Thursday, June 2, 2016

New film-project: A basement in Queens

From the fundraiser website:

When friends hear the bizarre stories of what happened to me in the program, they are shocked and often tear up. No one can believe that any parent could leave their child in a full-on drug rehab for three or more years, with hard-core drug addicts and criminals.

I survived three years in Aurora Concept Inc., one of the first troubled teen programs in the country. Officially a drug rehabilitation center or therapeutic community ("TC"), it was actually more like an abusive cult. For years I felt that I was part of an underground survivors society.
Originally created for adult heroin addicts in 1972, Aurora Concept Inc. started bringing in kids as young as 12. In 1982, I had just turned 14, was smoking a little pot, missed a lot of school and had emotional problems. I needed help. A psychologist suggested Aurora to my parents. He heard it was a great place for teens. It wasn't. Even the neighbors didn't have a clue what was going on “In that Basement”.

Aurora used a mixture of shame, humiliation, military-type structure and thought reform (brainwashing). This "treatment" was adapted from the methods of a cultish group called Synanon (1958-1991), which pioneered the model that went on to influence the modern “Troubled Teen Industry”. Its leaders were high school dropouts whose sole qualification was having themselves been addicts. Like Synanon, Aurora was also led by high school dropouts and former addicts; Jerry Lucci, Sandi Lucci and Louie Cino. They shaved heads, forced clients to wear bizarre costumes and degrading signs, and used extreme techniques like sleep deprivation, primal screaming, and constant guilt confessionals to tear people down to nothing.

I was forbidden from telling my parents, family or friends about the bizarre treatment I was subjected to in Aurora.

The average stay was three years. Either you "graduated" from Aurora, or you were garbage. I wanted out so I "split" many, many times and was eventually kicked out, never graduating.

Through interviews over the last decade, I have come to understand that this treatment can and has worked for the hard-core, adult drug addict. Many feel that they would be dead today if not for Aurora. I am glad for them and truly mean it, but this story focuses mainly on the adolescent experience.

The difference is that these extreme measures often wreak permanent damage on the adolescent brain and ego. Damage I am still trying to repair. 30+ years later, many adolescents like me have recurring nightmares, traumatic memories and PTSD.

Jerry Lucci, Sandi Lucci and Louie Cino were taken down by NY Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer in 1999.

Ex-clients and parents continue to ask questions:
  • Where is all of our personal information, our psychological files?
  • What happened to all the money they made off of us and our parents and medicaid?
  • Can we still sue them?
  • Why didn't they go to jail?

I am committed to making this film. I have been working on it for more than eight years and much of the work is already done and paid for.
The total budget for this film is $25,000. I have already invested $18,000 in pre-production. My target of $7,500 here on INDIEGOGO is specifically for two purposes:
  • Interviewing, filming, and editing clients/survivors, families, and faculty of The Aurora Concept, the related travel expenses and editing costs
  • Additional research and interviews on adolescent brain development
I am sharing digital and DVD copies of In a Basement in Queens, as well as opportunities to see a screening of the film before the final cut, dedicate a message in the credits, or even become a producer of the film.

Thank you for making this documentary possible.

Not until Facebook did I realize that there were others out there like me. Lots of others. I finally figured out how to deal with my trauma - I'd tell my story, and maybe even help others.

The Aurora Concept Inc. is closed, but this model of "treatment" for adolescents still exists. I hope that by telling my story, and the stories of other Aurora Concept survivors, we will warn parents on the verge of making the same mistake ours did. Don't send your troubled teen to an institution like this. Stop and seek other options.

Making a balanced and cohesive documentary film is difficult. This is true in this case for several reasons, including the fact that The Aurora Concept is closed, speaking about their experiences is often traumatic for survivors, and much of the documentation of the activities at the Aurora Concept has been destroyed.

I know not everyone is in the position to make a financial contribution today, but there are lots of other ways to help make this film:
  • If you or someone you know was involved with the Aurora Concept and has photos, film, or stories to share, please contact me today. Click the pink link next to the video at the top that says "Ask a question", or email me at
  • Like us on Facebook and share our posts.
  • Please use the INDIEGOGO share tools in the menu on the left to spread the word

Thank you for your help today!




  1. I knew Jerry Lucci from Samaritan House. He wasn't the originator of Concept, Joe Russo was. Joey started Aurora after he left Samaritan House, where he was Director of the night program where Jerry Lucci began his treatment. He went over to Aurora with Joe Russo, as did most of the Samaritan House "Clients"....Did you know any of what I'm telling you? Samaritan was NOT anywhere near a 3 year program. It was somewhere between a year and perhaps 15 month or so....

