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Scientology retaliates against Clearwater land deal by trying to shiv a beloved dolphin

[Scientology attorney Monique Yingling vs. Winter the Dolphin]

Rod Keller sifted through the wreckage of what happened yesterday down in Pinellas County, and it’s not pretty…

Yesterday in Florida, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners met to discuss, among other matters, a windfall of cash. The county has almost $86 million that has been collected in a tourist tax, and the state mandates that the money be spent on a sort of wish list — capital improvement projects that otherwise wouldn’t get funding. So, during its meeting yesterday, the board was hearing from applicants who were in line to receive the money, such as the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, which plays its spring training in Pinellas County. Team president Mark Shapiro was even on hand to encourage the commissioners to approve $46.5 million in funding to help the team improve its Dunedin stadium.

The second largest share of the cash — $26 million — is slated for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to help it complete a major expansion, but during the meeting no one from the public took the opportunity to speak for or against it.

We expected that someone might speak against the aquarium funding because just the day before, the Church of Scientology had delivered to the county commissioners a vicious attack on the aquarium in the form of a seven-page letter from Scientology attorney Monique Yingling.

Yingling accused the aquarium of fabricating claims about the economic benefits it provides the county. She said that the aquarium was breaching its obligation as a non-profit organization, and she called for a government investigation of aquarium officials. She said that the aquarium overpays its Chief Executive Officer, David Yates, and that it fails to pay taxes on items purchased at its gift shop. “The stench of commerciality pervades its operations,” Yingling wrote. “The Commission should consider all of these relevant facts before making a decision to provide additional millions of dollars from the Tourist Development Trust to the CMA.”


The aquarium is best known for being home to Winter the dolphin, star of Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 and a beloved figure to children everywhere. But for some reason, Scientology doesn’t want Winter’s facility to get county money for its expansion.

We asked aquarium CEO David Yates about Yingling’s accusations. “This letter is false, inflammatory, out of context and provably false,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the church chooses to attack CMA, a top rated nonprofit and community asset a few days after we sold our downtown property to the City. We are considering all options and will clearly respond one way or another.”

If you’ve been following along with our coverage of Clearwater’s downtown, you can guess why Scientology is trying to poison the county against the aquarium. The church is still smarting after the decision last week by Clearwater’s city council to approve the $4.25 million purchase of a 1.4-acre lot owned by the aquarium that sits next to City Hall. At one time, the aquarium hoped to move to the downtown location to capitalize on Winter’s fame. But the church worked behind the scenes to kill that deal, leaving the aquarium with the parcel that it then had no use for.

Scientology didn’t want the aquarium relocating downtown because the parcel is also adjacent to two of Scientology’s most important properties, the Fort Harrison Hotel and the Oak Cove Hotel, where wealthy church members come from around the world to take expensive courses at Scientology’s “Flag Land Base.” Scientology first moved into Clearwater under a fake name in 1975, and has bought up more than 20 properties downtown since then, which critics say has caused it to become a lifeless city core.

The aquarium agreed to sell the 1.4-acre parcel to the city as part of “Imagine Clearwater,” a 10-year, $55-million municipal effort to bring life back to the city center. Scientology countered by offering $15 million for the parcel, but the aquarium, clearly not wanting to do business with the church, stuck by its commitment to sell to the city. Scientology leader David Miscavige claimed that he wanted the parcel for a swimming pool to be used by Oak Cove guests, but former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder says the real reason is to keep non-Scientologists away.


[Kelly Preston poses with Lucky Anchor Irish Pub owner Clay Irwin in downtown Clearwater]

Miscavige personally led the lobbying effort against the sale to the city in the days leading up to the council vote, even bringing out church celebrities John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley and pianist Chick Corea to meet with downtown property owners. According to reporting by Tampa Bay Times journalist Tracey McManus, Miscavige even accused the aquarium of acting out of prejudice against Scientology in refusing to sell to the church. She reported that city councilman Bob Cundiff was told by Miscavige that “he thought they would not sell because someone on the CMA board was a born-again Christian and hated the Scientologists.”

Despite that heavy-handed campaign by Miscavige, last week the city council approved the parcel’s purchase. In retaliation, Scientology has followed founder L. Ron Hubbard’s playbook and looked for another way to poison the deal. Late on Monday the church delivered Yingling’s letter and a “dead agent pack” of supporting documents to the county commissioners as they considered the $26 million grant to the aquarium over the next three years from the Tourist Development Trust Fund. The fund takes in taxes on hotels and short term rentals, and is mandated by the state to be spent on projects to improve Florida’s massive tourist industry. Downtown Clearwater may be dead, but Clearwater Beach is booming, and nearly $86 million is now available for tourist attractions like baseball and museums.

We watched the meeting closely to see if Yingling’s attack had any effect.


[Pinellas County Commission Vice Chair Kenneth T. Welch]

But when the subject of the $26 million for the aquarium came up, the commissioners expressed universal praise for the facility, and also praised CEO Yates for communicating with them so reliably.

Then, Vice Chair Kenneth Welch made the only allusion to the Scientology attack.

“I got a whole box of documentation yesterday,” he said. “That’s not good timing.” That was echoed by Chairwoman Janet Long, who said, “Yes, we make these decisions way ahead of time.” And with that, the board moved that the payment proposal continue to the next step, so county staff can negotiate terms with the aquarium as it moves to a final vote.

Scientology’s smear hadn’t slowed it down at all.

Miscavige’s purpose in this sneak attack is clear. Having lost the battle at the city level, Miscavige is retaliating the only way Scientology knows how — by following L. Ron Hubbard’s playbook. Expect more interference to come.

— Rod Keller

Thank you, Rod. We also enjoyed Mike Rinder’s comments on Scientology’s little gambit here. And we wanted to point out something else. Yes, David Yates appears to have a high salary for the CEO of a non-profit. But we can tell you with some confidence that Yates would swap his own salary with Monique Yingling’s in a second.

Keep that in mind as you read Yingling’s unhinged attack on a non-profit organization that is transparent about its finances and does what it can to bring tourists into Clearwater, as opposed to the secretive organization doing everything it can chase people away that Yingling works for…


Scientology letter attacking Clearwater Aquarium by Tony Ortega on Scribd


Leah Remini’s fabulous nails get a spin-off

During Leah Remini’s first season of Scientology and the Aftermath at A&E, we monitored Twitter while episodes were airing, and we saw it come up again and again: What’s with her amazing nails! So maybe it’s not a surprise that Leah’s manicures appear to have inspired their own homage at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.


“A fictionalized account of actress/activist/icon, Leah Remini, as she struggles to make the world a better place, stomp out bullies, and speak truth to power – all the while maintaining perfect makeup and hair. Come for the manicures, stay for the songs!”

Produced by comedian Julia Wackenheim, the show was written by Jeffrey McCrann (book) and Robert Hill (music). A casting call for actors went out earlier this month, looking to fill these roles…


Yeah, sure, why not.



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 4,732 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,835 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,329 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,369 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,081 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 607 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,696 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,836 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,156 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,131 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 487 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,789 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 896 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,298 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,171 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 752 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,257 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,501 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,610 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on April 26, 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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