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A private eye comes clean: ‘Scientology is a disgrace to the world’

 
This is Cierra Westerman. She sent us this photo of herself with her then boyfriend, Dwayne Powell.

She first reached out to us last month saying that she wanted to come forward about the time she spent working for Powell and the Church of Scientology, spying on its former members.

Since then, she’s been sending us photos and documents to prove she is who she says she is.

And then Dwayne Powell confirmed it for us.

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In 2010, when Cierra was working full time to watch Mike Rinder and Christie Collbran for Scientology, she estimates that the operation in the Clearwater area alone used five rental homes, a dozen rental cars, and five full-time investigators at any one time. At the same time, similar operations were working in Colorado and Texas and Los Angeles.

The expense must have been incredible.

“You have no idea,” Dwayne Powell says.

Cierra is from the Orlando area. In 2007 her father had a heart attack, and she was hoping to earn more money to help take care of him. So in January 2008 she entered a local trade school, City College of Casselberry, and its Private Investigation Services program.

In the second week of classes, she met a fellow student, Dwayne Powell. A week after that, he passed her a note in class. It just said, “Lunch?”

Although they were both involved with other people at the time, before long they were dating. And then, by the early spring of 2008, they were presented with jobs by the City College faculty.

Records show that from 1998 to 2013, the Private Investigation Services department at City College (which moved from Casselberry to Altamonte Springs in 2010) was run by a licensed PI by the name of Michelle Morton. Cierra says that Morton was very close friends with another Florida private investigator named Terry Roffler, who was using the school as a recruiting ground for a huge amount of work he needed bodies for.

Morton and Roffler, Cierra says, used the college as a recruiting center for private investigation work for the Church of Scientology.

And in 2008, Scientology had a major need for security and intelligence work as it was overwhelmed with protests by the new Anonymous movement and its “Project Chanology.” Growing out of a dispute over a Tom Cruise video the church had tried to censor from the Internet, Anonymous targeted Scientology with online attacks that then turned into real-life demonstrations beginning that February.

Cierra says that she and five other City College students were dispatched to Clearwater that April, recruited by Morton and Roffler. She and Dwayne Powell were among them, but as the only woman, she was chosen for a special assignment: infiltrate Anonymous.

“I went on raids with the Anons,” she says. “I would go to the protests. At one point I was filming them with one of their own cameras.”

When Anonymous held its pirate-themed “Sea Arrrrgh” rally in Clearwater in June 2008, Cierra was in the crowd, chanting along with the other protesters.

 

[Cierra films the “Sea Arrrrgh” rally while taking part in it]

She says the footage she took that day was given to Terry Roffler, like everything she obtained in her work.

“I even rode around with one of the top Anons in Clearwater in their car, holding a sign out the window.”

After several months gathering intel on Anons, Cierra then took most of 2009 off as she and Dwayne prepared for their first child, a son. She went back to the Orlando area, while Dwayne stayed in Clearwater, busy with the PI work for the church. They didn’t see each other again until the middle of 2010, when their child was already six months old.

With a baby boy, Cierra now became an asset of another kind. She was assigned to move into a house across the street from outspoken former church members Mike Rinder and Christie Collbran, and to monitor who came to visit them.

“When someone came over, I’d take my son for a walk in his stroller, and then take photos of the cars and their license plates,” she says.

Her young son was also involved in her other task: Getting Mike Rinder’s trash.

“I’d take him to the small park and let him play until I saw the trash guys,” she says. She paid trash workers to turn over bags from Rinder’s house, as well as another church member, Haydn James.

“We had to pay the trash people to keep Mike’s trash off to the side. And I had to go through it. My job was to save any receipts, any alcohol bottles, any paperwork. Anything that would tell us something about them. What they were doing, and what they were buying,” she says. “When I was doing the trash, I had to endure the worst job that PIs do. I dealt with maggots and all. And I did it because I wanted a family with Dwayne.”

She says they also did the mind-numbing work of trying to put back together shredded documents. “We worked on it for two months straight, trying to piece them together. We actually got a few clues out of it,” she says.

For six months, she lived in the house and watched Rinder and recorded the license plates on visitors to his house. She was then replaced by another woman, Heather McAdoo, who was assigned to befriend Christie Collbran.

