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Days before jumping to his death, actor Brad Bufanda credited Scientology with saving his life

In August, Brad Bufanda, a 34-year-old actor and chiseled gym instructor, showed up for an initial table reading of an independent film he’d landed a role for.

Bufanda is primarily remembered for appearing as the biker gang character “Felix Toombs” in two seasons of the 2004-2006 UPN/CW teen mystery series, Veronica Mars. But his career had been in a bit of a slump since then, and this year he was trying a comeback.

In February, he acted in a forthcoming Vivica Fox and Michael Madsen end-of-the-world mob comedy. That film, Garlic and Gunpowder, was based on an original story by a man named Steven Chase, who also had an acting role in it. And now, in August, Chase was directing a romantic comedy titled Stan the Man, and he’d given two of the lead roles to actors who had played smaller parts in the February movie.

They were Brad Bufanda and Angelo Pagan.


In February, being on the same cast didn’t seem to present a problem for either of them, even though for more than a decade Bufanda had been involved in Scientology, and Pagan is a former Church of Scientology member married to Leah Remini, Scientology’s most famous defector. Remini’s second season of A&E’s Scientology and the Aftermath had aired its first episode five days before the August table reading was held.


[Angelo Pagan and his wife, Leah Remini]

The trouble didn’t start until another actor showed up and was seated directly across the table from Pagan.

His name was Isa Totah, and he, like Bufanda, was a dedicated Scientologist. He was also an acting coach who holds classes at Scientology’s Hollywood Celebrity Centre.

“Isa had a physical reaction to Angelo being there. You know how someone will shield their eyes to kind of hide themselves? Well, that’s what he was doing,” says someone who was at the reading but asked us not to name them.

Pagan tells us that Isa not only recognized him as Leah Remini’s husband, but also from Angelo’s own days as a Scientologist. “I knew Isa at the Celebrity Centre when I was in Scientology. He was the kind of guy who thought he knew everything,” Pagan says.

As soon as Totah was finished reading his part in the movie, he left, ahead of the rest of the cast. Pagan says he only found out later how much his presence had put Totah in a bind.

“There were three Scientologists on the cast originally, including Brad. And initially, I think they wanted to figure out how to get me kicked out, or gang up on me and try to get me to quit. But I guess they didn’t know me very well,” Pagan says.


Instead, two days after the table reading, Totah gave notice that he was quitting the picture for what he called “personal reasons.”

“Isa decided he couldn’t be in the movie because of me,” Pagan tells us. “And that caused a little bit of a stir between him and Brad, who used to go to Isa’s acting classes.”


According to a family member, Bufanda came under pressure from Totah and the Scientology Celebrity Centre to quit the film because of Pagan’s presence. That pressure included a “Knowledge Report” — something like an informal affidavit — submitted to the Celebrity Centre by Totah.

“Brad was told to drop the film, but he refused. So he was blocked from the Celebrity Centre and from Isa’s classes,” the family member says.

We sent an email to Isa Totah, asking him whether Bufanda had been punished by the church for staying in the film with Pagan. We’ll let you know if we hear from him.

In the meantime, we spoke to several sources close to Bufanda, including family members, fellow actors, and a fellow gym instructor who shared with us private texts sent by Bufanda just a few weeks ago.

In one text exchange, which took place on Friday, October 27, Bufanda answered his friend’s questions about his interest in Scientology.

“It cured me of everything…and took me to new heights as an athlete,” Bufanda wrote to his friend. “Regardless of what happens, I owe them my life. I’d be be dead or in jail without them.”

Four days later, on Halloween night, Bufanda went to the roof of a 13-story apartment building, one of 18 towers that make up the iconic Park La Brea housing complex on the west side of Los Angeles, and at midnight, as November 1 began, he jumped to his death.

“We really don’t understand it, because his life was never better,” a family member tells us. “He had a beautiful townhouse, he drove a Mercedes, he was getting residuals from his work. And he was a well known spin instructor at two top gyms.”

