The head of Sovereign Health lashed out Thursday at raids conducted Tuesday at its San Clemente, Culver City and Palm Desert addiction-rehabilitation treatment centers, as well as the CEO’s San Juan Capistrano home, accusing federal agents of using strong-arm tactics, threatening company employees at gunpoint and frightening patients while serving search warrants as part of an unspecified criminal investigation.
Though federal officials have not revealed the nature of the investigation, a statement released by the San Clemente-based company says it involves “alleged financial and other irregularities.”
No arrests were made in the operation, which FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said was conducted to search for evidence in connection with “allegations of criminal activity.” She said the search warrants and accompanying affidavits were under seal, and she could not comment on the nature of the investigation.
Sovereign Health blasted the methods of the personnel who conducted the raid, saying their “actions seemed aimed more at harassment than enforcing the law” and claiming they handed out sheets to patients with contact information for other behavioral treatment centers.
“The way they executed these search warrants was a disgrace,” said Sovereign CEO Tonmoy Sharma. “All they had to do was tell our senior management what they needed and we would have gladly complied. We have nothing to hide. Instead, they burst into our facilities, upsetting patients who are already fragile and dealing with trauma. They threatened our unarmed staff at gunpoint. And they didn’t even seem to know why they had busted into our facilities.”
The CEO said the agents “completely bypassed our accounting and financial staff, and instead, trained weapons on employees who perform duties such as patient intake. They snatched away the laptops of the writers who create content for our websites, and tried to break down the door of a room where a patient was receiving neurofeedback, scaring them to death. They also searched my home and took medical books, but bypassed a large safe which I offered the combination. This whole thing was ridiculous, so Mickey Mouse.”
Company spokesman Haroon Ahmad alleged that Sovereign, and other behavioral health treatment centers nationwide, are under siege from officials and individuals who try to keep treatment facilities out of certain neighborhoods.
“We call it NIMBYism — Not in My Backyard — when people try to legislate treatment out of existence,” Ahmad said. “The media is constantly reporting on the opioid epidemic and the nationwide shortage of available beds, yet local politicians and others have mobilized to push treatment facilities out of neighborhoods. We’ve been joining the San Clemente public in protesting against the NIMBY mentality. This and our legal push back against the authorities makes us a target.”
It was the second time in the past six months that the company has had a run-in with armed agents from a government agency, according to Sovereign’s statement.
In January, an armed individual claiming to be from the California Department of Social Services “stalked the grounds” of the company’s San Clemente facility, according to Sovereign. The company said it filed a formal complaint against the director of the agency’s Community Care Licensing Division because the man refused to identify himself, nor the agency he worked for, which the company contends is illegal. Sovereign’s CEO said the incident is currently being investigated by the agency’s Internal Affairs investigation branch.
“We are not letting the retaliatory actions of bullies get in the way of the important business of providing top-notch care for our patients with addiction and mental health issues,” Sharma said. “We know what is behind this pattern of harassment and strong-armed tactics. We will not be intimidated and we will prevail.”
Sovereign Health provides mental health treatment and drug rehabilitation for patients 18 and older, according to the company’s website. In addition to its California locations, the company has treatment centers in Arizona, Florida, Texas and Utah.
–City News Service