Luis Garcia devoted a quarter-century to reaching Scientology's spiritual pinnacle. He and his wife, Rocio, spent $300,000 on services while advancing up the church's spiritual progression, the Bridge to Total Freedom. They donated nearly $1 million more to church causes.
The Garcias still believe in Scientology as a philosophy but decided to leave the church late last year, dismayed over what they saw as a change in direction.
The church wasn't providing services as L. Ron Hubbard intended, Luis Garcia said. "The technology has been corrupted,'' he said. Now, the church's focus is "to constantly request donations.'' The church denies that.
The Garcias became Scientologists in 1982. At the urging of a stranger, Luis Garcia picked up a copy of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Hubbard's 1950 bestseller fascinated him. He tried the counseling techniques described in the book on his wife. They were amazed at the results.
Garcia was 23, his wife 24 when Luis answered a help-wanted ad for counselors at the local church in Tustin, in Orange County, Calif. He didn't get the job, but saw Dianetics books everywhere and agreed to take a course, with his wife, on effective communication.
They spent most of their free time over the next few years at the Tustin church. He set a goal of advancing to Scientology's highest spiritual level — Operating Thetan VIII. It would require thousands of hours of counseling and study. It also would be expensive. Scientology's core counseling practice, called "auditing," can cost as much as $1,000 an hour.
The immigrant couple — he from Spain, she from Mexico — had worked at random jobs in Orange County for several years when they decided to take a gamble in 1986. They needed to make more money to go up the Bridge.
Luis went to Alphagraphics, rented a Mac for six hours and created a flier for a business services company: Prime Mover. Company phone? The wall phone in the kitchen of their one-bedroom apartment in Santa Ana.
They distributed fliers for four days. They had $300 in savings. They figured they could wait a week for the phone to ring.
On the fifth day, an orthodontist called. He needed marketing help. He wrote Prime Mover a check for $1,800.
Over 18 years, the Garcias built Prime Mover into a commercial printing operation in Irvine with more than 100 employees and annual revenues of $14.2 million. Luis Garcia was a finalist for the Small Business Administration's businessperson of the year.
They were millionaires when they closed Prime Mover in 2004 as the Internet took business away. Now semiretired, they own a yogurt shop in Mission Viejo "to stay busy,'' Garcia said.
In 2007, Garcia became an OT VIII. The biggest change in him, he said, is he no longer dwells on failings.
He said he recently spoke with a friend who was upset after losing money in Las Vegas. That wouldn't bother Garcia.
"The feeling of loss, the feeling of failure — that is nonexistent to me," Garcia said.
"I can fall down on my face tomorrow, get up, and five seconds later it's like I don't even remember the feeling of falling down. I'm only looking ahead, into the future.''
That gives him "incredible self-confidence,'' he said.
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.
He describes himself as a Scientology "whistle-blower.'' He said he tries to inform Scientologists of what he calls "abuses and corruptions'' within the church.
He also sued the church in September in Pinellas Circuit Court, seeking the $66,525 he had prepaid for services when he left the church last November.
The church said it expelled Garcia and that he is an ally of high-profile church defector Marty Rathbun. Garcia insists he resigned.