Eric Saldarriaga faces sentencing Friday for the attempted hacking of the former church spokesman, who asks feds to look into Scientology’s alleged culpability
By Tony Ortega
Tomorrow in New York, Eric Saldarriaga, a 41-year-old Astoria, Queens private investigator, will be sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to hiring a hacker to access private email accounts on behalf of his clients.
According to a story in the New York Times published in March, Saldarriaga was cooperative with federal prosecutors and is expected to receive a sentence of about six months. The story also explains that none of the identities of Mr. Saldarriaga’s victims or of his clients had been revealed.
However, this afternoon, just a day before the sentencing, the court received a “victim impact statement” from Mike Rinder (pictured), the former Scientology international spokesman who featured prominently in Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary about Scientology, Going Clear. In his statement, Rinder indicates that he was notified by the Justice Department that he was one of Saldarriaga’s targets for hacking, and he was invited to submit a statement to the court.
Rinder explains in his statement that although Saldarriaga’s clients had not been named, only one organization is interested in information about him — his former employer, the Church of Scientology. And he added that Scientology’s involvement was even more obvious once he heard from another of Saldarriaga’s victims.
That other victim is me.
In November 2013, I caught Saldarriaga “spoofing” one of the email addresses associated with this website. (It is not an address that I use for personal emails.) Saldarriaga had made it look like emails coming from him were actually coming from me — a stunt known as “spoofing.”
I immediately notified my attorney, Scott Pilutik, and then I confronted Saldarriaga, who claimed that he was also being victimized, and that a third party was using both of us in an investigation of a missing person, a person I did not know.
Pilutik assured me that Saldarriaga was lying. Pilutik is also webmaster of this website, and he assured me that Saldarriaga had not gained access to the email address he had spoofed.
There the matter stayed until I was notified, about a month ago, that I was being invited by the US Attorney’s Office to submit a victim impact statement in advance of the sentencing of Saldarriaga. It was the first I heard that Saldarriaga had been arrested or prosecuted. I was told nothing by the prosecutor’s office about what Saldarriaga might have admitted to when he pled guilty.
On my behalf, Scott Pilutik asked Saldarriaga’s attorney, Peter Brill, if Saldarriaga had been working for the Church of Scientology when he attempted to hack me. Mr. Brill repeated the missing-person story, and assured us that Saldarriaga was not working for Scientology. At that point, I felt I did not have enough information to file a victim impact statement and planned to let the matter drop.
Then, on Wednesday, I heard from Mike Rinder, who wanted to tell me about a potential story: He had been victimized by a private investigator who was being sentenced Friday in New York for hacking. Rinder sounded stunned when I asked if he was referring to Eric Saldarriaga.
Like myself, Rinder had been told nothing by the US Attorney’s Office about how he had been victimized, or who had hired Saldarriaga.
But now, there was little question about that.
“There can be no doubt that one of Mr. Saldarriaga’s clients is Scientology,” Rinder wrote in his impact statement, which he submitted to the court today. “One of the other victims of this crime is Tony Ortega….The ONLY thing Tony Ortega and I have in common is that we are at the top of Scientology’s enemies list because we have publicly exposed their abusive practices.”
As a journalist, I am reluctant to become involved in a prosecution or even to submit evidence to the court. However, in light of these events, I also filed a victim impact statement today and, like Rinder, urged the court to investigate and prosecute Saldarriaga’s client.
Such an investigation would be carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which dropped a probe of Scientology for human trafficking in 2010. In 2013, I wrote about the complex reasons why that investigation went nowhere.
In this case, however, there is a convicted private investigator who has already pled guilty to hacking victims on behalf of his client, and who is much less important than the people who hired him. This would appear to be a fairly simple case for the FBI to pursue.
I’m making public both impact statements, by Rinder and myself, which became a part of the court record this afternoon. Rinder is being represented by Texas attorney Ray Jeffrey.
“I understand Eric Saldarriaga committed the crime of hacking my email account and has pled guilty,” Rinder wrote. “To me, he is merely the conduit and the real perpetrator of the crime is the Church of Scientology, which should not be allowed to escape scrutiny (or prosecution) as to how they are spending tax exempt money. I would like the US Attorney’s Office to pursue the CLIENTS of Mr. Saldarriaga, the ones who caused the crime to be committed.”
Here are the documents. First, Mike Rinder’s statement to the court…
And Tony Ortega’s statement:
As Rinder points out, there is plentiful recent evidence of Scientology spending large amounts of money to pay private investigators to surveil people the church considers critics or enemies. In April, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Scientology leader David Miscavige had been paying $10,000 a week to two private investigators to follow his own father, Ron Miscavige Sr, who escaped from Scientology in 2012. Those private eyes were arrested for being in possession of an illegal silencer, part of an astounding arsenal they were carrying as they tailed Ron Sr., who is 79.
Rinder also points to the incredible story of Scientology paying two private investigators to follow one man, Pat Broeker, for 24 years, costing $10 to $12 million over that period. For one day, those private eyes talked publicly about their work for Miscavige.
And, as Rinder points out, all of this is according to voluminous rules considered sacrosanct in Scientology, which were set down in the writings of founder L. Ron Hubbard. A hacking attack would be entirely consistent with Hubbard’s dictum that Scientology never defends, but always attacks.
“I feel violated by this crime,” Rinder concludes in his statement. “It is my contention that Mr. Saldarriaga is a willing accomplice. I have no idea what private information he accessed. I feel I have a right to know what it is he did and who he did it for. He did not use any of the information for himself, he passed it on to his clients, whose intentions were malicious. Surely the clients have no right to anonymity or any protection under the law. They paid someone to do something illegal for their benefit – they wanted access to my personal information and they got it. I would like to know the details about what this was and believe they should be investigated and prosecuted. It is my contention that a Victim Impact Statement would be an empty exercise if the principal can remain anonymous while the agent takes the fall.”
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Our upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…
June 28: Clearwater, Florida (with Paulette Cooper) Clearwater Public Library, 2 pm, sponsored by Center for Inquiry-Tampa Bay and the Humanist Society of the Suncoast.
July 12: Washington DC, Center for Inquiry (with Paulette Cooper)
July 14: Hartford, MARK TWAIN HOUSE (with Tom Tomorrow)
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July 20: Dallas, Times Ten Cellar, 7 pm (with Robert Wilonsky)
July 22: Houston, Fox and Hound, 11470 Westheimer Road, sponsored by Humanists of Houston
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July 25: Austin
July 29: Paris (with Jonny Jacobsen)
August 4: London (with John Sweeney)
August 24: Boston, Boston Skeptics in the Pub, 7 pm
September 15: Arizona State University
Posted by Tony Ortega on June 25, 2015 at 14:15
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BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
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GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield