Earlier this month, Joey Chait, 38, was sentenced by a New York federal court to a year in prison for conspiring to smuggle art objects made of rhino horn, ivory, and coral. Joey was in the employ of his father Isadore Chait, whose eponymous I.M. Chait Gallery in Beverly Hills is one of the best known auction houses for Asian art in the world. Izzy Chait, for his part, is also well known to Scientology watchers, who remember his bizarre 2011 appearance along with the “Squirrel Busters” at Los Angeles International Airport in an attempt to unnerve former Scientology official Marty Rathbun.
There was even some precedence for the Chait Gallery being associated with the illegal sale of art objects: Izzy Chait, in 2007, sold a Mongolian Tyrannosaurus bataar skull to actor Nicolas Cage, and after the skull’s provenance was uncovered, Cage had to return it to the Mongolian government last year.
It seemed a simple story. Scientologist son of a somewhat unhinged wealthy and well known church figure had traded in goods that fuel the slaughter of endangered rhinos and other animals. Joey got little sympathy on the various Internet forums, and rightly so.
But we did notice something interesting about the government’s sentencing memorandum that was made public when Joey was given twelve months and a day in prison by Judge J. Paul Oetken. Prosecutors, who were asking that Joey be put away for 2.5 to 3 years, made several references to a sentencing memorandum prepared by Joey’s attorney, Judith H. Germano, which apparently had something to say about Joey’s upbringing in Scientology and his relationship with his father.
That document, by Germano, was not included in the court file when Joey was sentenced. But now, we have it, and we think you’re going to find it pretty interesting.
Based on both documents, from the prosecutors and defense, a picture emerges of a federal law enforcement sting operation that was intended to catch the Chait Gallery selling illegal art in order to make an example of one of the most prominent art dealers in the country. In 2011, an undercover agent convinced the Chait Gallery to auction an item for him that was made of rhino horn, and another undercover agent then bid on the item at auction and purchased it, for a winning bid of $190,000. Joey Chait then helped the winner hide the nature of the item with a bogus sales receipt so the buyer could then smuggle it out of the country. In January 2013, the FBI served a search warrant on the gallery, and the Chaits waited to see what was going to happen. Then, in April 2014, Izzy Chait had a heart attack that deprived his brain of oxygen, giving him brain damage and making him mostly incapacitated. Since then, he’s been diagnosed with cancer.
Two months later, in June 2014, Joey Chait learned that he was going to be charged with a crime. But in his sentencing memorandum, his attorney says that Joey’s entire life had been run by the Church of Scientology and by his father Izzy. A gay man told by his father that his homosexuality could be “handled” by Scientology, Joey was so powerless in his own life he didn’t even get pay stubs working at the Chait Gallery and made no extra money by selling the rhino horn figure. Joey’s life, his attorney writes, was simply about following his father’s constant dictum, “don’t screw up the sale.”
If the federal government had set out to take down Izzy Chait and his legendary gallery, Izzy’s debilitating heart attack made that less viable, and so they turned to his oldest son, who turned out to be a man motivated more by fear of his father and Scientology “disconnection” than by greed, according to his attorney. As a sign that Joey had only been going along with his father’s orders, Germano writes, Joey was happy to cooperate with prosecutors, and even participated in another attempt to sting a dealer in illicit goods with the use of a fake email account.
In their own sentencing memorandum, prosecutors downplayed Joey’s helpfulness, and also argued that his Scientology upbringing was irrelevant.
But Judge Oetken seemed to agree, at least in part, with Joey’s version of events. At the sentencing, Judge Oetken, the first openly gay man on the federal bench, said that he did take into consideration Joey’s relationship with his authoritarian father, and the abuse he reportedly suffered in Scientology’s Sea Org. He then sentenced Joey not to the 2.5 to 3 years that prosecutors were asking for, but to 1 year in prison, and the minimum fine, $10,000.
It’s completely expected, of course, for the attorney of a client facing prison time to paint a picture of his or her background as sympathetically as possible. But it’s also interesting to see life in the Sea Org portrayed as a living hell in any court document, and to see what Joey, through his attorney, had to say about working for his famous dad.
We look forward to your own thoughts on the narrative that Judith Germano spells out in this document, as she describes how Joey found himself helping buyers smuggle illegal items out of the country.
— Joey went to Scientology schools, and at 18 joined the Sea Org. At 23, he went to work for his father at I.M. Chait Gallery. These were the only two jobs Joey ever had. “Joey’s conduct was largely attributable to the cruel abuses, beliefs and ambitions of his father and the Church,” the document says.
