On Wednesday I received a call from two lovely senior citizen ladies from Mendo who were planning to “picket” Montel Wellness (Abatin…formerly Capitol Wellness) with a small group of supporters and friends who were upset that the collective had owed them several thousand dollars from months past. They had read my article on the situation and asked if I would like to join their action. They told me of the hardship this default of payment had caused them, as they are on SSI and live on fixed incomes. I felt more enraged than I had about my own debts not being paid and decided to help bring attention to this cause.
I created a press release on Thursday and that afternoon began circulating it to the local press. I did not begin broadcasting it until the community until that night, as I had hoped to keep it somewhat of a surprise. I received a call Thursday evening from the collective’s “director” (and the cause of most of these debts), Aundre Speciale letting me know that the word had gotten out. Maybe a reporter called to investigate or maybe someone leaked it. Either way, it was out, so I posted it to the Warrior in the evening and some email lists. I did not expect a big response on such late notice, so there was not a lot of organizing done ahead of time.
An hour before the action was to begin I received a phone call from a mutual friend of the two women who were organizing the protest, that indeed, the collective had contacted them the prior evening and told them to come down early in the morning to be paid in full! YAY! The pressure of the press release, coupled with pressures from other local activists had prompted them to admit their debt (finally) and pay these women what they were owed. VICTORY!
One of the conditions of their settlement was to sign a non-disclosure and not attend the protest that they had planned. So…they and their supporters were unable to attend the protest, and there I was faced with the press at 5 ’til noon, with not a lot of demonstrators. I gave statements to the press that “While we were satisfied that the pressure of the threatened action caused the collective to honor their obligation to the senior women, we hoped that they would see to paying the dozens of other folks that were also owed money.” I did some on camera interviews and shortly after noon about a dozen folks joined me, some with signs and snacks (thanks!), and we continued on with the planned demonstration.
As I walked up to the spot the collective had 4 armed guards and a PR jackass (above) waiting for our arrival. As I began to give my interview the PR weasel that the collective hired from Lucid Public Relations was there to try and give some sort of rebuttal. His first response was, “You have no idea what happened in our meeting with those women this morning.” I assured Jackass (Jonathan Franks) that I did indeed have first-hand knowledge of the situation from someone who was in the room when the deal was made.
So then wanders out Aundre Speciale, attempting to hand out free waters to folks in an effort to show she was not freaked out and was a nice person. Super. Thanks. We did some interviews and tried to create awareness of the unsavory business practices of the collective. Jackass tried to interject a couple of times, but had nothing relevant to say. I sure hope they did not pay that guy a lot of money because HE SUCKED at his job. He tried to dismiss people’s claims and act as if people were mistaken about the great amount of debt Montel Wellness owed people. Aundre and him attempted to spin the story and act as if they were innocent and that we were just there to capitalize off of Montel’s celebrity. Really? Montel is a B-star at best…maybe B-. Dude hucks juicers and 35% money market loans. He may as well be one of the bullshit psychics that he used to promote on his weak-ass borderline Maury/Springer wannabe Donahue show. He went on to bitch about my online “hyperbole” and stated we were having “amateur hour.” One of the people there took him to task on his lies and ended up getting in an argument with Aundre over her misleading statements to the press. It was classic.
At this time Gary Hiller, the snake in the grass attorney that has been working to undermine all vendors owed money and has threatened several of them personally appeared. Funny. He emailed me earlier in the week informing me he would not be in Sac until the following week. I guess his busy schedule got freed up to handle this situation and make sure the seniors got paid and to control the situation. He was whispering in Jackass’ ear when another vendor who is owed thousands of dollars came up and admonished both of them for their underhanded tactics and threats. This gentleman was a Buddhist monk for twenty years and spoke softly, but his words were powerful because after he spoke them Mr. Hiller and Jackass immediately turned and went back in the facility. They looked like their father had just told them how disappointed he was with them. I could not help but chuckle.
