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Begun in St. Louis as the Palmer Drug Abuse Program in 1982, the program switched its name to Crossroads in 1986. Szachta underwent treatment there in the early 1980s and became program director in 1986. He took the company private in 1991.
The program continues to draw heavily on the teachings of its founder, the controversial drug-and-alcohol recovery expert Bob Meehan.
A self-described ex-con, thief and drug addict, Meehan first gained national prominence in 1979, when he successfully treated comedian Carol Burnett's daughter for substance abuse. Burnett's friend and fellow comic Tim Conway was so taken with Meehan's approach to "enthusiastic sobriety" that he penned the foreword to Meehan's 1984 book, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: Our Children and Drugs.
But Meehan ran afoul of the public's good graces when his San Diego drug-treatment facility, Freeway, was shut down in 1986 amid allegations that he was unfit to run it and that he fostered a cultlike adoration in his clients. According to a Los Angeles Times article dated May 28, 1986, Kathleen Chambers, the San Diego licensing supervisor for the California Department of Social Services, denied Meehan's license application because "his dealings with the state have been less than honest and responsible."
Meehan's drug-treatment methods, though, have endured. To this day Szachta describes Meehan as his "mentor."
"He was the founder of the philosophy; he wrote the book," says Szachta, adding that until recently Meehan visited Crossroads several times each year.
There are four Meehan-inspired treatment centers scattered across the nation: Programs in Atlanta (Atlanta Insight) and Tempe, Arizona (Pathway Drug Abuse Program) are owned by Meehan's son-in-law, Clint Stonebraker; in addition to Crossroads (which has satellite groups in Columbia and Kansas City), Szachta owns Cornerstone Drug Abuse Program in Denver. Meehan himself owns two facilities (Step One and Step Two Recovery Centers, both in Phoenix), where Crossroads and its brethren refer clients for intensive, 45-day stays that cost about $15,000. He also directs the Atlanta-based Meehan Institute for Counselor Training, a nonprofit facility where virtually every counselor who works in the allied programs has undergone training.
Together the entities form the International Coalition of Enthusiastic Chemical Abuse Programs, or ICECAP, which Szachta describes as a "coalition of people who think alike philosophically -- basically employing the same approach [with] similar modalities that share a training program."
Or did until recently. After an ABC affiliate in Phoenix aired a TV news report critical of Meehan and his programs, officials from the Arizona Department of Health Services investigated Meehan's Arizona operations. Scott Tiffany, a team leader at the Arizona Office of Behavioral Health Licensing, says the facilities passed inspection. "We didn't come up with any information that would warrant further investigation," says Tiffany. (The agency continues to maintain a phone line dedicated to tips, comments and grievances about the two centers.)
Still, the controversy was enough to prompt Meehan to sever his ties to the affiliated programs. According to Szachta, Meehan is transferring ownership of his recovery centers to two former employees. Szachta and Stonebraker subsequently dissolved ICECAP.
"As of March 1, 2005, Bob Meehan retired from his positions with all Enthusiastic Recovery programs and institutions," Meehan's attorney J. Max Davis writes in a press release. "Part of the reason for [his] decision was to allow these institutions a chance to continue their work unimpeded by any media-generated controversy over Mr. Meehan's personality."
Szachta says Meehan's involvement with Crossroads was minimal anyway. "It's my company; I've owned it since 1991," Szachta asserts. "Meehan has never owned this program, run this program, controlled this program. When it was a nonprofit, I was a director; I worked for a board of directors."
But former counselors point to the Meehan Institute and his intensive-treatment centers as proof of his ongoing influence.
"All arrows point to Meehan," maintains former counselor Van Pelt. "He's messing with people's core belief systems. He's picking people off the street, going after sick people and kicking out the crutches."
Former Crossroads counselor Mike Trapani says Meehan's training went even further. "When I went to counselor training, I was told that we have to understand that niggers are a lower form of the human species," recounts Trapani, who says he left the program after the death of his father. (Trapani also says that toward the end of his employment he stole several hundred dollars in petty cash from Crossroads; Szachta says he has no knowledge of the incident.) "[Meehan told us that] it's okay for niggers to rape each other because that's how they have sex."
Racism is also tolerated in the group, says former Crossroads client Bailey La Cour. "I came out and 'nigger' was a part of my everyday vocabulary," says La Cour. "Like, rap would come on and I'd be like, 'Turn that nigger music off.'"
Trapani is a member of a small cadre of former counselors who've set up a Web site, www.ontheemmis.com, where former ICECAP clients and counselors share horror stories. A perusal of the site nets links to cult experts, charges of mind control and unflattering video clips in which Meehan speaks disparagingly of blacks and fat people and instructs counselors to "forget" their training after they've passed their certification exam.