At the Save the Seed drug treatment ministry, the Rev. Robert "Shine" Freeman says he occasionally treats addicts through the rites of exorcism.

He uses 10- to 12-hour Bible study sessions to "detox people with the word of God." And Freeman said it is occasionally necessary to strike people when they "buck up" against him.

Although Freeman says he treats sin, not drug abuse, judges in the District and Prince George's County, faced with a hard-core population of drug addicts, have been sending people to Save the Seed for treatment for more than a year.

Run out of a split-level house in Fort Washington, the program is not licensed or certified as a drug treatment center, nor does it have trained drug abuse counselors. Supported by a local church and donations, Freeman said Save the Seed does not charge for its services.

Between 20 and 50 people at a time have been living at the house on Taylor Avenue for more than a year, Freeman said. Men sleep on mattresses jammed end to end in the two downstairs bedrooms and laundry room of the house and can be awakened at any hour for a Bible study, Freeman said. Women and children occupy two upstairs bedrooms.

Judges and probation officers who referred people to Save the Seed say it presented them with an offer that was hard to resist: It was willing to take, almost immediately and at no charge, people who were hardest to place in traditional programs: addicts with prior convictions, no insurance and an abysmal track record with drug treatment.

In Prince George's County, there is a system to help officials determine which treatment centers are good. However, the system does not always work.

Maryland officials routinely provide a list of state-certified drug treatment centers to local corrections officers, including those in Prince George's. Probation officers are supposed to recommend to judges programs that are certified. But judges are free to ignore those recommendations and place addicts wherever they choose.

Overwhelmed with drug offenders and ill-equipped to investigate the claims of treatment programs, only a few judges ever raised questions about the credentials of Save the Seed for months.

In recent weeks, however, questions -- spurred in part by a letter written by the mother of a former participant -- have been raised about Freeman's methods.

The letter, written by Arnetta Ramsey, a private-duty nurse, and sent to seven government and court officials and The Washington Post, alleged abuses by Freeman including crowding, a lack of formal treatment plans, physical violence, including on one occasion pushing someone down the stairs, obscenity-filled tirades and forced nudity.

Government officials sent to investigate found most of the complaints valid. In the wake of the complaints, some judges have voiced concern, while others have continued sending people to the program.

"Based on my own experience with individuals in Save the Seed, I have severe reservations about the operation," Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. said in an in erview after refusing to send a convicted drug dealer to Save the Seed in May.

Freeman, 34, is a convicted thief and self-described former drug dealer, addict and police informant, with no formal religious training.

He did not dispute most of the allegations against the program, confirming that he occasionally strikes people, that the house is crowded, and that he has no formal treatment plans, but said that outsiders do not understand his work.

He has, he said, on at least four occasions, cast demons out of people through exorcism. He said he is not treating drug abuse, but sin, and hence does not need to be licensed by the state.

Freeman denied forcing people to strip naked or pushing anyone down the stairs. Tough measures, such as using "language from the street," he said, are needed to control program members, who, according to court records, have included people convicted of or awaiting trial on charges ranging from assault with intent to murder to drug violations.

Current program members praised Freeman lavishly, repeatedly saying he had "saved them" and that he "ministered to their souls."

Several former program members voiced conflicting feelings about the program, praising Save the Seed even while criticizing Freeman.

"I think the place helped me in some ways because it got me more interested in the Bible," said Arnetta Ramsey's daughter, Verbrena.

Four of the judges who referred people to Save the Seed, as well as eight lawyers, corrections officials and probation officers interviewed by The Post, said they did not inquire about the program's credentials and were not aware of its methods.

"We just don't have enough facilities to take care of people with drug problems," said Prince George's District Court Judge Theresa A. Nolan, who ordered a man already enrolled in Save the Seed to complete the program as a condition of his probation. "If someone comes in and presents what we think is a decent program, it's better to put them in that than to wait weeks."

It was not until Arnetta Ramsey wrote her eight-page letter in May that probation department or court officials looked seriously at Save the Seed, officials said.

The letter also was sent to Full Gospel AME Zion Church in Temple Hills, which finances Save the Seed. Church officials confirmed in a letter that they support Freeman and Save the Seed, but declined numerous requests for an interview.

