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A Brief History of Scientology in Clearwater

[Timeline graphic]

Compiled from records of the Clearwater Courthouse, files seized from Scientology by the FBI, and archives of the St. Petersburg Times, the Tampa Tribune and the now-defunct Clearwater Sun.

As far back as 1959, church founder L. Ron Hubbard warned that illness and even death can befall those seeking to impede Scientology.

-- Joel Sappell and Robert Welkes, LA Times
June 29, 1990


 * Scientology buys the historic Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater under an assumed name.


 * Before the press can reveal the purchaser's true identity, Scientology announces its presence in Clearwater.

 * Scientologists release a "fact sheet" on Mayor Cazares and his wife, accusing them of all manner of business and personal crimes; try to discredit him with rumours pertaining to his sex life, and attempt to frame him in a hit-and-run accident.


 * The FBI raids church offices and seizes thousands of documents. Eleven high-ranking church officials -- including L. Ron Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue -- are subsequently convicted of felonies and sent to prison.

The raids uncovered, among other things:


 * Eleven high-ranking church officials are convicted and imprisoned as a result of the 1977 FBI raids on church offices, exposing the church's intelligence and espionage arm's illegal covert operations and other crimes.

It was claimed that the eleven were acting independently, and Scientology claimed that they would be forever barred from serving as Scientology staff. However, in 1995, one of the eleven, Richard Weigand was listed in internal Scientology publications as currently heading up a project in Colombia, and was active on TNX-L, a private Scientology Internet mailing list, as recently as April of 1995.


 * Tanja C. Burden of Las Vegas says that L. Ron Hubbard, his wife Mary Sue, and the Clearwater church enslaved her for more than four years. The case eventually settles in 1986, at which point Scientology attorneys have the files sealed. The papers in this court case are among the sealed cases the Times tries to have opened in 1988.


 * The City Commission of Clearwater holds hearings about Scientology, concerned about complaints that the church was a cult. Over 500 people signed petitions in support of the hearings. The Scientologists sue to block the hearings and lose. Scientology lawyer Paul B. Johnson walks out of these meetings without presenting his church's side.


 * Police raid more Scientology offices, this time in Canada, and discover about 2 million stolen government documents. Scientology lawyers say they will donate money to charity if the charges are dismissed; Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott declines their offer.


 * Clearwater passes an ordinance that officials said was designed to reduce fraud by any group claiming to be charitable. It meets strong resistance from Scientology; after an eleven-year legal battle, the church finally gets the ordinance repealed in late 1995.


 * Scientology lawyer Paul B. Johnson is brought to trial in Oralndo for allegedly bribing Hillsborough County commissioners to favor his client, Hubbard Construction Company. Johnson is later defended by F. Lee Bailey.


 * Summer -- Scientology purchases an apartment complex to house staff members, serving the existing tenants notice to leave when their leases expire.

 * August -- Scientology settles four lawsuits out of court: The files were sealed over the plaintiffs' objections.

 * September -- Scientology purchases the Boheme cruise ship and sails it away, leaving St. Petersburg's small port facility tenantless.

 * December -- More than 400 current and former Scientologists file a $1-billion class-action suit against the church alleging that the church tried to compromise or pay off two Florida judges and divert $100-million to foreign bank accounts.

The suit contends that church officials or their representatives committed fraud and breached fiducary duties. It alleges further that information obtained from members during "auditing" (confessional-like, purportedly private church 'service' sessions costing thousands of dollars) is used for "purposes of blackmail and extortion."

The suit also alleges that in April of 1982, David Miscavige (Chairman of the church's Religious Technology Center) ordered the payment of $250,000 to "set up" and frame US District Judge Ben Krentzman (of Clearwater) in a scheme to compromise his integrity with drugs and prostitutes. It similarly contends that thousands of dollars were ordered spent to "pay off" Florida Circuit Judge James Durden, who was presiding over a Scientology-related case.

 * The church reached out-of-court settlements for undisclosed amounts with at least fourteen former members, and settled a suit brought by Gabe and Maggie Cazares.


 * A project is launched to discredit California lawyer Charles O'Reilly, who represented Lawrence Wollersheim in his winning case against the church; according to former Church lawyer Joseph Yanny, plans were made to steal O'Reilly's confidential files from the Betty Ford Center and other substance-abuse treatement centers. Yanny said the Scientologists figured that such records could be used to blackmail O'Reilly.