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Christie recently published a lengthy account about that at Rinder’s blog, and it’s a fascinating look at what the operation was like from the perspective of the people who were targeted by it. Christie says Heather eventually expressed regret about taking part in the elaborate operation against her.

While Cierra was living at the house watching Mike and Christie, she says Powell was running a large operation that was centered out of a warehouse strategically placed so they could watch the man who at that time was Rinder’s employer, an inventor named Robert Almblad.

At the Village Voice, we wrote extensively about Almblad, a former Scientology member who was trying to bring to market a machine that made sterile ice. Infections in hospitals are a huge problem, and traditional ice machines are filthy, so Almblad was working on something that potentially was a billion-dollar market.

In our two-part series about Almblad, he told us what it was like to try and sell his invention to large institutions while Scientology’s operatives were constantly trying to sabotage him. At one point, they actually burst into a conference room in the middle of a meeting between Almblad and potential investors, claiming to be an investigative team reporting a story.

That activity was run from a warehouse Powell rented where they could watch Almblad’s business (after cutting down some trees to have an unrestricted view.)

But Cierra tells us the warehouse was used for more than simply watching Almblad. It was where the Scientology spying operation had its control room while multiple operations were being run in the area.

“It was a room inside the warehouse, and it was small and cramped. It had two big screen TVs, a computer, and a phone that was for contacting Terry Roffler. The TVs were used for monitoring all the cameras watching the ex-members’ houses,” she says.

“And it was also for watching the cars that all had tracking devices, which was illegal in Florida,” she says. But she claims that the operation had tracking devices on all of the cars of the ex-members they were watching.

 

[From Cierra’s personal notes on the operation to watch ex-members]

 
Besides watching Mike Rinder’s house, Cierra was also assigned the job of befriending an ex-church member who was a friend to Christie Collbran. Cierra spent several months getting involved in this woman’s life, helping her with personal problems she had, and generally hoping to get information about what she was talking about with other exes.

“The reason they wanted me to get close to her was that she had a lot of paperwork on the church in her apartment,” Cierra says. But despite her success gaining the woman’s confidence, she never got access to that paperwork.

Because we have not been able to make contact with that ex-member who was targeted by Cierra, we’re not going to name her at this time.

However, a person we are going to name is someone who was working with Cierra and Powell to spy on Tom DeVocht.

 

[Val Graeve]

Cierra says she helped Val Graeve get around, but always had to stop far enough away so that Val could walk to DeVocht’s apartment and not see that Cierra was driving her.

“How did she get involved? Dwayne met her, just like everybody else. He’d meet waitresses or women who worked at Walmart or at bars. And they’d end up doing as he asked,” Cierra says.

In this case, Graeve’s assignment had her working her way into the circle around Rinder and DeVocht until she was able to convince DeVocht to take her in.

Tom says that he was very careful at the time about not letting strangers into his life. Like Rinder, he knew he was under an aggressive form of surveillance. But he was hiring — he operated kiosks selling “Silly Bandz” at local malls — and Val was someone who another ex-member introduced him to.

“I hired her. I don’t know how long it was, month or two she got sick. She was a heavy pot smoker, she always reeked of pot smoke and coughed constantly. I’ve never seen anyone smoke pot like she did,” Tom says. “She gave me this sob story that she had got sick with the flu. I paid for her to go to the doctor.”

DeVocht was living with a girlfriend at the time in a large Palm Harbor apartment, and when Val asked if she could rent one of the rooms, DeVocht said yes.

“About three to four weeks into it, I wondered if she was a plant,” he says. “For one, she had the oddest schedule. And she supposedly had no money, but all of a sudden she bought a new Mercedes. My girlfriend and I couldn’t understand it, and where was she coming up with all of the money for the pot? And she had beautiful purses and jewelry.

“She had full access to my place, but I didn’t have anything to hide. And at that time, you could not leave the house without PIs on you. You couldn’t drive down the street without three or four of them following you. It was insane.”

Rinder tells us he isn’t surprised to hear that Val was working for Powell. “I told Tom and Robert [Almblad] she was a spy,” he says.