Ramsey said in interviews with The Post that she became alarmed when Verbrena Ramsey, 26, a self-described heroin and cocaine addict, told her 54 people were living in the house and that Bible studies sometimes lasted into the early hours of the morning. Her concerns solidified, Ramsey said, when she learned the program was not certified. Verbrena Ramsey, in an interview, confirmed the allegations.

Three former members interviewed by The Post independently confirmed Ramsey's allegations that weaker program members were intimidated and struck. Nine current program members, interviewed in the presence of Freeman during four visits, denied the physical abuse but confirmed accounts of marathon Bible studies, delayed meals and crowded sleeping quarters.

Participants also said they were required to stay indoors when they were not working or attending services at Full Gospel AME Zion.

Three current and former members said they had been exorcised by Freeman while his wife, Claudette, and others chanted in tongues and daubed their foreheads with "anointed" olive oil. Dawn Wright, 31, credited Freeman's exorcism with freeing her from a 13-year cocaine habit. Wright's 14-year-old son who was living with Freeman in May and June also said he had been exorcised.

Freeman "had both my arms and my legs and I was crying and screaming and slobber was coming out of my mouth," Dawn Wright said. "He was calling out to God to save me from the demon . . . . Mrs. Freeman, she was outside the door, praying in tongues to keep the devil from getting into somebody else."

Freeman, noting that Wright "had the demons bad," said he has been blessed by God to perform exorcisms. He has no formal religious training, but apprenticed with a Holiness minister at a now-defunct Capitol Heights church, he said.

Freeman lived for several years in Capitol Heights and Fairmount Heights, where, he said, he was one of the area's most active drugs dealers. He also was a confidential source for narcotics and homicide investigators from 1981 through 1986, according to a September 1986 Prince George's County police search warrant affidavit.

His criminal record includes a 1985 guilty plea to stealing video recorders from an electronics store and a 1987 sexual assault charge that was later dismissed.

Freeman spent two months in jail on a $10,000 bond in 1987 before the assault charge was dropped. It was during that time, he said, that he overcame his drug habit through prayer and was called to preach.

During four visits by a reporter, program participants followed Freeman's every order: sitting when he said to sit, standing when he said to stand, coming into the room and leaving at his command.

"I control the tempo . . . by not letting them know nothing that goes on," Freeman said. "They're off balance at all times. They can't learn to beat the system because there is no system. They do what I say when I say."

The District probation division, whose officers inspected Save the Seed after receiving the Ramsey letter, pulled five people from the program in May, according to Alan Schuman, director of Social Services for Superior Court. Probation officers, Schuman said, found "that a lot of these allegations were correct . . . and that it was unsatisfactory for us to have anybody there."

Schuman said probation officers had erred by not visiting Save the Seed before making referrals there, but he noted that the department is desperate to place drug addicts in treatment.

"We try to find any situation to deal with them," Schuman said. "With the volume we're dealing with -- 12,000 people on probation -- if you hear something or see some literature, you take your shot."

The problem is especially acute in the criminal justice system where in the District, 70 percent of the people on probation and parole have drug problems, Schuman said.

District attorney Donnie E. Wilson said he looked unsuccessfully for an in-patient treatment program for nine months for his client, Lorenzo Stancil, 30, a twice-convicted drug dealer, before learning about Save the Seed.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Nan R. Huhn, who had insisted upon a year-long inpatient treatment facility, agreed to place Stancil in Save the Seed in May after representatives of the program assured her in court that it was "basically a year program . . . {with} six months after care," according to court transcripts. The judge also suspended Stancil's sentence of 20 months to five years.

During a visit to the program in early June, Freeman told a reporter that Stancil had improved so rapidly that he would "graduate" soon and leave the house on Taylor Avenue.

After The Washington Post contacted Huhn and Wilson about Save the Seed, the judge held a second hearing on July 10 to reconsider Stancil's placement.

At that hearing, Huhn said that she was concerned about the probation division's report and that another defendant she had sent to Save the Seed had stayed less than three months after being ordered there for a year's treatment. However, Huhn allowed Stancil to remain after he told her that he believed he had benefited from the program.