 * In an article in the business section of the St. Petersburg Times on 1 July 1987, a Largo shredder dealer talks about his business.
"I've sold the Church of Scientology several shredders," said Becklund. "They shred everything. As a matter of fact, when the city of Clearwater was investigating them they bought shredders from us. They'd bring in 15, 20 4-drawer legal files and they'd shred them. Oh, yeah. Lots of maintenance."
 * The Times reports that every year since 1982, Scientology has sought a tax exemption and Pinellas County property appraiser Ron Schultz has denied it. "The Church of Scientology ... was the first instance in my office where I found an institution calling itself a church that the courts agreed was not a not-for-profit institution," Schultz said.

 * A representative of CoS hand-delivers a letter to the St. Pete Times that threatens to sue the newspaper if it writes a story about the book L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? by Bent Corydon. The letter accuses the paper of intending to "attack and denigrate the Church through any vehicle you find available." The letter, signed by Scientology lawyer Timothy Bowles, threatens action against the Times for libel, slander, conspiracy and violation of civil rights if it should "forward one of [Corydon's] lies." The letter concluded with "we know a lot more about your institution and motives than you think."


 * St. Pete Times seeks to unseal files in four lawsuits against Scientology that settled in 1986. Although court files are normally open, the judge granted the church's request to seal these cases over the objections of opposing lawyers. The Church wanted to keep them closed.

Times lawyers argued in a motion in October that closing the files violated the First Amendment, interfering with the newspaper's right to gather and publish news. The suits alleged that Scientologists invaded the plaintiff's privacy and abused the courts by filing malicious injunctions.

Earle C. Cooley, national counsel for the Church of Scientology said, in reference to Scientologists opposing the Times' motion to unseal the files, "I don't know where the press gets the idea that it has a right to intervene in an agreement entered into by both parties and approved by the court."

"Mr. Cooley's memory is failing him," responded plaintiff's attorney Walter D. Logan. "We never agreed to seal the court files."

Patricia Fields Anderson, an attorney for the Times, said case law requries that court records be open, "and the burden of proof is on them to show why these cases should be closed."


 * U.S. Magistrate Paul Game unseals the 1986 files, sayingthat they were sealed without following federal rules for closure that allow ten days for response.

 * Tax case is filed in US District court in Tampa (IRS v.Church of Scientology Flag Service Org, Inc.), seeking financial records to determine if they've been involved in commercial operations which should be taxed. The inquiry concerns 1985, 1986, and 1987.

 * June -- Pinellas County tells the church that if it does not pay its tax bill for 1986, five of its twelve properties in downtown Clearwater will be auctioned to the highest bidders.

 * July -- Scientology asks a federal judge to jail, fine and make Margery Wakefield repay $240,000 from an out-of-court settlement for talking to reporters and talk-show hosts. The settlement was supposed to lay to rest her charges against Scientology of fraud, breach of contract, false imprisonment, and practicing medicine without a license. Within the settlement, Wakefield was to receive $200,000, but was gagged from even talking about the amount of the settlement.

In interviews aired on WUSF-FM Tampa and WMNF-FM Tampa (both are public radio stations), the $200,000 amount was disclosed. Wakefield did not know why Scientology was asking for another $40,000.

She also discussed the secret Operational Thetan upper training levels of Scientology, which are not discussed in any of Scientology's introductory "public" material.

 * August -- More City Commission hearings on Scientology. Again, the church attempts to shut them down, but fails.

 * October -- Secrecy order lifted in Scientology tax case.

 * The Supreme Court refuses to revive a copyright lawsuit over an unauthorized biography of L. Ron Hubbard by Jon Atack; the justices let stand a decision throwing out allegations of copyright infringement against the publisher.


 * Scientologists sue Gabe Cazares for tossing them out of a Democratic Party meeting.

 * Scientology is in court with the county over $4.5-million in unpaid back taxes, which Scientology refuses to pay. Clearwater's 1990 budget is $113.5-million, $17.1-million of which is raised through property taxes.

 * January -- Cazares calls for a grand jury investigation of Scientology from the State's Attorney's office.

