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Scientology loses its best fundraiser at perhaps the worst possible time

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[Davie Lurie and his sister Charmaine Roger]

Word has gradually made its way out of Scientology’s Florida headquarters — the Flag Land Base, in Clearwater — that a key figure there has died. One of the things “Flag” is known for is that it brings in more money than all the rest of Scientology’s worldwide facilities combined. Flag is where wealthy Scientologists from around the planet come to spend huge amounts on high-level courses they can only get in Clearwater. And it’s a special kind of Scientology Sea Org officer — the “registrars,” called “regges” for short — who bring in that money by the millions, week after week.

And none of the regges was more well known, or more recognized for bringing in the really big money from Scientology’s biggest “whales” than Charmaine Roger.

It was Charmaine who was personally bringing in more than a million dollars a week in donations for construction of the massive “Flag Building” — better known as “Super Power,” that took Scientology 20 years to build.

After we heard that word had leaked of Charmaine’s death, we checked her brother David Lurie’s Facebook page and found that on December 9, he had posted a notice about it. He didn’t indicate if she had died that day or earlier, or what the cause was. We sent him an email asking those questions, and we’ll add that information if he gets back to us.

But several former Scientologists had plenty to say about Charmaine, who was, if nothing, else, an extremely dedicated Scientologist.

Charmaine Fay Lurie was born on March 28, 1958 in South Africa. She had a son and a daughter with her first husband, John Dekiewit, whom she was divorced from in 1990. She later married Bruce Roger, who worked with her at the Flag Land Base in Division 2, where the registrars work.

It was there, in 2007, that Carol Nyburg was twinned with Charmaine on a bizarre punitive program. Carol’s was a very familiar face at the Fort Harrison Hotel. She was the person who worked out accommodations for people arriving for their lengthy stays. But she says she didn’t expect to be paired with the queen of the regges on a punishment detail.

“All of Division 2, the Registration Division, was put on the Flag Boot Camp. Frankly, I was shocked to see that Charmaine was included. I mean, she was regarded as Reg royalty — she could do no wrong. I am sure she has regged more money for the Church than any one person ever. But there she was with all of us, doing the horrible dirty hard labor jobs that we all did until about 3 a.m., when we were taken home only to meet up together at 8 a.m. the following morning for another round. That boot camp lasted about two months. She never complained, and she was smiling throughout.”

By then, Charmaine was a hardened Sea Org veteran. But Carol says that Charmaine had to go through quite a period of adjustment to get there. “I remember Charmaine telling me a story about when she first joined the Sea Org. She’s from South Africa and she was used to having servants. When she showed up in South Africa to start the EPF [the Sea Org’s boot camp, the Estates Project Force], she brought her servants with her to do all the unpleasant jobs. Well, she found out soon enough that that was not how it works in the Sea Org.”

Carol remembers that Charmaine rose to be the chief “Super Power” reg in the early 1990s, when the project was first announced and ground was broken for a building that wouldn’t be dedicated until 2013.

Cindy Plahuta, who worked with the Super Power fundraising team, told the Tampa Bay Times that Charmaine pulled in far more than anyone else, and in a week would bring in more than a million dollars on her own. But when those stats were down, Charmaine could find herself doing late night menial labor just like anyone else.

“Those regges, if they were doing well, they got treated well. Charmaine would be sent to New York to the best hotels with lots of money to go shopping. But if she didn’t do well, she’d be under pressure like everyone else,” says Mat Pesch, who worked out of the same room as Charmaine in the Fort Harrison Hotel. (Mat was featured recently in an episode of Leah Remini’s A&E series, Scientology and the Aftermath.)

Mat, who left the church in 2005, got to see Charmaine in action day after day. “She knew all the big-time Scientologists, all the people with money. She could call them any time. She was particularly good at getting money from men. She’d flatter them and use her personality to get money from them,” he says. “It takes talent to get people to fork over tens of thousands or millions of dollars. It’s a special person that it takes to do that. And she was extremely good at what she did.”

In one of the more notorious chapters from Charmaine’s life as a top Scientology fundraiser, she pressured Luis and Rocio Garcia to turn over a large amount to pay for the giant Scientology eight-pointed cross that would go on top of the Flag Building. Joe Childs and Tom Tobin described the scene for the Tampa Bay Times as part of their 2011 series, “The Money Machine”…

 

Luis and Rocio Garcia were resting in their hotel room at Scientology’s Sandcastle complex in Clearwater in August 2005 when Super Power fundraiser Charmaine Roger knocked on their door.

