Synanon Founder’s Bid to Cut Probation Fails

Times Staff Writer

Synanon founder Charles E. Dederich lost a bid Tuesday for an early end to the probation term imposed upon him in 1980 for his role in a conspiracy to kill Los Angeles attorney Paul Morantz by putting a rattlesnake in Morantz’s mailbox.

Dederich, 71, had asked that his five-year term be ended six months early so that he could once again participate in no-holds-barred group encounter sessions known as Synanon “games.”

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert R. Devich turned down the request after listening to Morantz say that he wanted “six more months where I could go to sleep at night . . . where there would be a sword of reason hanging over Mr. Dederich and Synanon.”

Chain of Events


Deputy Dist. Atty. John Watson said at an earlier hearing that “it was through the mechanism of the game(s) that (the) series of events that led up to the attack on Mr. Morantz was begun.”

Morantz, who was bitten on the hand in the 1978 attack, said that neither Dederich nor any other Synanon official has ever apologized to him, and “I’m not so sure Mr. Dederich realizes that the things he did were wrong.”

At least one court has held that a 1977 speech by Dederich in which he warned, “Don’t mess with us. . . . You can get . . . physically dead,” inspired Synanon members to attack people perceived as enemies of the controversial drug rehabilitation organization.

Morantz said that he was among 50 victims of a Synanon “reign of terror” from 1975 to 1978. Shortly before the rattlesnake attack, Morantz won a $300,000 default judgment against Synanon in a suit by a former member who claimed that she was falsely imprisoned and brainwashed by the group.


Probation Conditions

Attorneys for Dederich, who did not appear in court, argued that an early termination was justified because their client has obeyed all conditions of probation requiring that he have no leadership role in Synanon.

“We’re talking about ancient history,” said one of the attorneys, Thomas J. Nolan.

Nolan said no one in Synanon has been accused of acting violently since 1978.


The lawyer said that Dederich, who lives at the Synanon compound in Badger in Central California, has suffered three strokes and could not again function as a Synanon leader.

He said Dederich’s health is being harmed by a probation requirement that he not participate in the games.

“It’s kind of like saying you can’t go to therapy,” Nolan told reporters outside the courtroom.

Two members of a Synanon security force known as the “Imperial Marines,” Lance Kenton and Joseph Musico, along with Dederich, pleaded no contest to a charge that they conspired to murder Morantz. Both Kenton and Musico were sentenced to a year in jail.


Ill Health Noted

Superior Court Judge William P. Hogoboom said at the time that he was not ordering Dederich incarcerated because of ill health.

Synanon, which refers to itself as the Synanon Foundation Inc. or the Synanon Church, is now headed by Dederich’s daughter, Jady, and includes an advertising gift business and a distribution network that solicits goods from farmers and the business community.

Some of its members are the subject of a federal grand jury investigation in Washington for possible obstruction of justice involving destruction of documents and perjury during two lawsuits, one of which was an appeal of an Internal Revenue Service revocation of Synanon’s tax-exempt status.


Four members, including general counsel and chief executive officer Phillip C. Bourdette, have pleaded innocent to a charge in Los Angeles that they prepared false documentary evidence in a criminal proceeding.

Those charges stem from alleged destruction of evidence, including tape recordings referring to violence, which prosecutors claim would have helped them build a stronger case against Dederich in the rattlesnake attack.