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Editor’s Note: This story contains descriptions of sexual misconduct and substance use disorders. Readers may find details in the story disturbing and upsetting.
Elizabeth walked out of Green Mountain Treatment Center in 2017 on what she described as a spiritual high. She was newly sober and excited to start the next chapter of her recovery from opioid addiction.
Those feelings were fleeting. Just one day after leaving treatment, she said she received unsolicited, explicit Snapchat messages, including a photo of a penis and invitations to meet for sex.
The content of these messages disturbed her, but it was the sender that broke her. The messages came from Eric Spofford, the founder of Granite Recovery Centers (GRC), the parent company of the facility Elizabeth had just left. Spofford is one of the most prominent and influential figures in New Hampshire’s response to the opioid epidemic.
Two weeks later, Elizabeth relapsed. She began using opioids again. While relapses are common in recovery, she said Spofford’s harassment, “definitely, definitely, 100% set me back in my recovery.” NHPR agreed to identify Elizabeth by her middle name only, because she’s concerned about the repercussions of speaking publicly.
Elizabeth is not alone. An NHPR investigation has discovered multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, abusive leadership, and retaliation by Spofford while he was CEO of GRC.
A former GRC employee told NHPR that in 2018, Spofford sexually assaulted her during the workday. In 2020, according to multiple sources, another GRC employee told several colleagues that Spofford had sexually assaulted her, leading some of them, including the chief operating officer, to quit the company. Multiple sources say Spofford told them he negotiated a paid settlement with this employee that had the effect of silencing her.
GRC is the largest provider of substance use disorder treatment in New Hampshire and serves thousands of people across New England each year, at a time when the need for treatment continues to outpace availability. Many clients, including some who spoke with NHPR, say they have GRC to thank for their recovery.
But in interviews with nearly 50 former clients, current and past employees, and others in New Hampshire’s recovery community, a dark portrait emerges of Spofford as a polarizing figure who preyed on vulnerable people and wielded his power to avoid consequences.
Spofford did not respond to specific questions about the allegations. His lawyer, Mitchell Schuster, said in a written statement, “Mr. Spofford denies any alleged misconduct — in particular, the sexual assault accusations, which are not only categorically untrue, but defamatory in nature.” Schuster threatened legal action if NHPR published its story.
“Eric Spofford,” Schuster wrote, “has spent most of his adult life pulling thousands of people out of the depths of addiction, depression and trauma.”
The statement continues, “Some recovering addicts are uniquely suited to work in the field and are able to use their past experiences to help others in need. Others relapse and revert to the lies that tragically go hand-in-hand with addiction.”
Schuster also said that “former and current” GRC employees “refused to corroborate these false allegations.” But when asked to provide contact information so NHPR could interview these people, Schuster did not respond.
“The recovery industry needs a ‘Me Too’ movement.”
Piers Kaniuka, former GRC director of spiritual life
These allegations, reported publicly for the first time here, raise troubling questions about Spofford’s leadership, the company that made him wealthy, and New Hampshire’s reliance on Spofford to address the opioid epidemic.
As the scale of the epidemic ballooned over the past decade, so did Spofford’s prominence. At an appearance with Spofford in July 2021 at GRC’s corporate offices in Salem, Gov. Chris Sununu championed Spofford, saying he is “one of the first guys I’ll pick up the phone to” for advice about responding to the opioid crisis. Sununu’s office did not respond to several requests for comment.
In December 2021, Spofford announced he sold GRC to BayMark Health Services, a Texas-based treatment company, for an undisclosed sum. (Spofford said the amount was “more money than I’d ever seen in my entire life.”) In a statement to NHPR, a BayMark representative said the company “cannot provide comment on tips or allegations that pertain to time periods prior to our ownership and management.” BayMark did not respond to NHPR’s questions about whether BayMark was aware, prior to the sale, of Spofford’s alleged behavior.
GRC’s website does not list a current CEO. A request for comment to the company’s chief financial officer went unanswered.
Spofford is now 37. This month, he purchased a waterfront home in Miami for $20.75 million. He has expressed ambitions to remain in the addiction treatment industry and expand nationwide. Calling himself a “soldier without a war” in a recent YouTube series, Spofford said he’s “looking at doing it again.”
But people who worked with Spofford and witnessed his behavior say he should not be in the addiction treatment field.