So about a dozen of us demonstrated with signs and had a great time laughing at the joke of an organization that was Capital Wellness and was now Abatin. I held up my sign for everyone passing by that stated “Does “Abatin” mean RIP-OFF? Pay Your Bills. Integrity Matters!” After about a half an hour the assholes in the collective turned the sprinklers on in an effort to get us to disperse. Who turns the sprinklers on at 1:30 pm? It is illegal in Sacramento to water between 10 am and 6 pm, so it was obvious this was an attempt to oppress our actions. But it was a hot day out and the sprinklers ended up feeling really nice actually and many of us enjoyed the opportunity to cool off, so thanks, Jackass.
We continued to demonstrate and were successful in turning away a few potential patients who did not want to get involved with the situation. We advised them to go elsewhere to find their medicine, as this place was guilty of fraud and evasion of payment. We were there for over two and a half hours and NO patients entered the facility. It was a successful effort and had accomplished the goal of getting the nice ladies paid, so satisfied for now, we dispersed. This peaceful action was a great opportunity to network with others who were in the same boat and had been wronged by the collective. We all vowed to come back regularly until this matter was handled.
Since the report hit the news and the buzz circulated around the movement I have been contacted by several others who want to protest louder, and do everything in their power to ensure folks get paid, or that the organization has all of its permits taken away. So we decided that in two weeks, on Friday, July 1st at noon, we will indeed be back for round 2. Maybe this time we will do a barbecue.
In an effort to gather more information about the “new” program they were trying to implement a friend of mine went to sign up at 5 pm on a Friday. While this is normally the busiest time for collectives, with folks trying to get medicine for the weekend, he informed me there was nobody in the place. He said the entire process took him over an hour and that they had virtually lost their minds. Get this….the program works like this….you pay $45 for a membership (which is refundable if you choose to terminate your membership) and have to fill out about 25 pages of papers. After that, a 24-year-old “counselor” sits you down and goes over the program. She informs you that EVERY time you come in you HAVE TO pay $40 for counseling and $17.50 for 5 grams of medicine. He asked, “What if I am in a hurry and do not want counseling?” The young “counselor” informed him that “It can just be something simple like how you liked your last medicine.” Really? That is what you guys are calling “counselling.” What it sounds like to me is FRAUD. If you want to go further, it could be practicing medicine without a license if you are attempting to “counsel” patients on their illnesses and choice of medicine for their symptoms. See, a collective is only there to “facilitate transactions among its members,” not to provide medical care. She informed him that there was a Doctor on site, and he said “Can I speak to him?” She replied, “Well, he is not here right now. He comes in just a couple of days a week.” So after all of the BS intro stuff he was shown a text menu (no pictures) of the 5 whole strains, no concentrates, and no edibles they carried. You HAVE to take 5 grams. No more. No less. He was able to get two types, which he said were both WEAK and came with about a gram of shake to boot. Thanks. for $57.50 I get 5 grams of B-grade meds with a gram of shake in it? Super.
NOTE: All patients should go in…sign up…get your “$17.50″ for 5 grams, and then return the next day to get refunded your $45 membership fee.” Only so long they could keep that up. LOL.
He left with his purchase, wondering how the fuck they plan on getting that weak ass program to work in a very competitive Sacramento market. The answer? They were using Montel’s star power and were in discussions with Eric Holder to make it so this model would be the only one allowed. Montel’s lunatic rage against the current systems of safe access is based in his belief that he can “clean up the industry and create a model that is more palatable to the Feds, and eventually get everyone else put out of business.” His money men have alluded to such claims with other vendors and people familiar with the new Board structure. Their goal is to use their lobbying power to create a climate that cracks down on the industry and leaves their model as the only one left standing. Then he can make his move on the Nationwide empire he alluded to in his press conference. His partnerships are with powerful folks from Big Pharma and they are attempting to undermine the system through placating law enforcement and others and attempting to demean the works of everyone else to gain competitive advantage.
This is one of the most shameful atempts I can remember, and honestly I think they are pissing in the wind. None-the-less, it is worth being alarmed about and I would hope many others who are concerned would join our movement on JULY 1st to protest this group and their ongoing unsavory business practices. We can continue to put pressure on until they either play nice or go home. They NEED to pay their bills and try to work WITH the community instead of against it, but time will tell. Until then, nothing short of victory will be satisfactory. Victory of Valhalla. I have nothing more to lose, so I am all in.
They can let me know when my check is ready for pick-up or they can continue to be admonished very publicly until they cease to exist. Either way, I will enjoy the journey.