The church wanted to place a large bronze Scientology cross atop the unfinished Super Power building four blocks away.

A contractor was standing by. How much could they give?

The Garcias looked at each other. They didn’t want to donate.

Roger said the cross would be visible for miles. She dropped to her knees, Rocio remembered, her hands pressed together and pointing upward, as if in prayer. Please help us. I know you have big hearts. I know you are big beings. “I felt so bad,” Rocio said. “I mean, you cannot say no to a person when you see that.”

They donated $65,000.

The cross wasn’t mounted for five years — not until September 2010.

“I felt pretty cheated about that,” Luis said.

The church said it couldn’t verify the Garcias’ story.

Were other parishioners asked to donate for the cross?

Spokeswoman Karin Pouw said it’s common practice to ask parishioners to donate for specific features such as a stained-glass window or a cross.

 
The Garcias sued the church in 2013, saying that they’d been lied to when they were hit up for such large donations. And the incident with the cross was one of their chief examples. We asked Luis for his thoughts on Charmaine.

“Charmaine was passionate, likable, dedicated, and relentless. She was totally devoted to doing her job which was to get people to give her money. She was very good at it and as it is well known, she got results,” he said. “She did get many to donate millions of dollars. She would do anything to get money. She would demean herself by begging, she would lie, she would invade one’s privacy, she would show up at your doorstep or at your hotel room without any regard to time, or protocol, or anything. She would politely demand a ‘donation’ for hours on end, while briefing you and while giving you great compliments. She would have no regard for your financial situation, she would not care if you had to borrow the money to give to her, or if you had to take it from a retirement fund or your kid’s future college education. For her there was only one mission in life: to extract money from Scientology members, whatever the consequences to them.”

In 2011, the Tampa Bay Times estimated that Super Power fundraising had brought Scientology about $145 million for a building that had cost them $100 to construct. Former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder said the amount brought in was closer to $200 million.

Tom DeVocht, another former Scientology executive who worked with Charmaine, said she was known for how far she’d go to push her prey.

“She was definitely considered to be on the wild side. She’d make promises that couldn’t be kept,” DeVocht says.

But he says any perks she might have enjoyed for bringing in big money should be seen in a larger context.

“The big fundraisers, they’re really treated like crap. They are considered ‘criminal’ and ‘crooked’ most of the time, and they’re pumped up and given some clout to feel good a few hours before they have to do a big reg deal.” But that didn’t last long, as they were soon seen as problematic again.

“[Scientology leader] David Miscavige had to be able to claim that he was the one who brought in the money, not the registrar. They couldn’t be held up as making great money. It would take the fame away from Miscavige,” Tom explains.

Charmaine was also known to be the only reg who was allowed to work with Scientology’s biggest whales, Bob and Trish Duggan. Bob’s a billionaire businessman who hit it big with a cancer drug, and we estimate that he’s given about $70 million just to one Scientology fund, the IAS. The Tampa Bay Times estimated that he’d given about $12 million to the Super Power project.

Charmaine was so close to the Duggans, she and her brother were said to be involved in the strange arrangements the Duggans made with families in South Africa. Charmaine was even said to be living with the Duggans, the better to reg the church’s biggest donors, apparently.

We told Mat Pesch that once again, it looked like the Church of Scientology would not be making any kind of public statement, let alone host a public event, after the death of one of its prominent members — and someone who had brought in literally millions of dollars over many years of exhausting work.

“You’re so busy, when someone goes down, you just put your head down and keep pushing on your own job,” Mat says. “There won’t be a ceremony or anything. They won’t say anything about it. They’ll just keep going. Her husband, Bruce Roger, is also a reg. He’ll be expected to keep his stats up. The only thing they’ll worry about is how to replace Charmaine’s income. They won’t think about her dying at 58. They’ll just worry about what they’re going to do about the money they dropped.”

And with Leah Remini’s newest episode hitting tonight, it’s maybe not a good time for Flag’s top fundraisers to lose their top producer.

 
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Our Scientology year-in-review: July

We’re continuing our look back at the year of 2016 here in the Underground Bunker, and today we’re looking at the stories we published in July.

Following up on a previous story, on July 5 we talked to the parents of Rigina Hikmatulina, a 20-year-old Kazakh woman who had been lured to Florida to join Scientology’s Sea Organization. Her mother raised a stink in the media about the way the church had separated them and was keeping her daughter in Florida on an expired visa — a story that these days seems all too familiar, with Scientology bringing Russian-language recruits to its Florida base as cheap labor. But when Rigina tried to go home to Kazakhstan secretly to get her visa renewed, her parents learned about it and managed to intervene. They gave us their first interview in the U.S., and told us Rigina is quickly adapting to being away from the Sea Org.

