Monday, February 19, 2018
News Roundup

Ex-Scientology leader Debbie Cook moving to Caribbean island

Former Scientology officer Debbie Cook, who rocked the church early this year with damaging testimony before agreeing to stay silent forever, will move this week to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, friends say.

She and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, have sold their car, their furniture and many other household possessions, said Jon Donley, a Web designer and media consultant who worked for the couple in 2010 and 2011 at their now-defunct marketing company in San Antonio, Texas.

The couple is keeping their home on the outskirts of that city and will rent it, Donley said.

Why they chose Guadeloupe isn't clear. The island, in the Lesser Antilles, is an overseas territory of France, whose government has taken a strong stance against Scientology. The church likely has little, if any, presence there.

Guadeloupe's port city, Pointe-à-Pitre, is a cruise ship destination, but Scientology's passenger ship, the Freewinds, which sails in the Caribbean, does not stop there, former church members said.

"They are restarting their lives for the second time in the last five years,'' said Donley, a former journalist who said he also is a licensed Baptist minister. He noted that Guadeloupe islanders speak French, but Cook and Baumgarten do not.

The church did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment, and efforts to reach Cook and Baumgarten were unsuccessful.

Their relocation likely is the final chapter in a brief but eventful showdown that generated a torrent of negative publicity for the church and its leader, David Miscavige.

The drama started on New Year's Eve.

Cook sent an email from her home to hundreds of Scientology parishioners, urging they stand up to aggressive church money-raising tactics and other practices.

The Scientology community was stunned. Cook, 50, widely respected among parishioners, had run the church's worldwide spiritual headquarters in Clearwater for 17 years.

Her surprise email was forwarded to thousands of inboxes.

Cook and Baumgarten had left the church's religious order, the Sea Organization, in October 2007. They signed lengthy non-disclosure contracts, agreeing to say nothing about church operations. The church paid each $50,000. They moved to San Antonio and started their business.

The church responded to Cook's email by suing her and Baumgarten in civil court in San Antonio, asking a judge to enforce the nondisclosure contracts and award at least $300,000 in damages.

That action led to a hearing on Feb. 9. Church attorneys called Cook as a witness, but that backfired when Cook's attorney was allowed to follow with questions of his own. The result: three hours of riveting testimony.

Cook described being physically abused by church staffers at Miscavige's direction and held against her will for seven weeks with other Sea Org officers in a locked and guarded building at the church's campus outside Los Angeles.

She said she also witnessed church staffers beat up and taunt their peers while demanding confessions of wrongdoing.

After the testimony, the church said Cook was "clearly bitter and falsely vilifying the religion she once was a part of.''

A second day of testimony was scheduled, but the church ended it soon after it started.

The public skirmish continued another month, with the church moving for a quick judgment in its favor and Cook's team responding with demands to depose church staff and gather other evidence.

The two parties then began lengthy settlement talks, reaching an agreement signed April 23. Cook and Baumgarten recommitted to nearly all the terms of their 2007 nondisclosure contracts. They can have no contact with current or former Scientologists or anyone else who has said or written or produced anything negative about the church or intends to.

Their business was "destroyed,'' their attorney Ray Jeffrey said. Many clients were Scientologists who severed ties.

Fighting off the church "wore them down,'' Donley said. "I really believed they had no idea, even after being on the inside, the church was going to come after them.''

The agreement says neither party took money from the other in ending the lawsuit. Not known is whether the two parties reached an undisclosed side agreement.

Donley said Baumgarten stuck to the language in the agreement when they met shortly after the talks ended. He said he and Cook walked away with nothing, Donley said.

The couple was no more forthcoming last week when Donley joined them for a goodbye dinner and went with them and Jeffrey to see the movie Prometheus.

Donley asked if their move out of the country was a condition of the settlement.

"They looked me right in the eyes and said, 'We can't talk about that,' '' he said.

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