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BuzzFeed had an article by Alex Klein come out on January 15 entitled “Is Scientology Self-Destructing?” I’ve been out sick recently, so with little to do but sit at the computer I’ll read almost anything, so I took a look. And, what do you know — Orange County figures prominently in it! Over at his joint, friend-of-the-blog Gustavo Arellano squeezed out a squib about a New Yorker story on January 24 by Tony Ortega reporting that OC’s former Scientologists Luis and Rocio Garcia of Irvine were suing the church for fraud (among other things) in Clearwater, Florida, home of its headquarters. That was good, but the BuzzFeed story is, how shall we say it, a lot more juicy and has better pictures.
I only get to quote four paragraphs within Fair Use, so you’ll want to head to that top link for much more. The Garcia’s story is only one of several recounted there, but it’s the one with the most obvious interest to those of us in OC. The premise of the story is that the “Ideal Org” buildings, like the one in a former Masonic Lodge in Santa Ana, are basically scams to pump money out of church members to enrich the close group of Church members around church leader David Miscavige. The idea is that the buildings are essentially a “Potemkin Village” designed to give the impression that the religion is expanding — and therefore needs and deserves more money. The coverage of the opening of the Santa Ana church site by the Weekly’s John Dulaney doesn’t do anything to disabuse the notion that it’s just there for show; Garcia is quoted saying that the building’s 65,000 square feet of space houses only six employees. (Hey, OC Supervisors — if you’re looking for a good homeless shelter….)
Let’s go to the story:
In Orange County, California, the central church’s Ideal Org hopes hinged on one man: Luis Garcia, a two-decade veteran of the church, much-respected among the flock. Garcia had reached Operating Thetan VIII and given thousands to the church’s “charitable works.” He was a familiar face, the owner of a small but successful local printshop. He even helped run the fundraising drive; he can rattle off balance sheets in a pinch.
When the fundraisers first arrived in 2003, he agreed to give $100,000 to remodel the existing building. The central church had found an opening. “They used that initial donation to set up an event,” bringing in around 400 local Scientologists. “A lot of people … got up and started donating.” The combined haul: about $300,000, according to Garcia. But soon, “something changed,” Garcia says. “They now said they needed a new building, with more than 45,000 square feet.” From 2003 to 2006, the drive continued. Garcia gave $50,000 more — but that wasn’t enough. “They came after me three to four times a day,” he says, asking for an additional $350,000. They came directly to his house, called him at work, deluged him with letters — and eventually, threatened his marriage.
In 2006, Garcia said no. Like DePhillips, he was frustrated: When would the church actually break ground? When could he bring friends and converts to the building he had helped buy? Garcia asked too many questions, stalled for too long. The church filed a “Knowledge Report” with the Ethics Department: a letter alleging that Garcia’s wife was stonewalling the purchase. “If they had labeled my wife suppressive,” he says. “I would have had to make a choice: Stay with my wife or stay with the church.” He ended up donating $510,000.
The story goes into some detail about the financing of the “Ideal Org.” Garcia, based on his time involved in the fundraising drive, says that about 30% of the money went directly to the Church’s Gold Base in Riverside, CA, where it would be used for the high-profit-margin books, emotional testing devices, and other frou-frou familiar to students from college campuses. (Kids! Stay away from that crap!) But some of the most interesting comes when Garcia tries to discover what happened to the money pumped out of him and other donors.
Garcia showed up personally at the office of the Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector, asking for a copy of all the building’s documents. Ever since that shiny new church took so much of his and his co-parishioners’ money, he’s been trying to hunt down where exactly it went. He’s an obsessive numbers guy. But the books are closed. Scientology is a federally recognized religion, a 501c(3) exempt from corporate disclosure requirements.
One thing did come out, though: information that the Ideal Org is highly delinquent on its property taxes, from which it is not exempt, to the tune of over $50,000. So, the notion of taking over the building and turning it into a most excellent homeless shelter may not be as far-fetched as you might think! As I said, read the BuzzFeed story.