Ejindu's strategies for handling regulators became clear after Shearer took her story to county authorities in September.
As an auditor investigated Shearer's accusations of fraud, Ejindu offered the investigator a job, according to a county email. The auditor turned him down.
The 2012 investigation determined that the Pomona clinic had billed for 230 counseling sessions at times when the counselors were off work or at lunch. The inspector discovered that Ejindu himself had filled out, signed and dated patient records for a future date.
Six treatment plans and medical waivers lacked the required doctor's signature when the auditor first examined them. Weeks later, physician signatures appeared on the same documents, along with dates indicating they had been signed before the audit, according to the investigation report.
The tricks used to fudge paperwork had become so prevalent in the Drug Medi-Cal program that John Viernes Jr., Los Angeles County's Substance Abuse Prevention and Control director, warned all rehab providers in a 2010 memo that the practices were fraudulent and "will result in immediate contract termination." Viernes also warned that any offer of a bribe to a county staffer would be grounds for termination.
Over and over again, however, that threat fizzled.
Ejindu fought back. He filed a complaint against the county auditor, citing "illegal pilfering of documents." The allegations against his clinic, Ejindu wrote, came from disgruntled ex-employees who had been fired for not meeting standards.
"This agency has been around for 15 years for a very good reason," he wrote. "We are a pillar in our community and well respected."
Ejindu met with Viernes, who asked another county division to investigate the complaint of auditor misconduct. The inquiry determined that the auditor didn't have permission to take papers off the desks of clinic staff, Viernes said. As a result, he said, the findings of serious violations were "set aside."
Meanwhile, the Pomona clinic continued to rake in cash as part of its $800,000 annual contract. Vans still dropped off teenagers for rehab, and Shearer has grown cynical about the value of blowing the whistle.
"The funny thing is that it has been reported, many times, and nothing has ever been done," she said. "He's always found a way to circumvent that."
Looking back, Victoria Byers is upset, too. It bothers her that somewhere in official patient records, someone labeled her with an addiction she didn't have.
"Maybe if I wanted to get a job and that comes up, maybe I can't get that job because of drugs," she said. "I didn't do drugs, and that's kind of messed up."
At Pride Health Services, addictions weren't the only things that Stephanie Jackson Parnell made up.
The former employee said the clinic operator, Godfrey Nwogene, would ask her to bill Drug Medi-Cal for clients she'd never seen.
"I just had to come up with stories," she said. "Using your imagination. Like as if it's someone standing right there."
Pride staffers would go through files of old clients to check whether their Medi-Cal numbers remained active, Parnell said. Each active number would become a Pride client again.
Parnell, who left and filed a whistle-blower complaint with the state in 2009, said she invented life stories for her fake clients. She still can rattle off vignettes of rehab fiction: "Client stated that she went to a party and relapsed. ... Client is saying she doesn't want to go out with those same friends."
Or sometimes, Parnell just copied and pasted notes from one file to another.
"It got so raggedy ... I would put one floppy disk in there and do 15 charts with everybody saying the same thing," she recalled.
When people did come in, Parnell would take down their information, and Pride would bill for them even if they never came back, she said. When the fake clients were due to complete their rehab program, Pride employees created diplomas to put in their files, she said.
"I was getting freaked out about it, but the money was good," said Parnell, who made $13 an hour.
Whistle-blower emails sent to a Los Angeles County auditor in 2011 accuse Nwogene of leaning hard on his workers to carry out the scheme.
"I refuse to do any ghost writing because that is illegal," one of the emails said. "The owner of Pride Health (Godfrey) had an emergency meeting last week and stated that if we didn't want to do the paper work the Pride Health way, then we should resign."
Nwogene seemed unstoppable. A Pride employee wrote in another email to an investigator, "One thing im (sic) kinda scared of is that he has told us that no one has been able and will never be able to take him down."
Nwogene's skill at avoiding a crackdown played out in full force in 2011, as he faced heat from both state and county authorities.
An auditor sat in on a group therapy session -- but no one showed up. The auditor reported that Pride "appear(s) to have developed fraudulent documentation to support their billing claims," according to a county memo.
"A serious problem has come up with this agency," one county regulator wrote in an email obtained under the California Public Records Act. "ALL ROSTERS SIGNED IN THE SAME HANDWRITING by, it appears ... the same person and all billing for this program will be disallowed."
The county froze funding and conducted a follow-up investigation that found "extremely grave violations" and "deficiencies that warrant the termination" of Pride's contract. Los Angeles County drafted letters notifying state officials and Nwogene that it was cutting off funding.
The state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs drafted a letter to temporarily suspend Pride from the Drug Medi-Cal program because of "severe deficiencies" from 2005 to 2011.
Neither of the letters, according to county and state representatives, ever was sent.
Nwogene had been asking for help from the office of Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of five county supervisors. Now chairman of the county board, the former state senator represents the district where Pride operates.
The politician's aide, Salya Mohamedy, inquired, and Viernes, the county substance abuse prevention director, detailed the clinic's violations and allegations of fraud. Still, Mohamedy asked Viernes to set up a meeting "so that we can resolve this matter once and for all."
Internal emails show that this was not an unusual request: During the second half of 2011, Ridley-Thomas' aide contacted Viernes on behalf of half a dozen other rehab providers facing problems with regulators.
Nwogene met with Viernes on August 10, 2011. In a thank-you letter to Ridley-Thomas' aide, Nwogene called the meeting successful.
"Your intervention opened the door to dialogue," Nwogene wrote. "That dialogue led to a resolution."
While Pride may have had flaws, Nwogene wrote, "reckless and mean spirited" county staff treated the organization unfairly.
In the end, Pride Health Services' contract wouldn't be terminated. The funding spigot was on again.