— In the Sea Org, “Joey was beaten and constantly subjected to sleep and food deprivation as well as the constant fear of interrogation. The mandated conformity took away one’s ‘right to self.’ Joey, like all members who take classes, also had to sign a confidentiality agreement, promising not to divulge the Church’s philosophy, practices, or assaults.”
— Joey oversaw the delivery of OT III, the “Xenu” story that reveals to upper-level Scientologists that their being is made up of thousands of invisible alien entities. “When Joey’s statistics (i.e., his ‘well-done’ auditing hours) were low, his supervisor would smack him on the head with her hand or anything else she was holding. When Joey provided an explanation, the supervisor would scream at him in front of the other auditors and call him a ‘faggot’ and a ‘degraded being’.”
— “He was also forced to endure ‘corrective therapy’ to ‘fix’ his homosexual tendencies. In addition, his penalty included hard labor, such as cleaning toilets, cleaning the kitchen, and emptying the huge trash dumpsters. Furthermore, he was subjected to mental abuse by interrogators, who put him on an E-meter and grilled him for hours until he confessed his sins.”
— “Further humiliation came when the Church imposed a $39,000 ‘bill’ for Scientology counseling and courses that he had completed under the billion-year contract. Izzy told Joey that he had to pay off this ‘debt’ to the Church by working at the Gallery. Joey’s parents also requested that he remain with the Church in the hope that he would be turned ‘straight’.”
— So, hit with the classic “freeloader’s debt” that a departing Sea Org member is saddled with, Joey went to work at the gallery, where employees were forced to sign L. Ron Hubbard “business management” contracts in order to work there.
— “Until his father fell ill three years ago, Joey had no personal bank account, a business credit card with a low limit, and he did not know what his salary was. His father, and the company accountant, completely managed his affairs. This was, according to Izzy, because Joey could not manage money and because the business had to pay Scientology for Joey’s debt.”
— “Izzy had total control of the business and was in charge of all of the buying as well as policies and procedures.”
— “Joey occasionally shipped art carvings made from ivory and rhinoceros horn to U.S. based third parties, such as UPS stores or friends/family members of the buyers. Joey understood that the artwork would be sent out of the United States, but he never verified that the buyers obtained the required export permits. The first time that this issue arose, Joey asked Izzy what to do and Izzy characteristically responded, ‘don’t mess up the sale’.”
Germano, having set up that dynamic between Joey and his father, also describes how byzantine the federal regulations are that govern antique art items made of rhino horn, and that Joey struggled to understand them. She says that Joey did realize that what he had done was wrong, and he pleaded guilty. But she pointed out that art dealers who had previously been charged and who were more obviously motivated by greed, had received probation and not prison time. Joey, she argues, was motivated by fear, and regretted it. She quotes from a letter written by Joey himself…
I knew that it was wrong to falsify customs forms, and I knew that some of our international buyers were taking these pieces of art out of the country without the proper permits. I kept my mouth shut when I knew it was wrong, and I broke the law.
It bothered me at the time, and it continues to bother me today. I should have said something. I should have stood up to my father and spoke my mind. I should not have made false statements on those shipping forms or turned a blind eye when I knew carvings that buyers purchased at our art gallery would be taken out of the country. If only I had listened to my own judgments, instead of following the orders I was given, I would not be standing before you for sentencing.
Germano writes that since his father’s debilitating illness, Joey is taking control of his life. He received an actual pay stub for the first time in July 2015, he’s pursuing education again, he is getting therapy to help with leaving his Scientology life behind, and he’s engaged to be married.
And now, he’s facing a year in federal prison. We called him, but he asked us politely to direct any questions to his attorney.
Take the time to read Ms. Germano’s memorandum, and let us know what you think. Personally, we think there may be no lower life form on earth than poachers who kill animals like endangered rhinos and elephants. And we applaud the federal government for going after dealers who fuel that trade. But as veteran Scientology watchers, we’re also fascinated by the story that is told in these legal documents, and we can understand why Judge Oetken came to the decision that he did.
Bonus items from our tipsters
For once, the Church of Scientology is getting some positive press for the good works that it does in the community. Rapper The Game showed up at Scientology’s community center in South Central L.A. yesterday for a gang summit and peace accord that he had organized with Snoop Dogg (who didn’t show). Gang leaders and The Game met with L.A. police chief Charlie Beck against a backdrop festooned with Scientology logos. Church leader David Miscavige will be boasting about this one, and why not. For once, Scientology did the selfless thing and tried to help society…wait, what’s that? Who made the scene? Alfreddie and Rizza? Aw, well. It was funny business as usual, then.
E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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