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Scientology’s trophy problem: Did David Miscavige lie, or did the IAS?


[Scientologists, admiring the milestones of IAS enlightenment]

In November, we told you the saga of Richie Acunto. He was the once high-flying Scientologist who owned Survival Insurance in California, but then whose bankruptcy resulted not only in unhappy investors, but also the stunning auctioning off of his Scientology trophies.

Scientologists are under intense pressure to donate ever bigger sums to the International Association of Scientologists (IAS), the organization’s slush fund, and in order to encourage them to do so, the IAS hands out increasing “statuses,” like in a video game, and they come with plaques or increasingly ridiculous trophies. At his most successful, five years ago, Acunto had given so much to the IAS, he was named a “Patron Laureate” and was given an especially gaudy knickknack.

He had already been given trophies for reaching “Silver Meritorious” with donations totaling $750,000, and “Gold Meritorious” for donating $1 million, then “Platinum Meritorious” for giving $2.5 million, and then “Diamond Meritorious” for donating $5 million. But it was for reaching the cumulative total of $10 million that Acunto unlocked the “Patron Laureate” trophy in 2010. Here’s what it looked like…



Acunto had founded Survival Insurance in 1983, and he operated it out of an office over his garage, even after he had become very successful and owned homes in California and Florida. We got a peek at that operation through Tiziano Lugli, a former Scientologist who was very close to Acunto because of their mutual interest in motorcycles. In 2009, Acunto officiated at the motorcycling-themed wedding of Lugli and his wife, the actress Jamie Sorrentini.

But by 2010, they say, Acunto cut the Luglis out of his life when they admitted that they’d started to have doubts about Scientology. Then, after his major contributions to the IAS, Acunto started to have his own problems. By 2011, his investors learned that Acunto and his companies were broke. Former Scientologist Tom Provenzano, who had invested $137,000 with Acunto about a decade before, filed suit in 2013, alleging fraud. Acunto, meanwhile, lost his homes on both coasts, and has been living on a boat in Marina del Rey that his mother pays for, according to Provenzano’s attorney Graham Berry, who asked Acunto about it in court last month. Things were apparently so bad for Acunto, he couldn’t keep up payments on a West Hollywood storage unit that was auctioned off, and in it the winning bidder found Acunto’s many IAS trophies. They brought several thousand dollars in eBay auctions.

Berry tells us that he and his client have been trying to claw their way through Acunto’s statements in court and his financial paperwork, looking for answers about what happened to the insurance mogul’s money.

Berry has pursued the theory that just when Acunto’s multiple companies needed cash the most, in the economic downturn of 2008, Acunto bled them dry with his huge donation to the IAS in order to obtain his Patron Laureate trophy.

But what does Scientology say about that?


[A page from Impact magazine showing that Patron Laureate requires $10 million in donations]

In a recent declaration by Mislav Raos, the director of IAS Administrations, Inc., Scientology reveals exactly how much it says Acunto donated over his entire career as a Scientologist, whether in his own name, one of his family members, or on behalf of Survival Insurance.

The payments go back to 1985, and some of them, Raos explains, were not so much donations as the price paid for admission to an event, which also apparently counts toward your total of giving. All told, with a final large payment of $1,505,600 on August 1, 2008, Acunto’s entire largesse comes to $7.5 million. ($7,563,594, to be exact.)

Whoops. As Graham Berry points out, there’s a problem.

That doesn’t compute. Was the IAS lying when it said in court under oath that Acunto’s August 2008 donation was only $1.5 million, adding up to a cumulative total of $7.5 million? Or was Miscavige lying to Scientology’s membership by later awarding Acunto a trophy for giving $10 million that he hadn’t actually earned?

We asked Berry if he thought it was possible that Miscavige, not known for his generosity or for hand-waving the rules, would award a trophy to Acunto that he hadn’t actually earned.

“It’s unthinkable. There’s not a charitable bone in that man’s body,” Berry says.


[Acunto and Lugli, in better days]

So where’s the rest of the money? And why would the IAS say nothing more was given by Acunto after August 2008? Berry points out that because Tom Provenzano filed his lawsuit in August 2013, money given by Acunto after August 2009 would fall under the lawsuit’s statutory four-year scope and could possibly be recoverable.

Is Acunto or the IAS hiding donations in order to keep them away from Provenzano and other investors? That’s a tempting thought — as long the trophies Scientology hands out are based on accurate tallies of donations. But are they? Could the IAS trophy scheme all be a fraud?

We thought of one way to test whether the trophies were an accurate reflection of how much Acunto had given. A month ago, we told you that Karen de la Carriere and Jeffrey Augustine had found a fun artifact — an Impact magazine from 2005, the publication that Scientology uses to announce which big donors are getting trophies each year. And in 2005, Richie Acunto was listed as “Gold Meritorious” — which means he supposedly had given a cumulative $1 million.

So what does the declaration by Mislav Raos say about Acunto’s giving by that point? It turns out that, by IAS accounting, Acunto had given $927,163 by the end of 2004. And if you count January 2005, it puts him over the top at $1,062,163.

So, in that case it appears Acunto did get the trophy he deserved. So where’s the $2.5 million that would have made him a Patron Laureate in 2010?

Graham Berry tells us, “I will be filing an Adversary action alleging fraud within the next two weeks.”

Mislav Raos declaration


Bonus photos from our tipsters

We had a lot of fun, courtesy of our correspondent on the ground, bringing you live coverage from the Ideal Org opening in Bogotá, Colombia yesterday. Despite some harassment, he got home safely, and then followed up with local officials, who are not happy about the disruption caused by the event. It turns out, our correspondent tells us, that Scientology did not have a permit to block traffic. He’s going to keep an eye on the controversy.

Meanwhile, additional photos popped up on social media after we finished our live coverage yesterday. Our poet, Eduardo Galan, did make the scene, for example…



“Hey, girl. Do you dig Scientology poetry?” Hey, that’s our Eduardo with none other than Nancy “Don’t have a cow, man” Cartwright in Bogotá yesterday!






Mexican actor and Scientologist Gonzalo Vivanco gets some face time with Her Royal Governess of the Vast Valley Territory…



We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Our upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

July 12: Washington DC, Hill Center DC-Drummond Hall, Center for Inquiry, 2 pm (with Paulette Cooper)

July 14: Hartford, MARK TWAIN HOUSE (with Tom Tomorrow)

July 17: Denver, The Secular Hub, 7 pm (with Chris Shelton)

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

July 24: San Antonio, Folc Restaurant/Park Social, 6 pm

July 25: Austin

July 29: Paris, Le Bistrot Landais, 19:00 (with Jonny Jacobsen)

August 4: London, Conway Hall, (with John Sweeney)

August 24: Boston, Boston Skeptics in the Pub, 7 pm (with Gregg Housh)

Sept 15: Arizona State University

Sept 23: Cleveland

Sept 24: Minneapolis

Sept 27: Portland

Sept 28: Seattle

Sept 30: Vancouver, BC


Posted by Tony Ortega on July 6, 2015 at 07:30

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB 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 LA 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

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


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