Joe Childs, Times Staff Writer

Joe Childs

Joe Childs has worked as a reporter and editor in the Tampa Bay area since 1976. He has directed several local news teams. He also was sports editor during the years the Lightning and Rays franchises were awarded. He currently supervises local news efforts.

Phone: 727-893-8328


  1. Scientology clergy force a mother to choose: son or daughter (w/video)

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    The Church of Scientology pressured Sara Goldberg for months to kick her son out of her life. She wouldn't do it. So the church put her on trial one night in a Scientology building in Clearwater. It was scary. Goldberg cried. She had been a devoted Scientologist for 36 years. Now her church was accusing her of committing a crime against Scientology — not "disconnecting'' from her renegade son. Goldberg had raised Nick Lister as a Scientologist. But in 2009, he befriended an ally of church whistle blowers. That made him a threat in the eyes of the church. At her trial, Goldberg felt trapped. If she didn't cut off contact with Nick, the church could label her a "suppressive person,'' someone to be shunned. Her grown daughter Ashley, a loyal Scientologist, likely would abandon her. "You're giving me Sophie's choice,'' Sara Goldberg said, sobbing. Son or daughter....

    Sara Goldberg, seated second from left, joins other “OTs’’ meeting with Scientology leader David Miscavige, center in suit, in 2008 aboard Scientology’s religious retreat, the cruise ship Freewinds. Church members who have advanced to the upper levels of the church’s spiritual progression achieve “Operating Thetan’’ status.
  2. Scientology lawyer: Confrontations with defector were 'peaceful protests'

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    NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — As Monique Rathbun sees it, the Church of Scientology and its operatives tried to intimidate her for years — following, spying, aggressively confronting her and her husband, and playing tricks at her workplace to make colleagues think less of her.

    That's why she sued.

    But Scientology lawyers on Wednesday offered a different take. They said the church's actions were justified and legal — all part of a religious dispute with Rathbun's husband, Marty. He worked as a church executive for decades before leaving in 2004. In 2009, he began speaking out against church management. ...

    Monique Rathbun chats with her husband, Marty Rathbun, before a hearing last September regarding her lawsuit against  the Church of Scientology, its leader, David Miscavige, and others involved in allegedly harassing her, in the Comal County Courthouse, New Braunfels, Texas.
  3. Judge: Scientology leader can be deposed

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    Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige must submit to a deposition in a lawsuit filed against him and two church entities by Monique Rathbun, wife of high-profile church critic Marty Rathbun, a Texas judge ordered Friday.

    The ruling was a blow to Scientology's legal team, which had tried to keep Miscavige distanced from the contentious action. Miscavige has testified in only a handful of cases during his 27 years as the church's leader....

    Scientology’s lawyers have tried to keep David Miscavige distanced from the legal action.
  4. Stars come out for dedication of Scientology's 'Super Power' building in Clearwater

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    Actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kelly Preston joined a smaller than expected crowd of Scientologists on Sunday to dedicate what the church calls its most important project ever, its massive Flag Building.

    Church leader David Miscavige presided in a ceremony that lasted just eight minutes and was marked by a burst of confetti that rained down like golden tickets. His remarks couldn't be understood outside the church's perimeter....

    Confetti falls as David Miscavige dedicates the massive Flag Building in Clearwater on Sunday. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard developed the “Super Power” program in the 1970s, but the church did not unveil it until a proper venue could be built.
  5. A city divided over Scientology for nearly 40 years weighs a fresh start

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    CLEARWATER — If Mayor George Cretekos could wave a magic wand, Clearwater would feel like Salt Lake City.

    A decade ago, Cretekos attended a wedding there. He was apprehensive about visiting a city dominated by Mormons.

    "But I found Mormons very friendly. They made me feel welcome. I didn't feel intimidated. I was glad that I was there," he said. "If I had one wish, it would be that when people come to Clearwater and they see the Church of Scientology, they will also feel welcome."...

    Scientologists walk past the new Flag Building on their way to the Friday opening night of the church’s week of celebration.
  6. Scientologists kick off days of celebration in downtown Clearwater

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    CLEARWATER — Amid tight security and with their "cathedral" brightly lighted, thousands of Scientologists gathered in downtown Clearwater Friday night for the first in a series of events leading up to the dedication of the church's Flag Building on Sunday.

    Dressed in evening wear, church members stood in long lines waiting to clear a checkpoint and be admitted to a giant tent for an evening of presentations hosted by the Church of Scientology's leader, David Miscavige....

    Scientologists line up for the Friday opening of the Church of Scientology’s week of celebration surrounding the dedication of its new Flag Building.
  7. A look at what's inside Scientology's long-delayed Flag Building

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    CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology has purchased and remodeled dozens of buildings since it established its spiritual headquarters here 37 years ago. This weekend, it will open yet another.

    But this one — a seven-story behemoth with more than 300,000 square feet — is being touted by the church as a game changer.