“He should be shunned, shamed and probably prosecuted,” said Piers Kaniuka, the former director of spiritual life at GRC, who wrote a book with Spofford in 2019 called “Real People Real Recovery”.
Kaniuka said that when he went to work at GRC, he knew “fully well that [Spofford] had liabilities. I certainly didn’t know he was going to turn out to be like Harvey Weinstein. I wouldn’t have [joined the company] if I had known that.”
He added, “The recovery industry needs a ‘Me Too’ movement.”
Preying on vulnerabilities
In recent years, there has been no shortage of headlines and lawsuits exposing sexual harassment and assault by powerful men. In Spofford’s case, he worked with an especially vulnerable population: people struggling to recover from substance use disorder, who have sometimes experienced homelessness, abuse or sexual trauma.
When Elizabeth first met Spofford, she was in her mid-20s. She had a history of heroin addiction and told NHPR she had relapsed after a serious bike accident. When she was at Green Mountain Treatment Center – GRC’s flagship facility – in 2017, she remembers Spofford was hard to miss. He’d fly to the Effingham campus in a helicopter, landing in the front yard. On Elizabeth’s final day of treatment, she said Spofford asked her to have lunch with him and another colleague in the Green Mountain cafeteria.
Elizabeth figured Spofford talked to her because they had a friend in common. Or because she was “scholarshipped,” meaning she received free treatment on Spofford’s sign-off — a common practice, according to several former GRC employees.
Clients or their families usually pay for treatment out-of-pocket or through private insurance or Medicaid. Costs vary widely throughout the industry, but a single day of inpatient treatment can cost several hundred dollars. NHPR reviewed text messages and internal documents that confirm Elizabeth received her 2017 treatment at no cost.
Elizabeth spent one month at Green Mountain, detoxing and then attending group sessions, learning the 12-step method of recovery, and bonding with staff and other clients. She left in a “really, really good place.”
The next day, she said Spofford reached out to her on Snapchat.
She recalled the messages he sent: “He was already planning to come see me, wanted to take me out, wanted to do explicit things with me, was sending me pictures — dick pictures.”
NHPR has not viewed any Snapchat messages sent by Spofford. Videos, photos and messages sent via Snapchat disappear after the recipient views them. If the recipient takes a screenshot to save the message, the sender is notified.
Elizabeth said she told two friends about the messages at the time. One of them died of an overdose soon afterwards. The second, Justin Downey, independently confirmed Elizabeth’s story in an interview with NHPR.
“What makes this guy think this type of behavior is OK with a girl this vulnerable?” Downey said. The CEO of a treatment center, he added, is “supposed to have boundaries.”
Spofford’s messages sent Elizabeth into a complicated mental spiral, just as she was trying to reorient her life.
“A CEO of a treatment center I left 24 hours ago should not be sending me pictures of his dick,” she said. “That’s just integrity 101, right?”
At the same time, Elizabeth said said it was a vulnerable moment in her life.
“A girl who’s a month sober does not love herself yet, does not even know who she is, does not feel any validation from anything within herself,” Elizabeth told NHPR. “I felt like this man that has presented himself with all this power and prestige and money, which has been shoved in my face for 30 days, wants me. So I must be good enough.”
Elizabeth worried about the consequences of rejecting Spofford. “I think that’s common for women,” she said. “He just painted himself almost larger than life, right? So I can’t screw with him or make him upset.”
“A CEO of a treatment center I left 24 hours ago should not be sending me pictures of his dick. That’s just integrity 101, right?”
Elizabeth, a former GRC client
She feared Spofford might tarnish her reputation or even cause her to lose her bed in the sober home where she moved after treatment. So she said that while she didn’t encourage Spofford’s advances and never met up with him, she didn’t explicitly tell him to stop sending the messages.
Elizabeth said the messages continued occasionally over the next two years. She recalled a message he sent in 2019, after she saw Spofford at an event he was attending with his girlfriend.
“He texted me as soon as I left, telling me how good my a** looked, that he wanted to meet up with me and f*** me,” she said.
An employee alleges sexual assault
NHPR reporting indicates that Spofford also mistreated women who worked for him. More than a dozen former GRC employees told NHPR they’ve known for years that Spofford acted inappropriately with female staff. These sources range from high-ranking managers to entry-level staff.
NHPR has learned of sexual assault allegations involving at least two of Spofford’s employees. To avoid confusion while protecting the women’s identities, NHPR will refer to them as Employee A and Employee B.
