03/26/15 Special Topics
Eight minutes and 13 seconds into his much-talked-about documentary on the Church of Scientology, writer-director Alex Gibney hits a sweet spot, going right at one of the key questions he sets out to answer.
What is Scientology's allure?
Jason Beghe, an actor who lasted 13 years in the church, is describing his first Scientology service — a drill that made him confront another person face-to-face, eyes closed. He says it made him "go exterior," or out of his body....
10/03/14 Special Topics
The Church of Scientology has begun collecting a $1.07 million court judgment from one of its chief challengers, Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar, who has waged high-profile legal fights against Scientology off and on for 17 years.
Armed with a court order, the church garnished the bank account of the law firm of Dandar and Dandar on Sept. 26. Ken Dandar and his brother, Thomas, have practiced together for years....
08/26/14 Local Government
BROOKSVILLE — Without comment, Hernando County commissioners on Tuesday accepted a mediated settlement awarding $1.97 million to Narconon, the operator of a Scientology-affiliated drug treatment center in Spring Hill.
It apparently ends the legal fight that erupted when the commission turned down the Suncoast Rehabilitation Center's proposal to expand from 22 to 54 beds in 2009.
But also on Tuesday, commissioners learned from a story in the Tampa Bay Times that, after being turned down by the county, Narconon expanded anyway, renting three properties elsewhere in Spring Hill. ...
08/25/14 Special Topics
When the Scientology-affiliated Narconon drug treatment center in Spring Hill was told by Hernando County it could not expand its residential facility, the center didn't try to make do with existing space.
Its officers rented three properties elsewhere in Spring Hill and expanded there. That allowed the center to admit more patients. Narconon charges up to $30,000 for a three-month stay....
07/25/14 Special Topics
Operators of a drug rehabilitation center in Hernando County, which uses Scientology-affiliated Narconon treatments under intense scrutiny in several states, plan to open a 60-bed halfway house in Clearwater.
And they won't say why.
Longtime center treasurer Sean Strickling heads a company that paid $950,000 in May 2013 for a plot on Sunset Point Road in north Clearwater. Contacted this week by phone, he declined to be interviewed....
07/18/14 Special Topics
Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige has sidestepped giving a deposition in a high-profile harassment lawsuit filed in Texas by Monique Rathbun, wife of vocal church critic Marty Rathbun.
A Texas appeals court this week overturned December's ruling by Comal County, Texas, District Judge Dib Waldrip, who had ordered Miscavige to submit to questioning.
Even though Miscavige is named as a defendant, church attorneys argued from the outset that Waldrip's court had no jurisdiction over Scientology's longtime leader....
Attorney General Pam Bondi, who already has raised millions for her re-election campaign, can expect to pull in more dollars Tuesday night at a Clearwater fundraiser where all six organizers are prominent members of the Church of Scientology.
Bondi’s “special guest,’’ the invitation says, will be U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.
Hosting the event are Liz and Michael Baybak, owners of a 23rd-floor penthouse in the swank Water’s Edge condos downtown. The tower, perched on a 40-foot bluff, affords stunning views of Clearwater Harbor to the west and, in every other direction, Scientology’s many buildings....
06/30/14 Special Topics
Attorney General Pam Bondi, who already has raised millions for her re-election campaign, can expect to pull in more dollars tonight at a Clearwater fundraiser where all six organizers are prominent members of the Church of Scientology.
Bondi's "special guest,'' the invitation says, will be U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.
Hosting the event are Liz and Michael Baybak, owners of a 23rd-floor penthouse in the swank Water's Edge condos downtown. The tower, perched on a 40-foot bluff, affords stunning views of Clearwater Harbor to the west and, in every other direction, Scientology's many buildings....
06/11/14 Special Topics
Beautifully plated filet mignon. Attentive servers. A rocking band.
Sophia and Jack Vasilaros wanted a first-class reception for their daughter Marina, who married Louis Michaelos on Saturday afternoon in Clearwater. They got it.
"My phone's been smokin' with people saying they had a great time," Jack Vasilaros said Tuesday.
Not in that group, and unhappy about it, are a well-known Clearwater couple who have been close friends with the Vasilaroses for nearly 30 years....
05/19/14 Special Topics
TAMPA — The long fight between Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar and the Church of Scientology didn't end Monday, but a federal judge offered scant support to Dandar as he tries to escape more than $1 million in sanctions by a state judge.
The church argues that Dandar violated a decade-old agreement never to sue Scientology again. Dandar said he never agreed to that and the church is illegally trying to restrict his practice, violating his civil rights. ...
05/04/14 Special Topics
CLEARWATER — Several critics of the Church of Scientology, including the great-grandson of church founder L. Ron Hubbard, are scheduled to speak this week at a local conference organizers say will draw attention to "human rights abuses'' within the Scientology community.
Called "Flag Down 2014,'' the conference is a series of presentations planned today through Friday at various mid and North Pinellas venues. On Saturday, organizers plan a public protest of Scientology in downtown Clearwater. ...
03/14/14 Special Topics
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....
01/08/14 Special Topics
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. ...
12/13/13 Special Topics
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....
11/17/13 Special Topics
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....