money or credit cards belonging to him, that property would have been returned to him. It is not ‘outrageous’ to drive Plaintiff to a safe place when he requested to leave the facility,” Narconon’s lawyers said.
Narconon also questioned Levy’s allegation that one of its employees grabbed him on the crotch.
“Plaintiff does not identify the person who allegedly touched and/or restrained him,” Narconon’s attorneys wrote in a motion. “Nevertheless, a corporate entity cannot physically touch or restrain someone.”
Levy’s Monday court appearance
Levy appeared in Pitkin County District Court on Monday for a hearing to reduce his bond from $10,000 to $500. Citing Levy’s history of missed court appearances, Judge Gail Nichols kept the bond at $10,000.
“I think $10,000 in light of your history is more than reasonable,” the judge said.
That history includes “drunkenly discharging a firearm and causing a bullet to travel through his apartment and into his neighbor’s apartment” on Oct. 25, 2013, according to a March 2 motion made by the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The neighbors weren’t home and nobody was injured from the incident, which occurred in Woody Creek.
The District Attorney’s Office’s motion was to withdraw a plea agreement that was pending in Pitkin County. Levy allegedly breached his bond conditions, which included that he not consume alcohol, after he showed up drunk Feb. 14 at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, where his wife was giving birth to their first child. Hospital staff called police after Levy allegedly had a verbal confrontation with his wife.
Levy also has a criminal record that includes felony burglary, two counts of driving while ability impaired, protection order violations and domestic violence.
His wife spoke favorably of him at Monday’s hearing. Their newborn baby was in court as well. Prior to the Valentine’s Day incident, he was “doing wonderfully,” the wife said. The wife said she wanted the bond reduced so Levy could spend more time with the baby and get a job. Currently she can’t work because of her obligations to the baby.
“He’s certainly not a flight risk at all,” said public defender Sara Steele.
Prosecutor Andrea Bryan, however, noted Levy’s “horrendous track record while on bond.”
“This was a dangerous activity, shooting a rifle across the road while drunk. … This is terribly dangerous activity. I can certainly see that his family needs him, but he needs to get his life in order. I continue to believe that $10,000 cash surety is a reasonable bond.”
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Trouble seems to plague the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site in Basalt. The latest controversy is over the black fence that was erected three years ago on the site near the heart of downtown.