Employee A agreed to tell her story to NHPR on the condition that her name be withheld because she fears Spofford will retaliate against her. She began working at GRC in an entry-level role at one of the company’s sober homes, and she said she loved her job. Things started to “get weird,” she said, once she was promoted to a supervisor position.
Around 2018, Spofford started sending her seemingly innocuous messages on Snapchat. Gradually, Employee A said, the communications became inappropriate: a message about how sex was part of his 12-step work. Then pictures of Spofford shirtless. And then, pictures of his penis.
As the photos escalated, Employee A said, she got “super nervous.” She had a criminal record, and she felt indebted to Spofford for giving her a chance.
“I needed to do whatever it took to keep this job,” she said.
She would respond to his messages with one-word answers to appear responsive but not encouraging, she said.
“A lot of people that I worked with put Eric on this pedestal of: ‘Eric is the greatest man in recovery,’ ” Employee A said. “I was not about to be the person to say otherwise.”
“A lot of people that I worked with put Eric on this pedestal of: ‘Eric is the greatest man in recovery.’ I was not about to be the person to say otherwise.”
In the midst of this, Spofford asked Employee A for a one-on-one meeting in his office. She recalls that when she arrived, he closed the door, started kissing her, and then got a condom from his desk drawer. She didn’t know how to react.
She said they had sex on a couch in Spofford’s office. She told NHPR she did not want to do it, “but I didn’t know how to tell him no.”
At first, Employee A didn’t tell anyone what happened. She said Spofford kept asking her for meetings, but she made up excuses to avoid him.
A few months later, she said, Spofford saw her at GRC’s headquarters having lunch with a male colleague she had dated. Spofford started “yelling and screaming and telling me to leave the property,” she said.
Employee A said she confronted Spofford about his reaction. She was fired the next day by her immediate boss, who told her the cause was incomplete work. But Employee A believes it was retaliation by Spofford.
Three sources independently confirmed details of Employee A’s story.
In an interview with NHPR, one of them, a friend, recalled an anguished phone call soon after Employee A was fired. The friend said Employee A told her about the firing, the Snapchat messages, the condoms in Spofford’s desk drawer and an unwanted sexual proposition.
‘A very well-known drug addict’
Spofford built GRC with his personal story at its center: a teenage heroin user turned CEO of a multi-million dollar company, whose struggles made him particularly sensitive to the needs of his clients. Until recently, GRC’s homepage featured a large photo of Spofford and the quote, “Where you’re going, I’ve been.”
According to the book Spofford and Kaniuka published in 2019, “Real People Real Recovery,” he grew up in Salem. His father ran a logging company. His parents split up when he was in fifth grade. He began selling marijuana and, by his mid-teens, he was selling and using opioids.
“At only 15,” he writes, “I was a full-blown heroin addict.”
Spofford dropped out of high school and lived a hard life of heroin addiction, drug trafficking and homelessness. He said he overdosed five times and went to jail several times. (NHPR could only confirm one overdose and one arrest and related jail time in Maine, for carrying a concealed weapon.)
Spofford said he finally stopped using drugs for good in 2006, at the age of 21. Two years later, with financial backing from his father, Spofford secured a loan to buy a house in Derry. Spofford turned the building into an 11-bed sober living facility, The Granite House, and he became its first resident.
Spofford started his business as overdose deaths were beginning a steep, steady climb in New England. From that first sober home, GRC grew into a sprawling treatment network that now includes three residential treatment facilities, detox, outpatient treatment and multiple sober homes. The need for treatment was — and remains — immense; in 2019, Spofford said he had a waiting list of 40 to 60 people a day.
Part of GRC’s growth has been fueled by state contracts including, since 2019, more than $3 million dollars in no-bid contracts to temporarily house people waiting for treatment or in need of shelter.
If his social media and other public commentary are any indication, Spofford grew wealthy as his business expanded. He frequently posts pictures and videos of his travels by luxury car, yacht and private jet.
As GRC’s footprint grew, so did Spofford’s reputation. Spofford has been repeatedly lauded by New Hampshire politicians and business leaders. In 2015, then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte invited him to Washington, D.C., to testify at a Senate hearing on opioid abuse. In 2018, he was recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as “Young Entrepreneur of the Year for New Hampshire and New England.”
