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LEAH REMINI’S SISTER NICOLE: How We Got Into Scientology, And How Leah Got Out

Nicole Remini

Nicole Remini [Photo by Joe Dickie]

Nicole Remini sounds irritated when we ask her about a report in the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday that claimed her sister, King of Queens actress Leah Remini, had “chatted” with Kirstie Alley to make sure there was no “loss of friendship” between the two over the explosion in news about Leah’s recent defection from the Church of Scientology.

“It did not happen, Tony. It did not happen.”

Nicole says there’s no truth to the Sun-Times report at all — her sister has not talked with Alley. And she says Leah is disgusted and disappointed that Kirstie and others have not called her to find out what’s really going on.

“Somebody said Kirstie is the epitome of a Scientologist. Yeah, I thought, she is — she stands for nothing,” Nicole says, confirming her reputation for being as feisty as her little sister.

Leah Remini’s break from Scientology after 37 years has exploded as a media story that could not have come at a worse time for the embattled church. Already gripped by crisis because of internal schisms, heightened media interest, and proliferating lawsuits, the church has struggled to avoid ridicule and condemnation. The last thing it needed was a high-profile celebrity defection that is pitting its famous names against each other. But making it even worse is that Remini’s complaints go to the heart of what ails the 60-year-old organization. Remini dared to ask what is happening to Scientology under its combative leader, David Miscavige.



Nicole and Leah Remini grew up in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. Their father, George Remini, was a Sicilian Catholic, their mother, Vicki, was Jewish. But after they divorced, Vicki was introduced to Scientology by a new boyfriend, and soon she became passionate about it. Nicole says she and her little sister began getting involved when they were only 8 and 6.

Six years later, they were such dedicated church members, a pregnant Vicki moved the family to Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, and Nicole and Leah were recruited into the Sea Org.

The Sea Organization was created when Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard took his operation to sea in 1966 after he had been made unwelcome in the United States and the UK. For the next nine years, Hubbard ran his worldwide organization from a small armada of ships whose crews were made up of young, enthusiastic believers who came to be known as the Sea Org. To this day Sea Org officers don quasi-naval uniforms and sign contracts for a billion years, promising to come back and work for Scientology, lifetime after lifetime.

Nicole was put into the Sea Org at 14. Leah was 12.

“They had this kind of hot young guy in New York, who was the Sea Org recruiter. I was a gymnast, that was my goal in life. I told him I needed to keep on doing gymnastics and dancing. ‘Oh, you can totally do that,’ he said. When we got there, I asked about taking gymnastics class, and they said, you can’t do that here. That’s when I realized that I’d been lied to.”

That impression deepened once she saw what conditions were like in the Sea Org.

“We were in this roach-infested dorm, living with 12 to 14 other girls. We had one bathroom. There were bunk beds. We didn’t get to see our mother when we wanted to — she was in another part of the building. They didn’t even want us to go to the hospital when she was having the baby,” she says.

Their half-sister, Shannon, was about to be born, and Nicole and Leah were determined to be there.

“We said ‘eff you, we’re out of here.’ We went to the hospital.” After the birth, Nicole says she was sent for punishment for disobeying the rules, and she ended up being recruited by the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology’s intelligence and covert operations wing.

“They asked me to be a spy on the other kids.”

You were recruited to be a spy?

“It was really weird. And you lose your friends, because they go uplines [get promoted] and you don’t see them anymore. Meanwhile, there was no push to do school. Why get an education? You’re a lifetime Sea Org employee,” she says.

Even food was a challenge. If they were late even by a few minutes, they wouldn’t be served at the galley. She remembers seeing Leah scrounge crumbs from a toaster.

“It was horrible,” she says.

But then things got even worse.

“I had a friend, Suzy, who said that I’d had sex with my boyfriend. Now, I never had sex until I left Florida. But they wanted to put me on the RPF,” she says.

The Rehabilitation Project Force is the Sea Org’s prison detail. Conditions are even worse, the food even more meager, and members of the RPF can’t talk to other members as they run from place to place in black boiler suits and do menial labor day and night.

“When I refused to go, they said, ‘Then you’re out. We’ll declare you’,” she says. (“Declaring” someone a “suppressive person” is Scientology’s version of excommunication, and all members of good standing are required to “disconnect” from an “SP” or risk being declared themselves.)

“I told them I wasn’t going to be punished for something I didn’t do. They interrogated me, yelling at my face like it was something on TV. ‘You know you had sex! Just come clean!’ they yelled and yelled.”

Meanwhile, Leah had also run into trouble. She was also accused of being “out-2D” (Scientology jargon for premarital sex). It wasn’t true, but the church sent officials to search their rooms anyway, and told the girls they were in serious trouble when they found lace panties in their underwear drawers. Vicki was told that Nicole and Leah were troublemakers and were going to be sent to the RPF.