His friend who shared Bufanda’s texts with us, after looking back through them, says there was no sign whatsoever that he was upset or depressed. His death came as a complete shock to her.

“He was the most positive, outgoing, motivated, witty person. He seemed happy. We talked about future things. There was no indication to me whatsoever that he would not want to live anymore,” she says.


[Brad Bufanda as Felix Toombs]

Fred Joseph Bufanda was born on May 4, 1983 in Orange County, California, and was acting in his first movie by the time he was ten years old. He changed his name to “Brad Bufanda” in 2001, but also acted under the name “Brad Joseph.”

His big break was playing Felix Toombs, a character who showed up in ten episodes of Veronica Mars, the teen mystery series starring Kristen Bell.

Veronica Mars was an incredible chapter in our lives,” says Francis Capra, who played “Weevil,” the leader of the biker gang Bufanda’s character belonged to. On screen, their characters were best friends, and off screen, Capra says they were part of an intensely close family that developed around the show. “Brad moved in with me after about a year and a half. And then the whole second season was about his character’s death.”

As actors, they knew it was something that might happen and they just had to deal with it. But Capra says that it was a devastating thing for Bufanda to go through, suddenly to be dropped as a recurring character of the series. “He went on auditions, and he’d come by the set, but I know it was really hard on him.”

Capra also developed a close relationship with actor Jason Dohring, who played Logan Echolls, the love interest of Veronica Mars. Capra can’t say enough about what a caring and truly generous person Dohring was, and a huge influence on his life.

And it was also Dohring who got both Capra and Bufanda into Scientology.

Jason Dohring’s father, Doug Dohring, is a major donor to Scientology. In 2016, he was given a special trophy indicating that he’d given $10 million in cumulative donations to just one of Scientology’s causes, the International Association of Scientologists. Doug Dohring’s wealth comes from running Age of Learning, the company behind the popular children’s learning program ABCmouse.

Today, Capra is no longer involved in the church. “I’ve seen all the negative stuff about Scientology. I know what they say about it. But I never saw any of that in Jason.”

Dohring would invite cast members to events at Scientology’s Celebrity Centre, and Capra said he would often take him up on it. “I went out of my way to hang out with Jason. But I never saw Brad at one of those meetings,” he says.

He suspects that Dohring suggested a website or some reading material to get Bufanda into Scientology, and then Brad’s competitive nature took over.

“Brad was competitive to a fault,” Capra says. After his invitation to take an interest in Scientology, “Brad would have tried to understand it and possess it.”


[Francis Capra, in Veronica Mars]

Rather than go to the Celebrity Centre or take courses, Bufanda talked about doing it on his own. “He got the list of vitamins you take on the Purification Rundown, and then he was practicing it on his own,” Capra says. “He thought he could get Scientology without paying for it. ‘It’s all on the Internet,’ he would say.”

But Brad’s motivation wasn’t just to save money. Capra claims that at some point early in his Scientology adventure, Bufanda had gotten into an argument over auditing and wasn’t allowed at the Celebrity Centre.

Bufanda later got that problem solved, apparently, and was involved, at least at a low level, with the Celebrity Centre and taking its acting classes with Isa Totah.

“I talked to another actor who knew Brad well and had also taken courses at the Celebrity Centre. He said that Brad would hang out there and take some mini courses, but that he never fully dedicated himself to it,” Angelo Pagan says.

Bufanda’s family disagrees, saying that Brad was so committed to the church, he actually worked for it two separate times, and during one stint actually lived at the Hollywood Inn, a building on Hollywood Boulevard that serves as “berthing” for church employees.

“He asked for us to pick him up there in 2006 and take him home. Then he went back again and was taking courses,” a family member says. They also point out that Bufanda spent tens of thousands of dollars on Scientology, and essentially cleaned out what savings he had after acting on Veronica Mars.

Whatever the true level of Bufanda’s involvement, all of our sources who knew him in his last few years tell us that he was convinced that Scientology had him on the right path to getting the most out of his life.


