Scientology's Sales Pitch: "Pure and Simple Blackmail" (UPDATED)

Today sees another explosive installment in Tom Tobin and Joe Child's latest investigative project examining Scientology at the St. Petersburg Times.

The previous day, the SP Times duo had introduced us to Hy Levy, a fomerly successful "registrar" who brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars to Scientology each and every week by convincing church members to max out their credit cards, pull from their 401Ks, and draw from equity on their houses.

Today, we meet some of those church members who gave and gave and gave, particularly after Scientology leader David Miscavige put out new versions of L. Ron Hubbard's books in 2007.

One of the most frequent questions we get about Scientology from people we meet is some variation of this: "You've written that the church is actually pretty small and losing people every day. So where is all this money coming from for new buildings?"

We have to admit, we never really had a very good answer for that. Until now.

The SP Times series, with most of it still to come, has already made us much more aware of how the "regging" process works, and how Scientologists constantly endure a hard-sell approach not only to pay for auditing services, but to make outright donations for new buildings, for memberships, and for books they already have copies of.

(I still can't decide which of Hy Levy's revelations hit me the hardest -- that in 16 years of 12-hour days pressuring fellow church members to fork over huge amounts of money he'd taken a total of five days off work; that after raising about $200 million for Scientology over his career while making only $50 a week, he was sent off with a severance check for $500; or that he was so dedicated to his job he considered his dying mother a "distraction.")

Tobin and Childs once again reach deep to bring us the facts and hard-to-get numbers:

Scientology rings up astonishing sums: $100 million a year just from services sold in Clearwater, a minimum of $250 million since 2006 for the International Association of Scientologists, tens of millions for new church buildings called Ideal Orgs, and untold millions more from selling new volumes of church scripture.

When you're paying workers only $50 a week, those kinds of sums really go far.

In today's installment, the SP Times duo flip the coin and look at some church members who were the subject of Scientology's high-pressure sales pitches.

Watching his video, I couldn't help liking Orange County, California Scientologist Luis Garcia. He finally got fed up when a Scientology VP named Bob Adams tried to pressure him into buying 32 sets of the "Basics," the newly remastered set of books and lecture CDs that Miscavige announced in 2007. (The books alone cost about $450 a set, with the lectures, sets cost $3,000.)

On the other hand, Garcia apparently was a pretty easy mark over the years:

Through their climb in Scientology -- Rocio Garcia reached the second highest level, OT VII -- they contributed $510,000 to help build a new church in Orange County. They donated $340,000 to the Super Power construction project in Clearwater and $65,000 to an initiative to preserve Hubbard's writings on titanium plates. Luis gave $50,000 to Scientology's membership group, the International Association of Scientologists.

The previous day, Tobin and Childs wrote about yoga instructor Brian Culkin, who has been mentioned here at Runnin' Scared previously, because he managed to give Scientology more than $300,000 even though he was involved in it for only about a year:

Culkin describes a nightmarish scenario, with teenagers and other church members hitting him up from the time he arrived in Clearwater with pitches for donations in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Scientology responded to the SP Times by saying that all churches ask for donations.

Sure. Of course they do. But can you imagine your neighborhood Presbyterian church announcing that it had got the commas and semicolons cleaned up in the Bible, and now asked all of its members to spend tens of thousands of dollars for new books or risk losing their eternities?

Or worse. As Lisa Hamilton, formerly a high-ranking "ethics" officer at the Clearwater base explained to Tobin and Childs, it was made clear to members that the way to make up for transgressions was to buy more copies of books.

She said one parishioner declared "suppressive" by the church bought 20 sets from a senior Sea Org officer, hoping it would return him to good standing. Similar offers were made to former Sea Org members who wanted to stay active in the church but couldn't. They had left the staff without paying their "freeloader debt" -- the bill for services they'd received for free while on staff. "That to me was pure and simple blackmail," said Hamilton, who oversaw base personnel, security, ethics and other areas.

Wow. And this thing is only beginning. We hear the duo will take tomorrow off, publish part 3 of their series on Wednesday, and then give us parts 4, 5, and 6 on Sunday, Monday, and the big finish next Tuesday.

I think I'll have to hurry up and do my own little scoop -- about an overseas Ideal Org adventure -- tomorrow, when they're not publishing another installment, if I want to get a word in edgewise.


UPDATE: Our friend and regular commenter Mark Miglio for some reason has been somewhat shy of late, sending us e-mailed responses to our stories rather than posting them in our comments section. But I thought our readers would be interested to see how Mark responded to today's story about the latest Tobin and Childs installment. So here it is:

Here's how I see today's explosive installment:

A simple amends project: "One parishioner declared 'suppressive' by the church bought 20 sets from a senior Sea Org officer, hoping it would return him to good standing". Great, thanks for your donation. Very well done. We are happy to welcome you back, but please to be more ethical in your future actions.

Other amends projects: "Similar offers were made to former Sea Org members who wanted to stay active in the church but couldn't. They had left the staff without paying their 'freeloader debt' -- the bill for services they'd received for free while on staff." Only a nut should say, "'That to me was pure and simple blackmail'."

-----------------------

My take:

There is the war of the matrix that is ongoing; but you, a Scientologist, should know that already. I simply ask that everyone make a self-sacrifice. Don't wait for us to ask for donations. Please be proactive and come to us and offer as much as you can.

We, much more than others -- and that means you too -- are responsible for the security of this whole planet. Be ever strong and ever loyal. It is going to take a whole lot of donations to make just a dent in the societal downward spiral that we are confronting.

-----------------------

Levy didn't seem to mention that he most certainly had gotten a lot of donation commissions for himself, for all the materials that he sold to the students that had regged for courses: "he was sent off with a severance check for $500".

Levy went way 'out ethics' when he said that he was so dedicated to his job that "he considered his dying mother a 'distraction'". No decent Scientologist would feel that way. Clearly, sad and counter to our doctrines.

Academic course materials are always very expensive in colleges. And our books h a d to be redone because too many people where confused by the mis-transcribed original editions (myself included): "can you imagine your neighborhood Presbyterian church announcing that it had got the commas and semicolons cleaned up in the Bible and now asked all of its members to spend tens of thousands of dollars for new books." Hey, commas are important, too. And leaving out words, like "the" can grossly skew the whole meaning of a paragraph.

No sensible Scientologist would say to another, or believe it themselves, that "...all of its members [should or must] spend tens of thousands of dollars for new books or risk losing their eternities". Give me a break, this is patently ridiculous.

What we have under consideration, here, is a voluntary amends project with the goal that every public library in the world should have at least one set of the basic books: "Lisa Hamilton, formerly a high-ranking "ethics" officer at the Clearwater base explained to Tobin and Childs, it was made clear to members that the way to make up for transgressions was to buy more copies of books". This is only one of the many ways that a grossly errant Scientologist can make up for transgressions; other ways, like doing volunteer work will also be looked upon very favorably.

Do you feel a little bit better about us, now. Questions, comments?

ARC,

Mark



The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#6: Anonymous
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE

[All recent stories] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology] | [Commenters of the Week] [Thursday 2pm Stats!] | [Scientology vs. South Park]

FEATURED INVESTIGATIONS

[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"]
[Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
[Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach]
[Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]

MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS

[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]

SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"

[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice]
[Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]

SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES

["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
[Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]

JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY

[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]

HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY

[A review of Urban's scholarly history of the church] | [An interview with Hugh Urban]

EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT

[Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]

OVERSEAS NEWS

[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]
[Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"]
[Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails]
[Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]

ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS

[Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]

THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE

[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]
[Scientology High School, Dating and Super Powers!]


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