Monday, September 24, 2018
News Roundup

Update: Scientology cancels planned mock FBI raid on downtown building

CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology planned to film a mock FBI raid on a downtown building Monday afternoon, but the actors and cameras never showed up to the location disclosed to the city.

Church officials first notified the Clearwater Police Department on Friday that unarmed actors would be wearing FBI T-shirts and carrying boxes from one of two possible locations for a "film project."

Lt. Michael Walek confirmed in an email to officers on Monday the mock raid would take place at 3 p.m. at 305 N Fort Harrison Ave. The site, a privately owned, one-story building, is a couple of blocks to the east and north of The Sandcastle, a Scientology retreat on the downtown waterfront.

A handful of people in plain clothes filed in and out of the vacant building Monday afternoon, but no apparent filming took place and no actors in FBI shirts were present.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Documents detail FBI investigation of Scientology that never resulted in charges

Inside Scientology

Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw said late Monday in a statement: "You didn't see the filming because, as it turned out, the video team found a better location for their production."

A Clearwater police officer arrived at 3 p.m. and watched the Fort Harrison Avenue building for about 30 minutes before leaving. Public Communications Director Joelle Castelli said the city was not updated Monday about the film relocating from the original venue.

Shaw said the filming was part of a short documentary "that focuses on what Scientologists do around the world to help better society, including assisting law enforcement and the justice system crack down on crime."

Shaw said Monday's shoot related to a 2016 FBI raid on a Florida doctor convicted for Medicaid fraud, although he did not provide the name of the doctor.

Beyond its documentary, the church has a history when it comes to both filming and the FBI.

Last year in Hollywood, Calif., it turned a local television station on Sunset Boulevard into a motion picture and television studio. Scientology leader David Miscavige called the facility a vehicle for getting "our uncorrupted communication line to the billions."

The church also has a large film studio at its compound in the mountains 90 miles east of Los Angeles. It produces film and video for its promotions and training, as well as providing content for numerous websites used to attack critics of Scientology.

It's background with the FBI is more tangled, and dates back decades.

On July 8, 1977, FBI agents stormed Scientology's Los Angeles and Washington offices, confiscating 48,149 documents.

Among the findings, the FBI uncovered copies of confidential IRS documents, one-foot thick, that a Scientology operative had stolen after being hired in 1975 as a clerk-typist in the IRS headquarters in Washington.

Eleven Scientologists were convicted on charges of conspiring to steal government documents or obstructing justice, including Mary Sue Hubbard, the wife of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Following the raid, L. Ron Hubbard, named an unindicted co-conspirator, went into seclusion at his ranch near La Quinta, Calif.

In 2009 and 2010, the FBI conducted a human trafficking investigation that focused on the church's low-paid, military-style work force known as the Sea Org. The inquiry never resulted in criminal charges.

Scientology officials said they didn't know about the investigation and raised doubts that it ever took place. But documents — posted in May by the entertainment and gossip website Radaronline.com — buttressed a 2013 report by the Tampa Bay Times detailing a methodical FBI investigation of the church, with agents traveling to several states, questioning dozens of former Scientologists, obtaining surveillance video of the church's remote headquarters in the mountains east of Los Angeles and even contemplating a raid of that facility.

According to one document, former Sea Org members told agents that the church "tricks" people into the organization with promises of good living conditions, but later houses and holds them "at secure locations where they work 15 hour days in various positions for Scientology based companies … given no days off and are permitted only limited and monitored contact with anyone outside of the camps where they live and work."

The documents do not indicate why the FBI investigation was dropped.

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

Comments
Deputy's wife texted 'Kirk has lost his mind' before murder-suicide, friend says

Deputy's wife texted 'Kirk has lost his mind' before murder-suicide, friend says

LAND O’LAKES — Samantha Keithley sent a series of disturbing text messages late Sunday, complaining about her husband to a longtime friend.“Kirk has lost his mind Kristin,” she wrote in one text to friend Kristin Kellin. &...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Pinellas beaches get some relief from Red Tide, prompting county to scale back cleanup

Pinellas beaches get some relief from Red Tide, prompting county to scale back cleanup

ST. PETERSBURG — Red Tide’s grip on Pinellas County’s beaches weakened over the weekend.County officials on Monday even scaled back their response to the waves of dead fish that began covering the shoreline on Sept. 8. "The winds are keeping it pushe...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers is its dropping its brand name in exchange for something slimmer: "WW." The company says the new logo - coupled with the tagline "Wellness that Works" -- puts an emphasis on overall health and well being, with less...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tony Dungy in the Bucs Ring of Honor: The tributes roll in

Tony Dungy in the Bucs Ring of Honor: The tributes roll in

TAMPA — There's a weather alert at Raymond James Stadium, halting all pregame activities before the Bucs-Steelers game on Monday Night Football. Feels like a perfect time to talk Tony Dungy.With the former Bucs coach set to be inducted int...
Updated: 3 hours ago
HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Parker Valby and Joey Burns

HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Parker Valby and Joey Burns

Our Players of the Week for the period spanning Sept. 17-22.Parker Valby, East LakeAt this past weekend's North Port Invitational, Valby figured she would finish sixth in the elite division, the spot where she was seeded.As soon as the gun sounded, t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
More on Dan Mullen’s return to ‘Stark Vegas’

More on Dan Mullen’s return to ‘Stark Vegas’

As expected, Gators coach Dan Mullen's upcoming return to Starkville, where he led Mississippi State to national relevance, emerged as the dominant subject during his regular Monday press conference. Here's what he had to say about his de facto homec...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Shooter in Clearwater parking space incident makes bail

Shooter in Clearwater parking space incident makes bail

LARGO — Michael Drejka, the man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton in a case that set off a national debate about self-defense in July, was released from the Pinellas County Jail on Monday afternoon.Always Available Bail Bonds posted $100,000 bai...
Updated: 4 hours ago
John Jonchuck set for spring 2019 trial in death of daughter Phoebe

John Jonchuck set for spring 2019 trial in death of daughter Phoebe

CLEARWATER — The day John Jonchuck was supposed to go on trial in the murder of his 5-year-old daughter, attorneys met instead to discuss a new trial date.The trial was delayed after Jonchuck’s attorneys raised concerns about one of the prosecutors’ ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
For starters: Kevin Kiermaier out of lineup as Rays host Yankees

For starters: Kevin Kiermaier out of lineup as Rays host Yankees

Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is out of the starting lineup tonight against the Yankees with a sore shoulder. He will be available if needed.The same goes for SS Willy Adames, who was held out Sunday due to illlness. Mallex Smith takes over...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Young, new managers bring spark to Airport Farmers & Flea Market

Young, new managers bring spark to Airport Farmers & Flea Market

By Beth N. GrayTimes CorrespondentSPRING HILL — The announcement, “Under New Management,” rings of change in the wind. That’s so at the Airport Farmers & Flea Market, where Jake and Chelsea Rosso, 27 and 28, respective...
Updated: 4 hours ago