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Bogus court documents, compliant search engines, and Scientology-style rehabs

[Per Wickstrom, illo by Chad Essley]

Yesterday The Hollywood Reporter provided a curtain-raiser for season two of Leah Remini’s A&E series with a couple of interesting articles. Seth Abramovitch wrote a new profile of Leah, and Gary Baum posted a disturbing story about how information critical of Per Wickstrom’s Narconon-style rehabs in Michigan was the subject of de-indexing requests made to search engines like Google through the use of what appear to be bogus court documents.

We were getting a lot of questions about that article, and we thought we’d break it down a little to help people understand what’s at issue. And also, it turns out that we were involved in the article’s backstory.

You see, last September we heard from a very helpful reader who keeps a close watch on the Lumen database for us. Formerly known as “chillingeffects.org,” the Lumen database is a place that keeps track of takedown requests that are made to Google, and on occasion our tipster finds evidence of, for example, someone like Bob Duggan or one of his agents requesting that Google “de-index” one of our stories.

Instead of confronting us directly, these complainants go to Google, hoping that the search giant will make it tougher for Internet users to find our stories.

In this case, our tipster noticed that Google had been given a de-indexing request for a lot of links at two sister sites that keep a watch on Scientology’s Narconon rehab network: narcononreviews.net and reachingforthetippingpoint.net. That takedown request included supporting documentation — a copy of a court order that appeared to be the result of a lawsuit in Hamilton County, Ohio against Mary McConnell, a person we have mentioned numerous times and who is associated with those two websites.

Mary (her nom de guerre) is a former Church of Scientology member and dogged researcher who has specialized in digging up documents regarding the Narconon system. We forwarded the court document to her, and she immediately told us it was bogus. No such lawsuit existed — the document was a fake. Here, see for yourself what the document looked like…

 

 
Someone had taken the risk of faking a court document, complete with the signature of a judge in Ohio, in order to make it look like Google should be forced to de-index a lot of links with negative information about Per Wickstrom’s Michigan rehab centers. Seems like a pretty extreme way to get some online information hidden, doesn’t it?

Well, it turns out that this is becoming a more and more common scam that some disreputable “reputation management” companies reportedly use to get Google to de-index links for their clients. And the one person who has been working hardest to make the public aware of this rising phenomenon is UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who writes “The Volokh Conspiracy” at the Washington Post.

Volokh turned over this bogus court injunction and three others that reference Per Wickstrom’s rehab facilities to Gary Baum. In Baum’s piece, he said that the fake orders were apparently based on an actual but unrelated court order. We asked Volokh about that and he sent over that document.

You can see how this order, a genuine court record, probably did serve as a template for whoever created the bogus document about Mary McConnell…

 

 
Of course, the first question that comes to mind when you see that a court document has been faked is, who’s behind it? Well, that’s apparently a tough question to answer, particularly since, Volokh says, he’s been unable to get the Hamilton County court system that was victimized interested in doing anything about it.

“I’ve been trying to get judges and prosecutors interested in going after the forgers — but so far, most of that has come to nothing, including as to the Ohio orders,” he tells us. An exception, he says, was a businessman who was arrested for forging court orders and submitting them to Google to get links critical of his company taken down.

As Baum mentioned in his article, another faked Hamilton County court document, unrelated to the four involving Per Wickstrom’s rehabs, was sourced to a contract showing that a reputation management firm named “Web Savvy” had charged someone $3,750 to get a negative web link taken down. Baum traced Web Savvy to a man named John Rooney in Torrance, California, who denied that he had a connection to Narconon.

Was Web Savvy involved in the four bogus documents that were trying to take down links critical of Per Wickstrom’s Michigan rehabs? We don’t know.

And it’s also important to point out that all but one of Per Wickstrom’s facilities in Michigan are not affiliated with Scientology’s Narconon program.

According to Narconon’s own website, the only Michigan facility in its network is Wickstrom’s “Narconon Freedom Center” in Albion.

The bogus court documents, however, were targeting web links also criticizing Wickstrom’s other facilities: Tranquility Detox (Battle Creek), A Forever Recovery (Battle Creek), Best Drug Rehabilitation (Manistee), and Serenity Point Recovery (Marne).

Attorneys who have filed lawsuits against Wickstrom’s facilities assure us that although most of the rehabs have no formal tie to the Church of Scientology or its Narconon network, their clients were subjected to Narconon-style programs and Scientology training.

And there’s no question that Wickstrom himself is a loyal Scientologist. In fact, he was recently identified as the buyer of the most expensive home in all of Pinellas County, a $6.9-million estate in the same county that is home to the town of Clearwater, where Scientology has its “spiritual mecca,” the Flag Land Base.

Drug rehab has been very, very good to Per Wickstrom. And one reason it continues to be so is that he aggressively goes after people who criticize his businesses online. Wickstrom has sued people who post negative information about them.

But still, we don’t know that he had anything to do with the four fake court documents that attempted to convince Google to de-index dozens of critical stories at places like narcononreviews.net and reachingforthetippingpoint.net.

And there’s one more wrinkle we wanted to tell you about. One of the four bogus court documents has something in it that really startled us.

It’s an order supposedly from a court in Fulton County, Georgia and filed in August of last year. It has two plaintiffs: Narconon Rehab Services LLC (which doesn’t exist) and Rena Weinberg.

Rena Weinberg!

Wow, that name sure gave us a shock. Of course, Rena is (or was) the president of ABLE, the Association for Better Living and Education, the Scientology Sea Org-run umbrella group that oversees Narconon and a bunch of other Scientology front groups. Rena was sent to “the Hole” sometime in late 2006 or 2007 and hasn’t been seen at a public Scientology event ever since.

Poor Rena. Disappeared like so many other formerly high-ranking Scientology executives, and now her name has been used on a bogus 2016 court order in an attempt to fool Google into taking down some negative web links about Best Drug Rehab and Tranquility Detox.

Here’s the bogus document. Someone has a really creepy sense of humor.

 

 
In 2016, “Ann” at narcononreviews.net pointed out that another creep had used the name “Larry Brennan” to make a takedown request to Google about a weblink critical of Narconon. Larry transitioned to Denise Brennan and was someone we admired greatly. She had some of the most important information about Scientology’s “corporate sort-out” of the early 1980s, and she also helped us understand some key concepts about the Church of Spiritual Technology and its bizarre underground vaults.

Sadly, Denise died in 2014. But some creep used the name “Larry Brennan” in an attempted takedown request in 2016. Like the bogus requests targeting Wickstrom’s rehabs, it’s impossible to know just from the requests who was actually behind them.

It sure would be nice to know who is behind these fake court orders. Wouldn’t a judge like to know who is faking their signatures?

 
——————–

Chris Shelton on sickness in Scientology

Says Chris: “This week I did an interview with Kay Rowe, a followup to a podcast we did a few weeks ago. We talk about illness and medical care in the Sea Org, what happens when people mysteriously disappear with cancer, and why Sea Org members are so mistreated when it comes to personal and medical care.

 

 
——————–

Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,838 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,821 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,595 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,941 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,435 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,475 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,187 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 713 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,802 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,942 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,262 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,237 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 593 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,895 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,002 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,404 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,277 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 858 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,363 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,607 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,716 days.

 
——————–

3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on August 10, 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 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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