This past summer, Sununu stood side by side with Spofford for a photo op at GRC’s corporate headquarters in Salem. Sununu enthusiastically praised the company, saying, “They’re embedded in their community. People know them. It’s great.” He added that New Hampshire needs “more of this all across the state.”
In 2019, GRC was set to host a visit at its headquarters from then-Vice President Mike Pence. It was canceled at the last minute, when White House officials realized that a high-ranking GRC employee and close friend of Spofford’s, Jeff Hatch, had been caught trafficking fentanyl across state lines. (Hatch was recently sentenced to three years probation.)
Spofford has leaned into his political connections, while stressing his against-all-odds rise to power. “What a weird claim to fame: I’m a very well-known drug addict in this state,” he said at a GRC event in 2018. “I know the governor personally. I know the commissioner. I know most of the legislation.”
Spofford held a fundraiser last year for a Republican congressional candidate at his Windham home. In 2020, he had VIP access to a rally for former President Donald Trump. Granite Recovery Centers, under Spofford’s leadership, gave $7,000 to Sununu’s campaign. Spofford has also personally contributed $7,000 to Sununu. In 2019, he donated $10,000 to the New Hampshire GOP.
He has cultivated a personal brand on social media, offering unvarnished tips about entrepreneurship. For example, in one video for his 174,000 Instagram followers, Spofford offered two “integral tools” for winning in business: “figuring it the f*** out” and “balls.” He says, “I think balls is one of the most important ingredients to success that you can possibly find.”
Now that Spofford has sold GRC, he is building a new company, Spofford Enterprises, which describes itself as an entrepreneurial investment firm. The firm’s website says it has offices in both Salem, N.H. and Miami, Florida, and Spofford has made it clear on social media that Miami is where he sees his future.
Part of that future is opening new addiction treatment centers, according to Spofford’s multiple “Day in the Life” YouTube videos. A camera follows him as he tours facilities across the country. He’s claimed on social media to have purchased properties in Texas, New Jersey and Ohio.
An exodus of staff after allegations come to light
The final straw for Brian Stoesz and Piers Kaniuka came in the spring of 2020. Stoesz, the chief operating officer at GRC, had only been in his job a few months, but Kaniuka, the company’s director of spiritual life, had known Spofford for years.
In “Real People Real Recovery,” the book he co-authored with Kaniuka, Spofford wrote, “Piers was the first person I had met in recovery who made sense to me.” Spofford said he was 19 when he met Kaniuka at a detox facility. Kaniuka later became his sponsor in the recovery process.
In 2016, Kaniuka agreed to join GRC’s staff, and he was a popular presence among clients. He said at first, he didn’t believe the rumors about Spofford’s treatment of women.
“I fault myself for not coming to this sooner,” he told NHPR, “but I’m not the only one.”
NHPR has learned that at least four staff members, including Stoesz and Kaniuka, quit GRC in the spring of 2020 because of allegations that Spofford sexually assaulted an employee and then retaliated against her. Another member of the leadership team was fired as a result of the fallout.
Kaniuka, Stoesz and Nancy Bourque, GRC’s former Human Resources Director, all said they spoke directly with this employee. This employee declined to be interviewed for this story. Because of that, NHPR is not using her name and will only reveal limited details of the allegations. NHPR will refer to her here as Employee B.
Bourque shared with NHPR handwritten notes she took during her conversation with Employee B. They include the words “boundaries” and “predator.”
Bourque and Stoesz said Spofford brought in a moderator, an attorney, to look into the allegations and talk with staff. Stoesz said Spofford tried to prime him for his interview, saying to Stoesz, “Just remember… there’s not a shred of truth with anything [Employee B] says.” Neither Bourque nor Stoesz ever saw the results of any internal investigation, and Bourque said she was not interviewed.
Bourque shared with NHPR handwritten notes she took during her conversation with Employee B. They include the words “boundaries” and “predator.”
Stoesz said he called his wife and told her, “I don’t have much, but I do have a reputation. I don’t want any affiliation with anything here.” He then resigned abruptly from GRC.
For Kaniuka, the accusations hit especially hard because he knew Employee B well. He decided to resign. He told NHPR he wanted his departure to “make things really inconvenient and awkward for [Spofford], and my hope was that this was going to snowball from that point on. But it never did.”
