Recovering addicts sue rehab boss for unpaid labor

In this July 5, 2018 photo, Megan Mahoney, left, director of the anti-trafficking program for the Chicago-based nonprofit Heartland Alliance, and Darci Flynn, the program's associate director, meet at their office in Chicago. Flynn assisted three men who had worked under the "same trafficking scheme" in 2013 as the individuals in a 2015 lawsuit filed by Illinois. The suit claimed three employment agencies and two restaurants were underpaying and exploiting immigrant Latino workers.(Belle Lin/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal lawsuit contends the operators of a North Carolina drug rehab program farmed out recovering addicts to work in adult care homes and restaurants and pocketed the wages for the labor they performed.

The lawsuit filed by Andrew Presson of Olney, Maryland, and Kimberly Myris of Pinehurst, North Carolina, contends they enrolled in a residential substance abuse recovery program run by Recovery Connections Community. The plaintiffs say they and others in recovery then worked up to 16 hours a day bathing patients, changing diapers and serving meals at businesses that contracted with Recovery Connections for labor.


“These businesses pay Recovery Connections a negotiated rate for the labor pool’s work, knowing that Recovery Connections residents receive no compensation for their labor,” the lawsuit filed last month in Raleigh said.

The litigation seeks to recoup compensation for all rehab residents put to work by Recovery Connections and collect triple damages because the operation was unfair and deceptive by billing itself as a treatment provider.

Recovery Connections President Jennifer Warren didn’t return a phone message Monday left at the business operating from the same address as the home she shares with Phillip Warren, who was also named in the lawsuit. Nearly a dozen other phone numbers listed for the two were either disconnected or rang unanswered.

The nonprofit news outlet Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reported in May that Recovery Connections sent people with addictions to work for free as caregivers for elderly and disabled patients.

Recovery Connections was started in 2011 by Jennifer Warren, a former addiction counselor who was stripped of her license for fraud and other ethical breaches. She took on poor and desperate addicts who paid for their stay by working full-time jobs and surrendering their wages, the Reveal investigation found.

Rather than receiving addiction treatment, “Recovery Connections requires residents to perform arduous labor for long hours without pay. Recovery Connections claims that this practice benefits residents and trains them in ‘vocational skills,’ but Recovery Connections provides no bona fide training, and the manual labor that residents are required to perform has no therapeutic value,” the lawsuit said.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services received complaints beginning in 2011 that Warren was illegally operating an unlicensed program, the Reveal investigation found. But rather than crack down, an investigator with the state agency that oversees rehab programs told Warren how to avoid oversight altogether.

For years, people sent to Recovery Connections by the courts have complained to the state Department of Public Safety. Probation officials called it “toxic” and “run by dangerous people” in internal emails, the Reveal investigation found. But they continued to allow probationers to attend. Probation officials barred probationers from attending the program after Reveal journalists inquired earlier this year.