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Scientology spends millions on its shiny new buildings, but its workers have to beg for food

Rod Keller keeps a watchful eye on Scientology’s social media, and he has another great report for us this week…

The Scientology org in northern Johannesburg is preparing to open a new ideal org facility. They have been raising funds from members for years, but this week put out an appeal on Facebook for donations to feed some of the new staff members who are having trouble making ends meet.

Dearest friends, I am a fully GATII Trained auditor and Clear, originally from South Africa. I have had the privilege of being Trained and Cleared in the renowned Melbourne Ideal org Australia. I have recently been on a mission in South Africa to help establish the new Ideal Org of JHB North, to open concurrently with the AO Africa. My job is to Qual check and audit the new auditor trainees here in Joburg and get them to Flag ASAP.

We have an ongoing PTP (present time problem) however over here, that I would tremendously appreciate assistance with. These kids who we are sending to Flag are primarily from townships in Johannesburg, they are so bright and have all the right theta endowment to do the most important job on Earth ie: Clear people.

We have a lot of new staff, who in order to do full time training, would need donations of food supplies to get these guys through their training and off to flag with no distractions We are only a handful of people here at the mission and we really need some theta flow from the globe. I am currently trying to find out the legalities of opening an account for donation purposes for Africa in Australia. How many of you out there would be willing to pledge even a small amount of $10 for the cause? Also any idea on how I best run a campaign like this would also be appreciated.

It’s an admission that staff pay at Joburg North is not enough for subsistence living, even in the former apartheid township of Soweto. It’s also a lie to the trainees, who are being told they will be sent to Clearwater to join the Technical Training Corps, or TTC for auditor training. The reality is that the trainees will probably never be auditors. They will be placed in low-level positions in reception, running the film room, distributing or grading the OCA personality test, or as a central files clerks. They will never be sent to Clearwater because most of them are poorly educated and receive low scores on the OCA and IQ tests. They speak either Zulu, Tswana or Sotho as their primary language and the wording of the tests are unfamiliar to them. If past trainee patterns are repeated, at least half will have blown in a year, and none will be left in three.

In other organizations this would be a failing. In Scientology it is deliberate. It is a pattern of recruitment endorsed by L. Ron Hubbard in the policy “RECRUIT IN EXCESS” (29 Aug. 1970) in which he writes “I have always followed a doctrine of hiring or recruiting in excess. There is a heavy turnover in personnel.” and “Over-recruit always. If you have an idea you will need 20 people in the next six months you had better take on at least 40 and you will have your twenty. And double is a low figure.”

The food shortage among trainees comes at a time that the money is flowing towards opening the new Ideal Org. This is the second time Joburg North has raised large sums of money. The first time the fund was drained to open the Pretoria Ideal Org, and Joburg North had to start over. Members may think they’re donating to the local org, but that can be diverted elsewhere without their consent.


The donor list is notable for the number of Sea Org and staff members included. Puneet Dhamija, David Lipsitz, Ron & Domenique Mew, Basi Ndlovu, Natalia Nemes-Choukri, Tarryn Oblowitz, Cathie Robertson, Clive Tarr and Eben Van Loggerenberg are all Sea Org, and live either in the berthing in Kensington or at the L. Ron Hubbard house in Cyrildene. They earn pennies per hour and yet they donate some of that for their Ideal Org.

Pumula Banda, Gordon Gilberson, Greg Gunner, Graham Holm, Lesley Holm, Ian Hammond, Christina Hammond, Willem Jacobsz, Mpumelelo Kuzwayo, Thabiso Nhlapo, Bob Petrie, Queenth Clark and Letitia Waldbaum are staff members at Joburg, Joburg North, or Pretoria. They earn a small percentage of the income of their org, which can be reduced if they are in lower conditions.

Sonja Morshead is the owner of the Summerhill Scientology school in Midrand. Kevin Jones is former Freedom Medal winner for his work with Criminon. His medal was revoked when he came under suspicion of misappropriation of IAS funds.