We called Val’s Tampa business and left a message, we also sent her a detailed email about why we were trying to reach her. She hasn’t responded.

Naturally, we are reminded of the time, in the summer of 1973, when the church got a spy into the apartment of Paulette Cooper. The author of the scathing 1971 book The Scandal of Scientology, Paulette had been framed by the church in an elaborate scheme in late 1972, and by May 1973 she had been indicted and was facing 15 years in federal prison for something she didn’t do. She was distraught and sick, and at that low moment she took in a boarder to help her pay the rent. He said his name was Jerry Levin, and from May to September he lived with her in her East 40th Street apartment in Manhattan, helping to take care of her dog and doing other things she was finding difficult to do for herself. Only years later did she learn that he was a Scientology operative who was sending back daily reports to the church. To Scientology, he was known as “Don Alverzo,” but his real name turned out to be Jeff Marino, and he lives in Long Island today. He claimed not to be Don Alverzo when we called him when we were researching our book about Paulette, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely.

Scientology has used the excuse that it was a “rogue outfit,” the Guardian’s Office, that ran operations on Paulette Cooper in the 1970s, and that it doesn’t do that kind of thing today.

But Cierra Westerman has now come forward to say that the church was doing the exact same thing in 2010-2011, getting a Scientology operative into the apartment of a church “enemy” in order to spy on him.

By late 2011, Cierra tells us, she’d soured on her work for the church.

“I hated every minute of it. I knew the church was a disgrace to the world. Everything I learned about them made me hate the job more and more,” she says

She stopped working for Powell and tried to make it on her own. “I was cleaning houses. I tried to go back to school, but it was hard.” In 2012, she spent some time with Dwayne in Virginia, but otherwise she rarely saw him. He was usually on assignment for the church.

And then, in 2013, he was arrested. We’ve told the story numerous times before. Dwayne and his oldest son, Daniel Powell, were assigned by David Miscavige to watch his own father, Ron Sr., who had escaped from Scientology’s “Int Base” in March 2012. After spending some time in Virginia, Ron had moved to the Wisconsin town of West Allis, and the Powells watched him day after day from a distance, reporting back to Terry Roffler in Florida, who relayed their reports, eventually to Scientology and David Miscavige. But the Powells had looked suspicious to some neighbors, and when police searched their car, they found an arsenal of rifles and handguns and ammunition. But what got them into real trouble was a homemade silencer made from PVC pipe. Dwayne was told he was facing ten years in prison for it, and so he and Daniel sang to the West Allis police. Dwayne managed to work out a deal that deferred prosecution, but news of their confessions broke in 2015. (You can hear their police interviews at our website.)

Despite running Scientology operations from Wisconsin to Miami, after his arrest Dwayne Powell retreated to Tennessee, where he owns and runs a roadside restaurant just over the Alabama state line. We called him there and told him we were speaking to Cierra.

In 2014, Cierra moved to Tennessee to be near Dwayne and so her son could see him. They then had another son who was born in 2016. But Cierra and Dwayne are separated today.

Dwayne was reluctant to talk when we called him, but he did say that he regretted getting involved with Scientology.

“I wish I’d never been affiliated with them. I took the job as a favor to Terry Roffler,” he says.

Cierra says she never felt right working for Scientology. “Seeing how unethical the work was that we had to do for them never set right with me,” she says. “They had this bad aura about them. You could see it in their eyes.”

Today, Cierra is raising her two sons on her own in Tennessee, and she has recently gone back to school, where she says she plans to study journalism. She tells us that part of her inspiration is this website, which she has been reading since finding our 2015 stories about Dwayne’s arrest in Wisconsin.

“My degree in private investigations actually comes in very handy for journalism. I’m very excited to start back at school,” she says.

And we’re very happy that she decided to drop us a line.

 
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Make your plans now!

Head over to our HowdyCon 2018 website to start making your travel plans!

 

 
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Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,010 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,613 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 156 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,219 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,993 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,767 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,113 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,607 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,647 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,359 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 885 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,974 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,114 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,434 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,409 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 765 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,067 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,173 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,576 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,448 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,030 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,535 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,779 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,888 days.

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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on January 30, 2018 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, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), 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 | 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

 

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