Valeska Paris Receives Threat from Scientology Attorneys; And More on her Time on the Freewinds
Last week, we wrote about Valeska Paris, the Swiss-born Australian woman who says that from 1996 to 2007, she was held against her will on Scientology's private cruise ship, the Freewinds.
Valeska Paris and Declan
She says that Scientology leader David Miscavige moved her to the ship in 1996 when she was 18 in order to keep her away from her own mother, who had sued Scientology and denounced it on French television. For the first six years of her time on the ship, Valeska says she was unable to leave it without an escort.
Scientology denies that Valeska was held against her will, and now it has had its attorneys in Sydney send her a threatening letter.
"You should seek legal advice in relation to our client's rights to take legal action again [sic] you," states the letter, from the Sydney firm Kennedys.
Valeska tells me she plans to continue speaking out and will not be deterred by the letter.
"It's just a scare tactic," she says.
As we wrote earlier, Valeska signed confidentiality agreements with Scientology -- one while she was on the Freewinds, another in Australia as she was leaving the Sea Org in 2009.
Valeska has said that because her story involves church leader David Miscavige, she doesn't think he would risk suing her for speaking out since he would almost certainly be required to become a witness and be deposed.
In the letter, at least, Scientology's attorneys do their best to sound outraged that she would speak out: "Your conduct in speaking to the media was a direct and blatant breach of your confidentiality agreement with our client."
Well, in upcoming days we'll see if they intend more than just a shot across her bow.
In the meantime, I have been speaking to Valeska at length, getting more details about her time on the Freewinds. I've learned interesting new details, and cleared up other things that our readers had questions about.
There was her Sea Org marriage, for example.
On Sunday, we wrote about the 1995 marriage of Ramana Dienes-Browning, a 16-year-old member of Scientology's Sea Org, who was wed aboard the church's private cruise ship, the Freewinds.
Ramana, bride at 16
Ramana told us that she felt somewhat pressured to marry at 16. It was the only way to move out of the girls' dormitory on the ship into a better room. The 25-year-old man who wanted to marry her, meanwhile, was favored among executives, and they wanted to see him happy. So she went through with it, and then realized she wasn't at all prepared for married life. Before long, her husband was away for long periods before the marriage fell apart.
Now we have learned that three years after Ramana's wedding, on May 9, 1998, that same dress was worn by Valeska Paris.
She married a Sea Org member from Italy named Roberto Toppi who she genuinely had affection for. But like Ramana's match, Valeska says in the Sea Org a fulfilling marriage was difficult to obtain.
"It was kind of crap. We married in May. After Maiden Voyage [a celebration that occurs in June and July aboard the ship] he was gone 6 to 8 months," Valeska says. "I actually loved the guy, and I was really upset."
None of her family had come out for the wedding. Toppi's family came out for a visit at one point, but none of them spoke English. "I went out on an afternoon with them, and ate dinner at their hotel one day," she says. Toppi was present for that trip, but otherwise he was almost never around.
After he returned from his initial 6 to 8 month assignment, he was at the ship for about 6 months. "But then he was made a registrar, and he was off the ship pretty much the whole time," Valeska says. "In our seven year marriage, we spent 9 or 10 months together." They divorced in 2005.
Last week, after Yahoo News linked to our lengthy interview with Valeska, Yahoo writer Eric Pfeiffer received a statement from the church trashing our story.
In part, it reads: "She left the Freewinds hundreds of times to go shopping, for outings with her husband on islands such as St. Kitts, Aruba, St. Barts and Curaçao, as well as for numerous other reasons."
I showed it to Valeska.
"They're full of shit," she says. "First of all, he was hardly ever on the ship. The times I made excursions were during the beginning of the marriage, when I went with him during Christmas with the entire org [the IASA, Toppi's division]. There was a bike trip. Another time there was a pizza trip with the IASA people. They were snobs. I hated it."
The International Association of Scientologists is a kind of booster organization that church members are pressured heavily to donate to. It is run by an administration division known as the IASA. On the Freewinds, the Sea Org members in the IASA are somewhat apart from the organizations like the Commodore's Messenger Organization (CMO), which Ramana helped run. Valeska, meanwhile, during her first six years on the ship, worked in one of its restaurants as a server.
In our lengthy interview with Ramana, she says it was obvious to everyone on the ship that Valeska was not happy to have been brought aboard. She had shouting matches with executives, made it plain that she wanted off the ship, and was considered a flight risk.
Valeska says that in those initial years, whenever she left the ship, escorted, a security computer at the gangplank would light up and buzz, alerting the security officers. "Who's your escort?" they'd bark at her.
And even with an escort, the only free time she had for leaving the ship was on Saturday mornings, but only after she'd completed "CSP."
"You have to clean your room. You have to get a security guard to come and do a white-glove inspection of your room. Then you have to get a pass and you can go ashore, but only to buy hygiene materials," she says. "I didn't do that very often. It was a pain in the ass."
Scientology also said this: "She participated in extended trips to the UK, US and Denmark for which she passed through Immigration and Customs when entering and exiting these countries."
Valeska did go away from the ship during the last three years that she was held there, she says.