    On the fifth floor, Scientology will make available to its members for the first time a "Super Power'' program developed in the 1970s by church founder L. Ron Hubbard....

  8. Judges in two cases reject Scientology efforts to disqualify opposing lawyers

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    TAMPA — Judges in two states have rejected the Church of Scientology's attempts to undercut lawsuits that allege activities ranging from fraud to spying.

    In both cases, the church attempted a rarely used legal strategy: Try to get the other side's lawyers disqualified.

    But in federal court in Tampa and state court in Texas this week, the answer was no.

    U. S. District Judge James D. Whittemore heard four hours of testimony on Thursday before ruling that two south Florida lawyers can continue to represent a California couple who brought fraud claims against the church in January....

  9. Wife of Scientology critic details alleged church harassment

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    NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — All Monique and Marty Rathbun had to do was show themselves, and trouble would follow.

    Walk down the front steps of their home. Take out the trash. Sit on their back deck. Climb into their pickup. A group of Scientologists called the "Squirrel Busters'' were always there, taunting, pointing cameras at them, telling Marty Rathbun to stop what he was doing. They often rolled up in a golf cart, coming from a rented house down the street....

    Attorney Mark Wiegand, left, and former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun chat before the preliminary hearing in Texas on Thursday.
  10. In Texas lawsuit, judge orders Scientology and its leader to stop harassment

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    A Texas judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, two church entities and two men alleged to be church operatives — part of a lawsuit that contends they have waged a campaign of surveillance, dirty tricks, intimidation and harassment against the wife of a church critic.

    Monique Rathbun, 41, filed the lawsuit last week in Comal County, Texas, near San Antonio. She is married to Marty Rathbun, a former church executive who once worked at Miscavige's side but since 2009 has been a high-profile critic of the leader....

    Scientology leader David Miscavige has been sued by Monique Rathbun.
  11. Twin sister of Scientology leader pleads guilty to lesser charge

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    LARGO — A plea deal with Pinellas prosecutors has ended an awkward chapter for the Church of Scientology and its long crusade against drugs, allowing the twin sister of the church's worldwide leader to avoid a marijuana conviction.

    St. Petersburg police arrested Denise Gentile in January on charges of DUI, possession of marijuana and failure to yield. But, after negotiations between her attorney and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, she pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge of reckless driving. She did not appear in court, and a formal finding of guilt will be withheld....

    Scientology leader David Miscavige’s twin sister, Denise Gentile, was arrested on DUI and marijuana possession charges. She pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving Monday and have to attend DUI school and pay $800 in court fees. Scientologists believe that mind-altering substances, including illegal and psychiatric drugs, impair spiritual growth.
  12. Scientology leader David Miscavige's twin sister faces marijuana charges

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    The black Dodge Durango was parked next to the house that had been such a problem for St. Petersburg police. Street cop Terrence Nemeth was watching. Shortly before 7 p.m., the Durango went out the back way. It turned into an alley and then drove into the street, nearly hitting an ambulance.

    Nemeth stopped it. A middle-aged woman was at the wheel. The officer told her he had seen the car at "a known drug house.''...

    On Dec. 29, 2011, St. Petersburg police legal adviser Donald Gibson sent Gerald Gentile a letter saying police had served a search warrant and documented drug activity. Gibson told Gentile he “must … alleviate the issues arising from this property.’’
  13. Niece of Scientology leader describes rocky youth in church

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    She was 6 years old and dreamed of being a princess. But her life was far from a fairy tale.

    She spent mornings working as a groundskeeper at a Scientology youth camp in California, where she lived with 15 other children whose parents were away, toiling for the church.

    At 7, she became the camp's "medical officer.'' Her job: visit the kids who were sick and treat them with vitamins or ointments. ...

  14. Couple's lawsuit accuses Church of Scientology of fraud, deception

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    TAMPA — A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses the Church of Scientology of using fraudulent, deceptive and high-pressure practices to coax millions of dollars from its members.

    Attorneys for the California couple who filed the 35-page complaint in Tampa said they have talked to dozens of former church members and several similar lawsuits are coming.

    Plaintiffs Luis and Rocio Garcia of Irvine, Calif., name five Scientology corporations as defendants, including the church's main entity in Clearwater. The former church members say they gave Scientology more than $420,000 for the massive "Super Power" building in Clearwater that has never opened, church services they never received and humanitarian projects that never materialized....

    Ground was broken in 1998 for Scientology’s Super Power building in downtown Clearwater.
  15. New book on Scientology features celebrities, intrigue

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    On his way to a dinner party in Los Angeles, Marlon Brando cut his leg helping a stranded motorist. When the legendary actor arrived in pain, John Travolta offered to help him with a Scientology procedure known as an "assist."

    "Well, John, if you have powers, then absolutely," said Brando, who let Travolta touch his leg.

    The two celebrities closed their eyes for 10 minutes. Then Brando, not a Scientologist, opened his and said, "That really helped. I actually feel different."...