“My mother told them to go eff themselves. So we left for LA,” says Nicole.

They had been in the Sea Org for about a year.



In Los Angeles, Nicole and her sister got jobs working for Scientologists. She was 15, Leah 13. And despite their experiences in the Sea Org, they continued to be “on course” — advancing their Scientology training, which their mother insisted on.

But now, Nicole says, they were exposed to a mix of Scientology kids, some hardcore, others more casual about the church. Nicole says she never felt comfortable with it. Leah, though, was more dedicated.


A teenaged Leah Remini is featured in a Scientology magazine with an "e-meter."

A teenaged Leah Remini is featured in a Scientology magazine with an “e-meter.”

The two girls began to go on very different trajectories. As Leah’s acting career began to develop, Nicole grew more estranged from the church, and in 1994, she got married and moved to Minneapolis with her husband.

“I wanted to live my own life,” she says.

Four years later, however, her marriage was over, and Leah’s career had exploded as she landed the role of Carrie Heffernan in King of Queens.

“My babies and I went back to LA, and I started working with Leah on King of Queens.”

Leah had begun to date Angelo Pagán, and she asked him to get involved in Scientology. But Nicole says that her own commitment to Scientology was waning. She didn’t like what seemed to her to be policies that were becoming increasingly oppressive. She moved back to Minnesota, and in about 2003, she drifted away from the church as her commitment to Christianity grew. Perhaps because her sister was such a famous member, Nicole didn’t really experience any problems with Scientology after she left it.

“I would go to the Celebrity Centre when I came to town, and everyone knew I was a Christian.”

She remembers one visit in particular.

“I went into Celebrity Centre one time and Tom Cruise was doing jumping jacks and stretching, right where everyone was walking. Like he owned the place. Hello, there are other people here,” she says.

Through 2004 and 2005, Tom Cruise seemed to be taking over Scientology. He was feted by David Miscavige as the most dedicated Scientologist ever with a Freedom Medal of Valor in the fall of 2004. In 2005, Cruise went on a disastrous offensive with the press, acting bizarrely in an interview with Matt Lauer, for example.

“That was one of things Leah didn’t like, that Tom Cruise seemed to be taking over the church,” she says. “When Leah was sec-checked, one of the things they asked her about was whether she was going to be a danger to Tom.”

Leah was subjected to sec checking (intense interrogations while hooked up to an e-meter) after she returned from the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, which took place in a castle outside Rome in November, 2006.

We asked Nicole what she remembers Leah saying happened at the event.

“She said she saw David Miscavige being a little too cozy with his assistant, Laurisse Stuckenbrock. Every executive was drunk and crazy. She said it was like seeing the Pope make out with somebody,” Nicole says.

Leah was also surprised that Miscavige was there without his wife, Shelly. What Leah didn’t know was that Shelly had vanished several months earlier. (See our previous story about what had happened to Shelly.)

Leah wanted to know why Shelly wasn’t there, and when she saw Tommy Davis, the son of Anne Archer and a church spokesman, she asked him what was going on.

“You don’t have the fucking rank to ask about Shelly,” Davis said, and it stunned Leah.

Later, Leah ran into more trouble simply by asking about the seating arrangements at the reception. Her good friend Jennifer Lopez — who had come with her then-husband, Marc Anthony — had pulled Leah aside and asked her to see what she could do about their placement. Lopez’s father is a longtime Scientologist, but Lopez herself isn’t, and she was uncomfortable that she and her husband had been seated at a table with Scientologists they didn’t know.

“She wanted to sit with Leah, and so Leah went to make it happen.” But for some reason, agent Kevin Huvane took exception to Leah’s request and complained to Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise that Leah was causing a scene. (Later, Leah asked other people at the event if she had caused a scene and they said she hadn’t, Nicole says.)

Back at her hotel room, Leah called up her best friend in Los Angeles, a woman named Melinda Brownstone.

“She told Melinda all about what happened, and Melinda told her she was so disgusted, she insisted on writing up and submitting a report. It was actually Melinda who typed up the report based on what Leah told her over the phone from Italy.”

Brownstone, a designer, had worked for Leah and they had become close. Leah was godmother to Brownstone’s daughter, and Brownstone was godmother to Leah’s daughter, Sofia. Leah and Nicole’s younger sister, Shannon, was married to Brownstone’s brother. (Brownstone later cut off ties with Leah. Kirstie Alley tweeted from Brownstone’s house last week in what we labeled a well-aimed arrow at Leah.)

Meanwhile, Knowledge Reports about Leah were also being filed — by Tommy Davis, Jessica Feshbach, Michael Doven (a former assistant to Tom Cruise), and even one by Katie Holmes, which was based on what she had been told by Huvane.

