Nine current or former officials of the Synanon Foundation, founded as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation group, were indicted Tuesday on 22 counts of conspiracy, obstructing justice and perjury arising from an alleged attempt to falsely regain the foundation's tax-exempt status.
According to the indictment returned by a federal grand jury here, the defendants have, for more than six years, concealed from federal and state officials conduct, evidence and discussions by Synanon officials and attorneys that conflicted with the group's image as nonviolent and charitable.
The discussions dealt with "inflicting of physical violence by Synanon residents on Synanon's enemies, the acquisition of an arsenal of guns, the 'holy war,' the diversion of Synanon money into private hands . . . Synanon 'love matches,' 'changing partners' " and other activity that would have jeopardized a tax exemption, the indictment stated.
The indictment was the latest in a series of charges and legal actions against the group, based in Badger, Calif., in Tulare County, including a conspiracy to murder a Los Angeles attorney by placing a rattlesnake in his mailbox.
Jeff Hasner, a Synanon representative, said the group would have no immediate comment.
The defendants named Tuesday include Cecelia Jason Dederich, chairman of Synanon's board of directors and daughter of the organization's founder, Charles E. Dederich, and Philip C. Bourdette, the group's chief executive officer and general counsel.
Other defendants are Dan L. Garrett Jr., a board member and former general counsel; David Benjamin, group attorney; Elizabeth Missakian, legal department member and former foundation president; Steven Simon, group archivist; Miriam Crawford Bourdette, a legal department member; Dan Sorkin, former director of Synanon Wire, an internal broadcast system, and Sybil Schiff, former archives staff member.
The alleged conspiracy began March 1, 1979, and continued until Tuesday, the indictment said, and was directed at an Internal Revenue Service audit of the foundation and at several lawsuits brought by and against Synanon in California and Washington. The IRS had revoked the group's tax-exempt status in 1982, and Synanon officials had sued to regain it.
A major part of the conspiracy involved concealing and destroying tape recordings of the speeches and pronouncements of Charles Dederich and other documents that contained incriminating and damaging admissions about violent conduct, according to the indictment.
The defendants, with unindicted co-conspirators, also sought to alter such records as the computerized inventory of the Charles E. Dederich Tape Library and a subject matter index to tapes and transcripts, the grand jury charged.
On March 30, 1979, shortly after the conspiracy began, Simon prepared a list of incriminating and damaging subjects to be deleted from the computer indexes of tape recordings and transcripts, the indictment said. These subjects included "violence," "holy war" and "Morantz," a reference to Los Angeles attorney Paul Morantz, the intended victim of the rattlesnake murder attempt.
The grand jury charged that the next day, Philip Bourdette said the references to the damaging recordings were to be deleted to make it difficult for litigants and investigators to locate evidence harmful to Synanon. The 62-page indictment described repeated attempts by defendants to erase or otherwise alter damaging evidence.
For example, on April 1, 1980, Miriam Bourdette was alleged to have ordered erasure of a Synanon archives tape on which Charles Dederich ordered that "enemies" of the group should be harmed and that Synanon "Imperial Marine" Joseph Musico was a good candidate to carry out the order.
Musico, a defendant who pleaded no contest to the charge of conspiring to murder Morantz, was sentenced to a year in jail.
If convicted of the charges brought Tuesday, the defendants could be sentenced to five years in prison for each count of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and obstruction of agency proceedings, and to 10 years for each count of perjury. Most of the crimes carry fines of $5,000 to $10,000.