  2. It's surprising to me to hear that Jerry turned the program into the type of chamber of horrors that you describe. I knew he was indicted for insurance fraud of some kind or other, having to do with Aurora....but getting back to what you were saying, you see all TC's of the early 70's were based on the same very emotionally tough approaches to the road to sobriety that you describe. Jerry was doing what everyone else was doing. He was doing what he was taught. I was also 14 when I went to rehab, but I went to Samaritan House, not Aurora. I got there a few months before Lucci got there.

  3. It sounds to me like you're describing Recons and marathons, which were a bit tougher than your "normal" groups....weren't So, how'd the documentary go? Was it ever finished?

  4. Hello and I am very familiar with Aurora Concepts my step-son was there for three years and it was an experience it was both good and bad my wife and I did what we were told to do at parent meetings and all the fundraisers and everything else in between now that it's all over all I can say is in a lot of ways I'm glad but for some strange reason I don't know why I sometimes miss going there maybe it was because of being with the other parents and the fellowship but anyway those days are gone and for those who survived I wish you all the best in your lives thank you for letting me post my name is Bob Williams and my stepson was Alan Berscak he died a year after he graduated from heroin overdose and the year after that my wife and I divorced so it doesn't always work out for the best not for everyone happy holidays somehow and thank you for letting me post.

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  6. I was there 2002-2003. It was a friggin house of horrors. Not one person on staff cared about anything but keeping clients from leaving. No one cared about helping the people that were there. There was hardly any communication between clients and their family. Too much to go into here. This place was horrible. Worse than a prison.

  7. I was there around 2000. Place was rough. Spent a month on a chair facing the corner from 6am till 10 at night. Got stood up on the “wall” constantly, screamed at, and told to get down On the ground and clean..... then stood up over and over and screamed at..... then I’d have to scream myself. Sometimes like “ I need help”..... over and over was weird. Then we’d all hug and act like something great just happened. Absolutely ridiculous.

  8. Hi I was in Aurora from 84 to 87 I read your blog very interesting hope your film does well looking forward to hearing from you

  9. My son was a client there in the early 90's. Biggest mistake of my life was when I entered those doors and agreed to leave him there. So much to go into but I still have anger towards those people and the abuse they put the parents through, as if we were the enemy. They were all about the money and nothing more. I was so happy when I heard that the house of horrors had finally closed. The Luccis belong in jail. They were being investigated by many different watchdog agencies for financial improprieties specifically related to Medicaid. Parents should never have been charged a cent yet were threatened, cajoled, coerced into handing over hefty sums each month. I know it's probably too late but perhaps we can all get together and file a class action suit against the Jerry Lucci. I understand his wife has since passed away.

    1. F his wife. She was a BITCH times 10. She used to go into
      the refig after us kids spent all day in Hunts Point begging for food. Sandy would take the best produce and bring it home along with govt detergent and paper goods Filthy thieves
      ED Serrao

  10. I really wish there was at least one Facebook group or somewhere where survivors from this place could reconnect.

  11. Are you serious
    You thank these animals for tramatizing your life
    Your sick
    For real....

  12. Adam, I was there with you. I was 18, a pot smoker basically, and thety put me wit the adults, hard core junkies. Freaky place for sure. The Luccis, Assas, and Lou Cino were grifters and con artists. Used free labor to help renovate the Assas house. As mentioned above, took the best produce I often went to Hunts Point to beg for. Lou used to have guys fix up cars for free and sell them for his own profit. Believe they all went down for Medicare fraud.

    Talk to you any time

  13. Hey Adam. I was in there with you. I agree with you. I don't drink and when I tell my story from time to time I decribe my experience their similar to yours. Yes it was good for the adult junky. My father would have done some serious damage if he knew what was going on. Our parents can't be blamed. Aurora was indeed about 3 years and exceeded the emotional/ mental depth of samaritan house and daytop by miles. I left after 26 months from 81 to 83. I could have graduated but I was disgusted. Shame and humiliation was their method. It was very Roman. Jerry was Julias Ceasar. Anybody with defects like "awkward adolescence" suffered greatly. Those who had social graces sailed through the program. Anybody suffering from any kind of mental disorder, social anxiety, shyness, sexual awkwardness, or any other possible "out of the norm" feeling was scrutinized. and rejected to be openly humiliated. I have connected with selected people from facebook too. I got past it but I agree with your point of view. There is no way to exaggerate what when on there. My parents had to put me somewhere. For what its worth Adam a few years later I was working at a gas station near my hometown in Nassau County. I noticed across the street outside on the corner Jerry & Louie standing there looking directly my way. You can't make this stuff up. They had drinks in the bar. Well I walked a straight beeline over to them and it was a positive interaction. Louie a good guy always true-blue to form ended the conversation saying "keep the faith". Jerry was ok too. At the time it gave me some kind of closure.