Kaye Champagne is the chair of the Flag OT Committee and is credited as the driving force behind the Tampa Ideal Org.

Notably absent from the list is billionaire Bob Duggan, who is certainly the mystery donor who matched donations to meet the construction budget for Joburg North. 4,000,000 rand is about US$ 290,000. Duggan’s son is in South Africa and he is by far the largest donor to South African ideal orgs. He is regularly left off donor lists.


This is the building that will probably open as Africa’s newest Ideal Org later this year, Joburg North on Hunter Street in the Blairgowrie neighborhood. The former Fern Manor office building is being renovated with expensive materials to meet the ideal standard using donations from billionaires, publics, staff members and Sea Org members. But the new generation of trainees needs donations of food because the org isn’t making enough money. In South Africa, Scientology is both feasting and starving at the same time.

— Rod Keller


Human rights — except for Pete Griffiths

Pete Griffiths had it right there in writing: He’d been invited to a Youth for Human Rights International “World Tour Summit” in Dublin, which would feature presentations by Scientologist Ryan Ellory, Scientologist Mary Shuttleworth, Raheeb Mirza, Scientologist Niamh King Swords, Frank Allen, Glen Gannon, Bami Kuteyi, Ellie Kisyombe, and Elizabeth Sarumi.

But when he got there, and mingled around looking at the literature on display, well, you can see for yourself what happened next…


Ah, these Scientologists. Such spoilsports.


How the mighty have fallen

For some of our readers who have been with us a long time, we have a couple of milestones to bring up. They are not related to Scientology.

First, we’ll point out that it’s not without some satisfaction that we came across an editorial in the Washington Post yesterday about the ignominious fall of Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix. In part, it was our reporting on the conditions in Arpaio’s “tent city” jail that resulted in our being named the 1996 Journalist of the Year by the Arizona Press Club. Yes, more than 20 years ago. That’s how long Arpaio was abusing his position as sheriff in order to get himself publicity. But it’s all gone sour, and we’re amazed it took this long.

We wrote more than 30 stories for the Phoenix New Times about Arpaio in the period 1995 to 1999, before we moved on to another newspaper in Los Angeles. There were many other New Times reporters who also wrote about the sheriff (include the great John Dougherty, who first noted what a human rights abuser Arpaio was way back in 1993), and it was always depressing to see that no matter how often someone like Bob Nelson or Ray Stern or Stephen Lemmons exposed Arpaio’s lies and the way he endangered the safety of the public and of his own employees in order to get himself on television, it never seemed to get through to voters that they were being had. But finally, his bombast is catching up with him. “The toughness seeping out of him with each passing day, lately Mr. Arpaio has been reduced to asking the court not to allow his past campaign statements — full of bluster and mocking defiance of court orders — to be admitted as evidence, and to prohibit testimony from law-abiding Latinos who were illegally picked up in his notorious immigration sweeps,” the Post says. And good riddance.

Arpaio tried to make things tough for us while we were reporting on him. And some of it was underhanded. But after we left town, he forgot about us. That wasn’t the case with the other person we wanted to tell you about today.

One of the best things we ever did was hire a reporter named Kelly Cramer while we were editing a newspaper in Fort Lauderdale called New Times Broward-Palm Beach, from 2005 to 2007. She landed one of the biggest stories we’ve ever been involved with, told right out of court documents that were among the most disturbing we’d ever seen. Her story, 2006’s “Daddy’s Girl,” was followed up in 2010 with our own piece, which more concisely spelled out the stomach-turning elements of the saga about a hedge fund gazillionaire who “married” his own daughter as part of his eight-year sexual relationship with her. And for revealing what was in those court records, the litigious businessman paid his friends to run websites that attacked Cramer and your proprietor for years, spreading false information about what our stories had said. It was very much like Scientology and its Office of Special Affairs.