[Jason Dohring and Kristen Bell, from Veronica Mars]

“He said that he’d been in Scientology since 2006, that it had changed his life for the better, and that it helped him to be the man he was today. He was grateful for it,” says the friend who shared Bufanda’s texts with us. “He was in the best health of his life, and his best mental state because of it. He didn’t do drugs. He was in incredible shape, and after he had done the purification thing, he even said that he’d stopped cursing.”

All Scientologists are required to undergo a process known as the Purification Rundown, a regimen of radical vitamin intake and daily five-hour sauna sessions that can be taxing on the body. Bufanda had come through it convinced that he was a new man.

“He said Scientology was nothing but good for him. I asked him if he had seen the documentaries, and I told him that I didn’t know if this was such a good idea,” his friend says. “He said that he had seen them, but that he wasn’t supposed to. He said if they heard anything from the ‘naysayers,’ then they would get punished. Punished? See, right there — no church should punish you, that’s not OK. This was a text conversation we had just a week before he killed himself.”

Several of our sources all agreed that Bufanda was convinced that the Purif and other Scientology processes were the key to what he really wanted — to be a movie star.

“He wanted to be a big, huge star. He specifically wanted to be Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, or Leonardo DeCaprio. He said to me, Leo was so good, he must have alien DNA,” says Bufanda’s close friend.

“His impression was that the Scientology church made you the next Tom Cruise,” says a family member. “And he was convinced that in his next life he’d have a more favorable life.”

That was another thing our sources agreed on: Brad Bufanda often talked about reincarnation, and specifically that he believed his next life would be better than this one.

“Brad had been spewing this stuff for years,” Angelo Pagan tells us. “That he was going to drop his body and come back. And that he’d have more success in the next life.”

And if the next life was going to be better, it implied that in this life, he’d suffered disappointment.

“He sacrificed everything to be an action star, and did everything in Scientology — he cleansed his body, didn’t cuss, didn’t do drugs, and cleared his mind. He seemed to be saying, ‘I’ve done everything and this is it. And if this is as good as I get in this life then I might as well move on to the next life’,” says his good friend.

One of the core concepts of Scientology is that we are each immortal beings called “thetans” which have lived trillions of years in countless lifetimes, and that we will live countless more times in the future. Once this current lifetime is over, the thetan leaves its body and after some processing goes to find a newborn to jump into to start the next life.

And as Brad Bufanda prepared to take his life, he was meticulous about it, carrying out a scheme that must have taken considerable planning.

“Brad’s family said he left a note saying that he hoped in the next lifetime that things would be better for him,” Pagan says.

In fact, Bufanda prepared several notes and mailed them on October 31, planning to kill himself that night. He also went to the trouble of erasing the text messages from his iPhone, then put the phone in a box with a note and some momentos, and mailed it overnight to his family. It arrived on the afternoon of November 1, hours after he had jumped from the tower at Park La Brea.


[One of the towers at Park La Brea in West L.A.]

Why Park La Brea? Several of our sources all say Brad knew people who lived in the complex and that he talked about wanting to live there himself.

One friend who spoke to Bufanda on October 30 said that they had no idea that he was in any distress at all. Others pointed out that he had talked about the future, and that his career was clearly picking up again.

“He had a meeting for Avatar 2 scheduled with James Cameron. He was up for other parts in productions like Black Jesus and several other things. It was completely on the upswing for him,” said one source.

His loved ones are left bewildered, wondering what could have been done to change Bufanda’s fate.

He was in incredible physical shape, and he didn’t appear to be in mental ill health. But if he was suffering a mental health crisis, Pagan points out, he may have automatically rejected any idea of doing something about it because the Church of Scientology demonizes psychiatry.

“If he was having a mental health crisis, he would never seek therapy as an option because of his involvement in Scientology,” Pagan says.


[Bufanda leading a spin class just six weeks before his death]


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,936 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 82 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,145 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,919 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,693 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,039 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,533 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,573 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,285 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 811 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,900 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,040 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,360 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,335 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 691 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,993 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,099 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,502 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,375 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 956 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,461 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,705 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,814 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on November 17, 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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