"The first one was in 2005. It was the first time I ever left the ship, other than a short trip to an island," she says. "David Miscavige was releasing the London Clearing Congress [a set of L. Ron Hubbard lectures]." Various people were sent to set up the Congress, and Valeska says she was sent because Miscavige was on his way to the ship. The previous year -- the year of Tom Cruise's big birthday party -- Miscavige had ordered Valeska isolated because she developed a cold sore. Valeska says in 2005 and following years, during the time of Maiden Voyage, when Miscavige would come to the ship, a reason was found to send her away for several weeks. She was told that Miscavige didn't want to see her when he was on board.
Valeska was sent to the UK with three others, and was still not able to go where she wanted freely. But she didn't even think of escaping anyway. "By that time, I was so conditioned. It's hard to explain unless you were in the Sea Org." After about five weeks, she returned to the ship.
The following year, she was also sent away from the ship, but this time it was to a hospital in Los Angeles, the City of Hope, to watch over a Sea Org member who was dying of cancer.
Again, she says, she was told by a steward on the ship that Miscavige didn't want her around when he was going to be on the ship.
By this time, Valeska had become an auditor, and could do Scientology counseling while a subject is holding on to the sensors of an e-meter. She was sent with another woman to audit the man, Rolf Kallinich, who was dying. The counseling, and "touch assists" that Scientologists do -- running hands over the body -- they believed could help bring the man some relief.
"We had no money for a hotel, so we were sleeping in the guy's hospital room," Valeska says. "He had it in his lungs, and he would have to have his lungs strained. And he had to get up in the middle of the night and throw up."
Valeska says she was with Kallinich from June to August, 2006, when he finally received permission from the Sea Org to travel to Germany and die with his family. Valeska then returned to the Freewinds. "He called me the day before he died when I was on the ship," she says.
The next year, 2007, Valeska finally left the ship for good. She was increasingly running into trouble with the ship's executives, who assigned her to the engine room. It was during this period when she passed out for four hours while working there. It was decided finally that she should be sent to the RPF in Australia -- a prison detail -- and it was there that she met her current husband Chris Guider, had a son, and routed out of the Sea Org entirely.
Besides responding to those accusations by the church, I also wanted to clear up a couple of things that readers had questions about after our previous story.
First, I want to clear up some dates regarding Tom Cruise and the Freewinds. Valeska put together two different Maiden Voyage events and it's important to separate them. (She says that when you are in the Sea Org and cut off from the world's media, over a long period time can tend to run together. One year is almost exactly like another.)
It was in 2003, not 2004, that Tom Cruise came to the Freewinds with Penelope Cruz and Valeska had the opportunity to serve them in the ship's restaurant.
A year later, in 2004, Tom Cruise came out to the ship for his big birthday bash, and it was then that Valeska got her cold sore and was unable to attend the party. Tom was between relationships at that point -- his breakup with Penelope Cruz was reported in March 2004. The next year, 2005, Cruise would once again come to the ship, this time with his new love, Katie Holmes.
I hope we have those years all straightened out now.
Another thing that puzzled readers was Valeska's account that when Tom Cruise came to the ship with Penelope Cruz in 2003, a man was assigned to serve them, but then he lost out on that chance when he slept in. Instead, Valeska got the opportunity to serve them a meal.
How, readers asked me, could someone sleep in and blow the opportunity to serve Tom Cruise? It seemed to strain credulity. I mean, this is Tom Cruise we're talking about.
"Well, that's because the guy they selected hated Tom Cruise," Valeska responded when I asked her the question.
"He's very different from other people," she added, and then began the strange tale of Pierre Deva.
"He's an Indian guy who grew up in France. He's a favorite of DM," she says, using the shorthand for David Miscavige, who is also called "COB" by Scientologists, for "Chairman of the Board."
"He was so pissed off that he was assigned to Tom Cruise. He wants to serve COB. He's not like your average person. He always does what he wants. And he's COB's favorite," she says. "Miscavige always stays up really late and gets up midday. And so Deva did too, and he wasn't up at 9 when Tom and Penelope walked into the restaurant. So I served them."
I asked her to tell me more about this favorite of Miscavige who dares to sleep in and blow off other assignments he's been given -- which sounds very unlike the Sea Org.
"Oh, Pierre never gets in trouble," she says. "He never goes to study, for example. He's Miscavige's favorite. Every year for I don't know how many years, Pierre Deva has been serving David Miscavige at Maiden Voyage."
I asked her to describe him.
"Pierre? Skinny as you can get. Like a stick. And he's Indian. Dark skin. Dark, straight hair. Probably 5 foot 6 or 7. He just doesn't eat. Except that you'd see him eat food that other people had left on their plates. He's really weird."
For an organization made up to a large degree by very awkward and pasty-skinned white people, Veda sounded downright exotic.
Another former longtime Scientologist gave me an additional detail: "Pierre? He's the Paloma Blanca guy. There's a bar on the second floor that's all white. It's called the Paloma Blanca. It's a normal bar, like a big living room with white couches and a piano. It links through to the Starlight Cabaret. He's this Indian, skinny guy who has been there since day one."
That was seconded by Mike Rinder, who was once the church's top spokesman.
"Pierre was in the stewards department before he became the pet steward of Miscavige," he says. "He's like a caricature of a waiter. You would expect to see him pop up in a Pink Panther movie. He's the perfect waiter, and so got the job. And what happens with Miscavige is that if there's someone who becomes an accepted person on his service lines, whether it's to cut his hair or park his car, they have a job for life. They are untouchable."
Well, we learned something new about life aboard the Freewinds. And I hear that even more former Sea Org workers from the ship want to tell their own tales. So keep on eye out for additional stories here at Runnin' Scared.
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
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