A decade later, Kelly Cramer is still keeping an eye on the story, and earlier this week she gave us the latest: On March 29, Bruce McMahan died. He was 77.

While he was alive, McMahan had his attorneys cow Wikipedia so completely that today the hedge fund richie has no Wikipedia page at all. And only the New York Post had the guts to follow up our story with its own.

But now, maybe things will change. For reporters interested in those court documents, which you can now write about without fear of McMahan suing you, check out PACER New York ecourts file 054904/2015. You should find it illuminating.


Countdown to Denver!


HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,715 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,818 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,312 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,352 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,064 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 590 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,679 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,819 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,139 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,114 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 470 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,772 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 879 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,281 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,154 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 735 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,240 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,484 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,593 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on April 9, 2017 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.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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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  • 16 April 2017 – Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath debuts in Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Jakarta.


    Confirmation of the Singapore debut date in this Straits Times article dated 10 April 2017:

    Leah Remini criticises Scientology in new series


    • Taiwan would be nice too.

      • Tony Ortega

        Yeah, Taiwan needs it the most.

  • Joys_Mom

    Ah, now that I see the fine print on the Joburg North ad, I finally see how COS was able to steal the cross. We Christians forgot to trademark it!

  • WhiteCentauress


  • 5 Feet Long and Luminous

    So I saved that McMahan article for some bedtime reading…Uhhh…oh my. So we’ll be seeing a Wikipedia page soon, then, yeah? (F5)

  • WhatAreYourCrimes

    Every person that has ever had their name affixed to some sort of scientology newsletter, or award announcement, or golden freedom medal trinket of bullshittery… all of you, please hang your head in shame for a few minutes, and then pick yourself up to try and atone for your HUGE mistake. Your name, attached to the label of “scientologist”, is going to be, at best, lampooned throughout history, and at worst, vilified throughout history.

    The misery that this despicable organization has inflicted upon its members and society will never be forgotten. Every American taxpayer has had to pick up an extra burden of payment in scientology’s tax exempt status so that Tom Cruise could frolic in flowery fields, planted in a desert by sea-org members for a temporary fantasy, with his fair maiden bride.

    Every American taxpayer has had to pick up an extra burden of payment in scientology’s tax exempt status so that the Hole could be manned, staffed, and guarded.

    Every American taxpayer has had to pick up an extra burden of payment in scientology’s tax exempt status so that David Miscavige could have his pompadour hairstyle propped up an extra half inch to make him feel better about his height, not to mention his personal chef, his steroid injections for his little “physique”, and his customized motorcycles for him and his BFF Tom Cruise..

    Every American taxpayer has had to pick up an extra burden of payment in scientology’s tax exempt status so that Shelley Miscavige could be hidden away and abused for the past 10+ years.

    Every American taxpayer has had to pick up an extra burden of payment in scientology’s tax exempt status so that private investigators could be paid to harass and intimidate any critic of scientology.

    I could go on and on.

    Enough is enough, let’s all grow a pair and destroy this evil and demonic little shithole of humanity called scientology.

    • Jimmy3

      You start and I’ll be right behind you.

      • WhatAreYourCrimes

        O.K. how about this. Write your representatives. Write law enforcement. I have started, so please follow me.

        • Jimmy3

          I write to Caroline Kennedy all the time, but it’s mostly poems and stuff. Does that count?

          • WhatAreYourCrimes


    • Harpoona Frittata

      With flamethrowers and phosphorous grenades at the ready, we’re going in!

      • WhatAreYourCrimes

        Oh, please, do.

        I am too old, disenchanted, chewed-up, wrung out, and have absolutely no means to participate, but I would love to see younger people take down this cult.

        And please, do so non-violently. “Fair game” might be the evil one’s modus operandi, but we needn’t stoop to that level.

    • Bob

      WAYC, good points. Talk about out exchange.

      • WhatAreYourCrimes

        Thanks Bob. I sometimes feel like a loner. I appreciate it.