 * February -- The IRS brings its long court battle with the Church of Scientology to federal court in Tampa. The IRS contends that the Clearwater organization may be involved in commerical activities that should be taxed.

 * May -- The Clearwater Sun, one of the targets in Scientology's initial attack on the city, folds.

 * July -- Clearwater Chamber of Commerce president David Stone reacts to the church's announcement that they plan to build a $1-million Scientology museum downtown: "I certainly don't view it as any kind of an asset to the community."

City Commissioner L. Regulski says, "I think it's a far-out situation for a so-called religious organization to use to promote its product." He said the museum would put "an emphasis on something that the downtown doesn't need emphasis on."

 * August -- "Affinity Publications" beings to publish a weekly Scientology-oriented community newspaper to "fill the void" left by the departure of the Clearwater Sun.

 * December -- Five local companies sue the CoS for more than $127,000, claiming that the organization has failed to pay its bills for work and construction equipment. Besides these lawsuits, the Scientologists have settled five others in the previous two years from companies that claimed they were owed more than $39,000 for items ranging from travel services to construction materials.

Companies involved in suit: In one of the above court cases, records showed a 1987 credit statement for the organization that listed "Estimated annual sales" of more than $90-million. This was apparently the first time such information was made public, according to the Times. The 1987 statement also listed estimated annual purchases of $13-million.

The Scientologists had previously said in court filings that their annual operating expenses were about $26-million.

Each of these figures apply only to the main Clearwater-based Scientology group, called the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, not to the others based in California and abroad.


 * February -- A Federal judge upholds the City of Clearwater's ordinance requiring nonprofit organizations to report fundraising activity within city limits. Scientology appeals.

 * A bomb threat evacuates several hundred people from Ft. Harrison Hotel; police report that the threat was phoned in to the Church of Scientology switchboard. After 40 minutes of police and Scn staff searching the building, the occupants return without incident.

 * May -- TIME magazine prints the issue in which Scientology makes the cover: "The Thriving cult of Greed and Power," and Time-Warner is immediately sued. (In 1995, 90% of Scientology's case is thrown out of court)

 * June -- Church of Scientology International President Heber Jentzsch, when asked about some of his organization's unpaid bills in the Clearwater area: "Thanks for bringing this to our attention."

 * During the past year, the Times reports, Scientology settled or obtained voluntary dismissals of at least 10 lawsuits from plaintiffs that sued for more than $300,000. Most of the creditors suing said Scientology simply left them with unpaid bills for construction work, equipment, furniture, and more than $125,000 worth of food supplies. Other suits include those of Michigan resident Mark Lewandowski and Maria Echavarria of California, who both sued the church to get their money back: Mark for $13,300 and Maria for $28,000.

 * October -- Deputy Sheriffs notice deplorable conditions while performing an anti-drug presentation for children at the Scientology Cadet Org school. An HRS investigation ensues, and Scientology successfully has the results legally sealed.


 * January - City officials begin inspecting Hacienda Gardens (a Clearwater apartment complex the church purchased to serve as staff berthing) after receiving reports that too many people are living there. Inpsectors find 34 of around 200 apartments to be overcrowded.

 * 13 members of Church of Scientology in France are charged with fraud and practicing medicine illegally in Paris. (In 1990, the Lyons branch of the CoS was similarly charged and their bank accounts frozen).

 * Howard Mintz sues the church in Clearwater for failing to refund $68,764.

 * April -- Scientology is again cited for overcrowding at Hacienda Gardens.


 * The head of security at the Clearwater church, Bill Johnson, allegedly chases a former member through the streets, screaming death threats. He stops only when she ducks into a martial arts academy and he is barred from following. Scientology Attorney Paul B. Johnson explains that the threats were only a figure of speech.


 * March -- Internet critics from all over the United States come to Clearwater to protest the church's policies of harassment. Other pickets occur in other cities in the United States, England and Australia. Although the church attempts to dismiss the picketers in Clearwater as insignificant, top officials in the church fly in from Los Angeles and Washington to handle damage control with the press.

Please note: the newspaper archives from which much of this page was derived only extend to 1992. Research is continuing on later incidents, and this page will be updated as more information is obtained.
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This page is maintained by Jeff Lee <godfrey@shipbrook.net>
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