Employee B left the company soon after Bourque, Stoesz and Kaniuka learned of the allegations. The circumstances of her departure are unclear, but multiple sources told NHPR that Spofford said he arranged a paid settlement with Employee B that had the effect of silencing her.
Bourque recalls that Spofford said a settlement had been signed, telling the HR director, “We put that all to bed.”
NHPR’s reporting indicates this is not the only time Spofford used paid separation agreements, with strict non-disclosure requirements, to keep damaging allegations about GRC under wraps.
NHPR has not viewed any settlement between GRC and Employee B, but has seen multiple other separation agreements signed by Spofford that prohibit the signatories from saying anything “derogatory or disparaging” that could damage the “reputation or goodwill” of the company or any person associated with it. The agreements say the employees would be required to return severance payments or other money GRC paid them if they violated any terms of the contract.
Soon after Kaniuka and Stoesz resigned, Spofford fired Bourque, the HR director. In a text message viewed by NHPR, Spofford claimed Bourque had mishandled Employee B’s case and wrote, “You did not have my back.”
“So now,” Bourque said, “Anybody that knew anything is gone.”
“There’s patterns to behaviors like this,” Bourque added. Explaining her decision to speak to NHPR, the former HR director said, “Sexual harassment is not about sex, it’s about power … Having that [power] over somebody, it can destroy their life.”
Spofford ‘answered to no one’
NHPR has spoken with more than a dozen former employees who shared complicated memories of their time at GRC. They described a passionate, mission-driven community that saved lives. For some who had previously gone through GRC’s programs themselves, it was the only sober community they knew. Some felt indebted to Spofford for their sobriety or their livelihood (and sometimes both).
Spofford also inspired fear. Multiple sources described GRC under Spofford as a “cult”-like environment, in which Spofford demanded total loyalty, placed his favorites in positions for which they were unqualified, and acted abusively toward staff. A lawsuit filed by one former employee over a financial dispute claims Spofford “mercilessly harassed and belittled” the employee.
Brian Stoesz, the former chief operating officer, and Piers Kaniuka, the former director of spiritual life, said they often heard Spofford speak disparagingly of women. Many former employees who spoke to NHPR, including Stoesz and Kaniuka, said some of Spofford’s descriptors for women were “crazy,” “nuts” and “borderline.”
Spofford described using “pimp hands” in his treatment of employees, according to two sources. Kaniuka defined the phrase this way: “You abuse your staff, and then you’re nice to them and then you abuse them.”
“I’ve never worked in an environment that was so maliciously abusive — bullying, intimidation, hostile,” Stoesz said.
According to many GRC staff, there didn’t appear to be any way to hold Spofford accountable for his behavior in the workplace. When Spofford was CEO, he held all the power.
“I mean, who does the owner report to?” Bourque, the former HR director, said. Bourque said there was a board with only three members, and Spofford was one of them. And since GRC is a private, for-profit company, “[Spofford] really answered to no one.”
Multiple sources described GRC under Spofford as a “cult”-like environment, in which Spofford demanded total loyalty.
As far as government oversight, the state of New Hampshire is responsible for licensing and overseeing some types of substance use disorder treatment, such as residential treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services makes annual visits to each of the facilities it licenses, and public documentation suggests that the only violations the state found at GRC residential facilities were minor, such as incorrect paperwork. The department, citing state law, said any documentation beyond annual visits could not be shared publicly.
In a statement to NHPR, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office said it had received nine complaints involving Granite Recovery Centers between 2013 and 2022. The complaints included sanitation, poor conditions, COVID protocol violations and what it called “staffing issues.” The AG’s office said it had not received any complaints of sexual assault against Spofford.
For allegations of sexual misconduct to emerge, the women affected would need to report them to authorities. But many sources told NHPR they haven’t come forward yet, or would only do so anonymously, because of the climate of fear Spofford created.
The most common concern among sources is that if they tell the truth about what they experienced at GRC, Spofford will retaliate by ruining their reputations, getting them fired from current jobs or forcing them into legal battles they can’t afford.
Elizabeth, the former client who said she received explicit Snapchat messages from Spofford, said she is now sober. She told NHPR she hopes her decision to speak out can bring change. “If I can do anything to make at least one treatment center better, I’m happy to do that.”
New Hampshire Public Radio’s Jason Moon contributed reporting. This story was originally published by NHPR and was republished as part of the New England News Collaborative partnership.