    • Never_in

      … and his next fair maiden bride, and all subsequent fair maiden brides. Love that sentence!


    They will raise money and use any excuse. This money will not go to feed those Staff members – that would be rewarding down statistics.

    Scientology – sinking to new levels of LOW – never acheived by cults before.

    • Juicer77

      Agreed. That money just go “uplines” to whatever bank account Missmanage designates.

  • ReallyMGM

    I can’t believe it has been 20 years since I was reading those news stories about the abuse of power of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I don’t live in the SoWest, so the news I saw on him here was only national (60 MInutes). However for some unknown reason, I looked into the Sheriff in his local newspapers. That was my introduction to the news stories written by a journalist named Tony Ortega in Arizona. They were masterfully researched and written despite hitting the arrogant brick wall named Sheriff Joe. I still wonder if one of Tony’s stories is where I heard about the Jailcam.
    Belated Congratulations on the award!

    One day I was searching for something on Scientology on Yahoo search ago (before Google existed, children!) it gave me the Village Voice page. I was an off/on reader when I had time, and wondered if it was the same reporter since the writing style was so similar. I found out later it was the same person.

    Sorry this is long, but I have often mentioned my love for good reporting – good research, interviewing skills, writing and follow-up. Since I won’t be at HowdyCon this is my thank for your years of dedication to your job, Tony, from a longtime reader. I appreciate the work you put into this news page/blog every day.

  • Snippy_X
  • Travers E Harris

    Well I think I can have some fun here. As an ex Scientology and flag trained auditor and having been the CO of the Johannesburg org and worked in the Cape Town Org plus FOLO Af these orgs were always bankrupt from the 1960’s already. So nothing has changed. Miscavage has billions of dollars so why does he not make the donation. After I decided that I had enough of the Scientology crap at the FLB in Clearwater in 1986 with my wife and children we came home to our country in South Africa and I got a job at the largest newspaper group in Johannesburg which is the largest news group in South Africa. So I will do a bit of blackmail on the outfit and threaten them. So let’s see what happens. As far as I am concerned they are on the top of my fair game list with nothing underneath. Our black people in South Africa will not tolerate “no pay” and when they don’t get paid they will demon strait all over Johannesburg. Should be fun

    • Juicer77

      Blackmail isn’t necessary, unless you just mean publicizing the facts of their despicable and fraudulent behavior. Threatening isn’t smart, IMHO.

      • Graham

        Agreed. Let’s leave “blackmailing” and “threatening” to the fake-church and resist joining them in the sewer unless, as you say, this just means publicising facts.

  • OOkpik

    Tony’s article on Bruce McMahan is both riveting and disturbing. Tony thumbs his nose at McMahan’s attempts to “shudder him into silence” by retelling the story of gazillionaire McMahan’s incestuous exploits with his own long-lost daughter, first exposed in an article by Kelly Cramer called “Daddy’s Girl”. It was well worth the read.

    I wonder, however briefly, about the daughter, Linda’s culpability in this sordid tale. No doubt she was emotionally vulnerable around the months of their first meeting (she was 35 at the time), but as the years passed, events seemed to indicate that she was using Daddy too.

    • Newiga

      I have a feeling that the Bruce McMahan saga could’ve had a very tragic ending hadn’t she gotten away when she did. *shivers in disgust and terror*

      • Graham

        A while back Tony made some very negative comments about Wikipedia. I see now why he has such a jaundiced view of them.

  • Juicer77

    Welcome, newbies and lurkers and under-the-radars. Coffee is almost ready and the kettle is boiling for tea. f5

    • OOkpik

      It’s so good to see you back. <3

      • Juicer77

        Thanks. xoxo

  • Jgg2012

    Arpaio cost the taxpayers tens of millions in judgments against the County. Frankly, he was a joke, and the fact that he supports Trump is not surprising.

  • Claire Swazey

    Selfish evil cult. DM has mega millions and doesn’t cough up a dime to feed or assist staff.