The next day, we posted an account by one of our readers, Commodore H. McCringleberry, who managed to get himself into a Houston Scientology event that was promoting the church’s Florida headquarters where Scientologists go for the really high-priced courses. It gave us a rare look inside a Scientology style revival meeting designed to pump up mid-level church members to get them to spend serious money at Flag.

On July 10, Steve “Sarge” Pfauth died at 70 of heart and kidney ailments. He had been a caretaker at the ranch in Creston, California where Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had spent has final few years in seclusion, one of only a tiny number of Scientologists who knew where Hubbard was hiding. Thankfully, Pfauth told Lawrence Wright and Marty Rathbun about those final couple of years and what they were like for Hubbard before he died. It was Pfauth who revealed that in late 1985, Hubbard had asked him to construct a device that would electrocute him and end his misery. Unable simply to ignore what Hubbard was asking for, Pfauth constructed an E-meter that would give off a lot of sparks but not produce a lethal shock. Hubbard then died a couple of months later, in January 1986.

A week later, we posted a remarkable video that Rod Keller had found. It features a longtime Scientologist, Lynn Irons, as he tries to rally the troops in Moscow, where police had been cracking down on the Ideal Org there. And once again, we find that when Scientologists are talking to each other and it’s not meant for public consumption, they can say some pretty amazing things. “He describes the power of postulates in which anything is possible, from shrinking your feet to re-growing hair, to having Scientology continue to spread throughout Russia,” Rod observed.

Also in July, a second-generation Scientologist was sentenced to prison after being caught selling art made from rhino horn at a California auction house. What a scumbag, right? Well, actually, we found that there was more to the story of Joey Chait, who went to prison after a federal sting operation on his father’s art business. Chait’s attorney said that, in fact, Joey’s involvement in Scientology had a lot to do with the predicament he found himself in. And we thought it was at least worth considering.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Phil and Willie Jones put up another billboard questioning Scientology’s “disconnection” policy, this time not far from the church’s spiritual mecca in Clearwater, the Flag Land Base. Like the billboard they put up in Los Angeles, it was paid for with money raised in part by the readers of this website.

We can never get enough of the fun “testimonials” videos that Scientology puts together every year, and in July we got to post the latest one. The music track alone is worth the bewildering experience of watching Scientologists talk about Scientology.

It was also in July that our man in Hungary, Peter Bonyai, helped us fact check a wild story from a tabloid publication there — that when Scientology leader David Miscavige was in Budapest to open a new “Ideal Org” there, a local poured a bucket of pig shit on him. It turned out that a protestor had tossed some excrement in the diminutive leader’s general direction, but it didn’t hit him.

A story in the Washington state Spokesman-Review described a sweet story of two people in their 60s reuniting and getting married after they’d been kept apart in their teens. The reason they were separated? Scientology. We talked to Rebecca McKee for the full story behind her separation from Tom McCaffrey, which included a really intriguing look at the way her mother had suffered from the family’s involvement.

And on July 29, we said goodbye to Arlene Cordova, a determined Los Angeles mother who had not given up trying to find her middle-aged daughter, Barbara Cordova Oliver, when Scientology whisked her away to a secretive Tennessee facility to treat her mental health problems. Arlene and Barbara were reunited, and we’re glad they had some time together before Arlene died at 83.

A LOOK BACK AT JULY 2015: We wrote about Scientology’s day care from hell. Brian Sheen’s full Scientology story turned out to be pretty fascinating. Chris Shelton emceed us in Denver. And Nick Lister dishes on Tom Cruise ruthlessly putting ethics in on his own family.

A LOOK BACK AT JULY 2014: Our Independence Day special, when Jeremy Powers defied disconnection and came home. We said goodbye to John Joseph, a man who cared. Camilla Andersson went public after 29 years in Scientology. And we live-blogged ID network’s show on Elli Perkins (which featured your proprietor).

A LOOK BACK AT JULY 2013: Leah Remini defects, Shelly Miscavige speaks, Jim Lynch exteriorizes, and Christian Stolte rocks.

 
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Bonus items from our tipsters

Kerri Kasem, shilling for Scientology’s Youth for Human Rights on LA news station KTLA.

 
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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on December 27, 2016 at 07:00

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, Kindle, and audiobook versions. 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

 

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