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Police report: Scientology leader spied on his dad 'no matter where he went'

David Miscavige [Times files (1998)]
David Miscavige [Times files (1998)]
Published Apr. 10, 2015

When two police officers in West Allis, Wis., stopped the man who was walking around the neighborhood — surveying one resident's yard, peering through another home's front door, looking to neighbors like a drug dealer — he told them only part of the truth.

Dwayne S. Powell said he was looking around for a house to buy.

He had a fake Florida driver's license, a large knife in his front pocket and a black SUV loaded with so many weapons and other belongings that police towed it to their storage garage. They counted two rifles, four handguns, a homemade silencer, a brown leather whip and 2,000 rounds of ammunition, some of them already loaded into magazines.

What Powell didn't tell police until they read him his rights and started asking questions about his guns: He had spent nine years working as a private investigator for the Church of Scientology, and for the previous 18 months he had run a full-time, Tampa-based spying operation on Ron Miscavige Sr., the father of church leader David Miscavige.

Yes, he was looking to buy or rent a house, he told officers. But the purpose was to keep a closer eye on the elder Miscavige, who had been thinking about moving to that neighborhood.

Powell knew this because he and his son, then 21, had been following Ron Miscavige's every move — combing his garbage, eavesdropping on his conversations at restaurants, looking over his shoulder at the public library to read his emails, photographing him wherever he went.

Released Thursday by West Allis police, the 2013 reports detailing Powell's arrest and his spying operation provide an eye-popping new chapter in the long-running history of Scientology and its use of private investigators to control ex-members and other enemies.

Ron Miscavige, now 79, left the church's desert base in 2012, but he had not escaped the reach of a Scientology intelligence apparatus that shows with every new revelation how far the tax-exempt organization is willing to go.

Powell told police he was expected to recruit people to befriend Ron Miscavige and his wife, Becky, "and remain close to them for information purposes."

If he traveled outside the country, they were to tail him. If he called anyone while in the car, they were to pull up beside him and listen in. Powell put a GPS tracker on the father's car, and he never turned off the laptop computer he used to monitor it.

The reports said in part: "Powell stated that if Ron was doing anything that was deemed to be not in the best interest of the church, he would report to his contact and the church would send people from LA to intervene on behalf of the church."

Powell told officers he was paid $10,000 a week, a sum that adds up to nearly $800,000 over the course of the operation.

That does not include any surveillance after he was arrested. Police said they checked back with Ron Miscavige and his wife more than a year after the operation was first revealed and the couple was convinced they were still being surveilled. They said they based that in part on shenanigans with their garbage.

The existence of the operation was first reported late Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times, which quoted a Scientology lawyer as saying that neither the church nor Miscavige knew Powell or had any contact with him.

The Tampa Bay Times asked the church to respond to the report and to say whether anyone else had been asked to surveil Miscavige's father. There was no response as of late Thursday.

Powell said the church paid him through a Tampa private detective agency, Roffler and Associates. Though he reported directly to that business, "the main client is a David Miscavige," West Allis police noted in one report.

Powell said he was to call Roffler hourly every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. about Ron Miscavige's movements and file a weekly report as well.

Roffler is a longtime Tampa Bay private investigator and the secretary of the Florida Board of Certified Investigators, a state private detectives' group. His listed business address is a mail drop at a UPS store next to a Publix in Westchase. Roffler didn't respond to phone calls or emails Thursday.

Powell, now 43, lives in the Orlando area and couldn't be reached Thursday for comment. His Florida private investigator's license has expired.

He is a former Florida prison guard who worked at Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell. He was fired in 2006 after being arrested on charges of trying to choke his ex-wife when he found her with another man. That charge was later dropped.

In one of the more notable passages in the reports, Powell and his son, a U.S. Army veteran, said they were struck by one incident. Once, while tailing the elder Miscavige on a shopping trip, the two watched him grasp his chest and slump over while loading his car. Powell later told police he had thought Miscavige was having a heart attack and might die. He said he phoned his intermediary for instructions.

Two minutes later, a man identifying himself as David Miscavige called back, Powell told police.

"David told him that if it was Ron's time to die, to let him die and not intervene in any way," the police report states, noting the apparent emergency passed.

The two shared the recollection independently in separate interviews with police.

Jenna Miscavige Hill, who is the niece of David Miscavige and the granddaughter of Ron Miscavige Sr., said the moment witnessed by the private investigators turned out not to be a health problem.

She said Ron Miscavige, who once worked as a musician at the church's California base, is in good health and still plays the trumpet as well as other instruments. "He still does gigs as a musician and he does little sales things on the side." He also writes songs and scores, she said.

Hill, who has written a memoir of her time as a child in Scientology and is an outspoken critic of the church, said her grandfather was "devastated" when police told him about Powell's disclosures in 2013. "Just imagine, as a dad, to hear that your son was like, 'Let him die,' " she said.

She said she is in regular communication with Ron Miscavige and his wife, and got a text from him on Easter. Asked if he ever confronted his son about the revelation, Hill hesitated.

"I have to let my grandpa decide when and if he's going to tell his story," she said, adding that Scientology's first family suffers from the same kind of rift that keeps many church families apart.

Under a practice known as "disconnection," Scientologists critical of the church are prevented from communicating with those who are still faithful.

Hill said David Miscavige and his two sisters do not speak to her or Ron Miscavige or his son Ronnie.

"So I think that it's just been heartbreaking for him and he's trying to deal with it," she said of Ron Miscavige Sr.

She said her grandfather describes his departure from the church's desert headquarters as an escape and has come around to being "super supportive" of her anti-Scientology activities.

"I think there was a point where he still did consider himself a Scientologist," she said. "And I think it's harder for him because he's the one who actually got the family into Scientology. … But I'm shocked at how fast he's come around … and he definitely sees that it's not all roses, and that there is a dark side to it."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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