Huhn, as well as a half-dozen other judges, lawyers and probation officers, said they chose Save the Seed after reviewing Freeman's brochures and letters of recommendations. The package, which includes a letter signed by Prince George's County State's Attorney Alex Williams (D), describes Save the Seed as a drug treatment ministry supported by Full Gospel AME Zion Church, the largest congregation in Prince George's County.

Williams said through a spokeswoman that people from Save the Seed had visited his office to tell him about their program and that he had been impressed with their presentation. Alexis Revis-Yeoman, the spokeswoman, said that Williams believes that "prosecution is not the only answer to our drug problem."

Freeman said that while he has received more than a dozen referrals from judges, lawyers and other court personnel, the majority of the people in his program come straight from the street. Most of these people, Freeman said, have criminal charges pending against them when they arrive. Judges, upon learning that the people are in a drug treatment program, allow them to remain with Save the Seed, sometimes making it a formal condition of their probation, Freeman said.

Three of the judges interviewed said they were operating under the mistaken assumption that the program was certified and had trained staff. A fourth, Prince George's County District Judge Larnzell Martin Jr., said he knew the program was religiously oriented and "probably not certified" but that he thought "a little religion couldn't hurt" the defendant before him.

State law requires drug treatment programs to be certified by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and imposes a $10,000 penalty on those that operate without meeting its standards. However, state health department officials, who reviewed the allegations against Save the Seed, said the program is outside their jurisdiction because it is a religious organization.

"As far as we're concerned, {Save the Seed} is not even a treatment program that could be certified," said Charles Alexander of the department's division of licensing and certification. "It seems like it {is} more or less a religious cult . . . . The legitimacy of the program is definitely questionable."

"We treat sin, but we deliver you from drugs," Freeman said. "In my program you have to give it all up: the drugs, the lust, the rock music, the sin. Everything has to go."

One former member, Randy Dandy, a 34-year-old Capitol Heights man who was in Save the Seed in the spring and summer of 1989, credited Freeman with helping him to overcome a cocaine habit but said he was troubled by Freeman's violence.

On one occasion, Dandy said, a man in the program with him was beaten by several members of the group when he returned to the house after using drugs. The man, whose body had bruises and welts, then was stripped "completely naked" while group members and Freeman laid hands on him and prayed, Dandy said.

"They called themselves praying for the guy," Dandy said. "I saw it as humiliating him. I said, 'What is the purpose of him standing there nude, completely naked as a jay bird.' "

Freeman, questioned about Dandy's allegations, acknowledged that occasionally he used physical force to maintain order. He refused to comment on the allegation that a man had been forced to stand naked in front of the group.

"You have to remember that this is my home and this is free and I have to do whatever it takes," Freeman said.

Drug treatment experts caution against such an autocratic approach, noting that it can have dangerous, even disastrous, effects. Addicts, already vulnerable and robbed of their free will by their habits, substitute a dependence on the drug for a reliance on the program leader, they said.

"Programs that teach people to do only what they're told to do create a greater handicap," said the Rev. Clinton D. McNair, an associate professor of practical theology at Howard University who also is a Baptist minister and substance abuse counselor.

John A. Cherry, pastor of Full Gospel AME Zion Church, declined numerous requests to discuss Save the Seed. He said in a letter to The Washington Post that the church finances Save the Seed, which he said also receives donations from private citizens.

"I am not personally aware of the allegations," Cherry wrote, "but I do know from the testimony of others that lives have been changed, set free, and delivered from drugs as a result of this young man's heart toward his brothers."

In May, Freeman said he had 47 people living at his house. In June, Freeman said he had reduced the number to 34 people. Last month, he said the number had dropped to 20.

Prince George's County zoning ordinances prohibit more than five unrelated people from living in a house in a residential neighborhood. Freeman was cited for violating this ordinance in October but was allowed to stay in the house after he told zoning officials in February that he intended to move the program to property owned by Full Gospel AME Zion. He has been given repeated extensions, receiving the latest last month.

Freeman said last week that plans to move to a property on Wheeler Hills Road owned by Full Gospel AME Zion are "coming along."

"I opened my home and took these people into my house when no one else would help them," Freeman said. "The overall picture is nobody is doing what I do. Nobody is reaching out trying to help them to keep them straight."

Staff researcher Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.