“They wrote that Leah was an embarrassment to Scientology,” Nicole says. “They said she ruined the wedding. All she did was ask to change her seat.”



While Nicole was done with the church, by 2006 Leah had reached the level of Operating Thetan Level Five, three levels below the highest state a Scientologist can attain, OT 8.

After Leah returned from Italy, she was told to report to Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. Nicole says Leah thought she was finally going to be allowed to move up to OT 7.

Instead, when she got there, she was put on a brutal combination of sec-checks and something called “The Truth Rundown.”

Nicole says she hasn’t been through a security check herself and can’t describe what one is like. But we’ve talked to many people who have experienced them, and they describe relentless interrogations that bore into a subject’s private life. The Truth Rundown, meanwhile, is an Orwellian process that in this case was intended to convince Leah that when she thought she saw David Miscavige and other executives engaging in improper behavior, she was actually deluded by her own hidden animosities toward the church.

After three months of interrogations, Leah complied and rescinded her Knowledege Report.

“She didn’t get to go to OT 7. And after three months, they charged her $300,000,” Nicole says.

Over the next few years, Leah continued to ask about Shelly. As we reported yesterday, she wrote to Shelly twice, and never received a reply. She threatened to go to the police if church officials didn’t produce the missing woman.

Leah wasn’t the only celebrity souring on Miscavige’s leadership. In 2011, the defection of director Paul Haggis became public when Lawrence Wright profiled him in a lengthy New Yorker profile.

Haggis’s reasons for leaving — his objection to Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” and the church’s history of homophobia — struck a chord with Leah. Nicole says her sister got into trouble yet again when she reached out to Haggis on Twitter.

This time, however, it was Kirstie Alley who turned Leah in, writing a Knowledge Report about Leah’s Twitter interaction with Haggis. Nicole says Leah found out about Alley’s report from an ethics officer, Julian Swartz.

Leah also got into a yelling match at her house with Tommy Davis over the way he had treated Haggis.

Then, as 2012 was about to begin with a few minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve, a woman named Debbie Cook sent out an e-mail that rocked Scientology to its foundation.

For 17 years, Cook had run the Flag Service Organization, which operated Scientology’s mecca in Clearwater. Now, after leaving the Sea Org, she wrote a lengthy e-mail that blasted leader David Miscavige for turning Scientology into little more than an extreme fundraising organization.

We have talked to many longtime Scientologists who have left the church because Cook and her e-mail captured their own frustrations perfectly.

The church reacted by declaring Debbie Cook a suppressive person and filed a lawsuit against her.

Nicole says Leah was shocked, and told church officials that she intended to call Cook to get her side of the story. “Leah was told if she called Debbie Cook, she would be declared,” Nicole says. “It raised more red flags for her. She didn’t like being told who she could talk to.”

Then, in the summer, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes split up. Nicole says Leah talked about reaching out to Katie. “She said, if they tried to take Suri away from Katie, she would leave the church to fight them.”

Over the next few months, “ethics” officers continued to pressure Leah, and then, in October, she threatened to call the FBI about the disappearance of Shelly.

And that’s when she was asked to meet with David Miscavige.

“Leah said he was apologetic, and agreed with her that she’d been screwed at Flag. He told her she’d get her money back,” Nicole says. “But then, she found out that Miscavige was telling people that she was a ‘refund case.’ That really pissed her off.”

For the last few months, Nicole says Leah has been preparing her family for what she knew would become a shitstorm when news broke that she was leaving Scientology.

“She knew they would try to break everyone up. Our mom is OT 8 and a Class VI auditor. It wasn’t easy for her to decide to leave with Leah. But she did. Everyone did,” Nicole says.

And now the shitstorm has arrived.

“While you and I are talking, a childhood friend of mine has texted that the Celebrity Centre wants her to come in, and she’s not even doing Scientology anymore, but her daughter’s on staff,” Nicole said to us while we spoke on the phone yesterday. “They’re going to put pressure on her to cut off all ties with me. We were friends in Scientology at only 7 or 8 years old in New York. And after we joined the Sea Org and moved to Florida, we all rented a house together, the two families. This is how close we are, and she’s being pulled in to be pressured to disconnect from us.”

Nicole says her sister will weather the storm. “Leah is a righter of wrongs. These things are not right. If things were going the way they should be going, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And that’s all her motivation was, to get things right.”


Leah Remini and Angelo Pagán, celebrating 10 years of marriage with their daughter Sofia, last night in Las Vegas

Leah Remini and Angelo Pagán, celebrating 10 years of marriage with their daughter Sofia, last night in Las Vegas


Posted by Tony Ortega on July 18, 2013 at 07:00

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