Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Ginger Sugerman is facing enormous challenges — and here’s how you can help

[Ginger Sugerman, left, and her longtime friend Penny Thomas]

Ginger Sugerman will be making multiple trips in the coming days to her local hospital — which is nearly two hours away by car. She lives in Sylvania, Georgia, a rural spot in the road about halfway between Augusta and Savannah.

On Friday night, she had to be airlifted to a hospital in Savannah after she was shot in the face from close range with a 9mm handgun.

“I could feel my lip was hanging off but I didn’t want to touch it,” she tells us. She had turned her head just as her husband, Arnie Lerma, fired at her from close range, and the bullet tore through her lip and took out two teeth. She then ran away, and later that night Lerma used the gun to end his life.

Ginger is extremely lucky to be alive.

But she now faces enormous challenges, including at least three surgeries to repair her face, and she’s going to lose more teeth as she begins dental work.


To help Ginger with the costs of Lerma’s cremation, the surgeries, and other costs she’s facing, former Scientologist Chris Elston has set up a GoFundMe fundraising website. The money that’s raised will go directly to Ginger’s bank account.

Ginger is still coming to grips with what she went through, which we reported in detail on Sunday. And she tells us one of the reasons she’s still holding things together is through the help of Pastor Reggie Spires of Covenant Church in Sylvania.

“Ginger came to us a couple of years ago,” Spires told us by telephone yesterday. “Our church is small. It’s a small town. So we got to know Ginger well. Interacting with her, we learned about her Scientology days and some other cults she had been through. She told me a lot about that journey. And she’s pretty oblivious to Southern Christian culture — she was a breath of fresh air in that regard,” he said with a laugh.

“Arnie came one time. He said it was a pretty good ‘show,’ which I guess is how he felt about all churches after Scientology. I told him I didn’t think of it as a show, although there are some performative aspects to it. I didn’t see him again.”

Ginger kept coming regularly, but then something changed.

“One day Ginger just disappeared. She wasn’t there anymore. I don’t chase people, and she had told me that she would go inward at times because of her experience in Scientology. Maybe for a year I didn’t hear from her. And then she started coming again. She didn’t talk to me a lot. But she said that Arnie had a lot of problems with his back,” he said.

“On Friday, she called me. She wasn’t in a panic or anything. She said they had a disagreement, and Arnie wanted a man’s perspective on it, can they come over. I was headed out, so I asked if we could do it on the phone. She tried to hand Arnie the phone, but he said no, he would rather do it in person.”

They agreed to get together the next day, on Saturday. “I had some things to do on Saturday. I texted her a few times, but I didn’t hear anything. I figured Arnie had backed out.”

He had no idea that Ginger had been shot the night before and had been airlifted to the hospital in Savannah. Eventually, Ginger got a text to Pastor Spires’ stepdaughter.

“She called me and said Ginger had been shot. Then we jumped in the car and drove to Savannah,” he said.

Spires or his stepdaughter stayed with Ginger until she got home on Sunday.

At church on Sunday, Spires told the entire congregation what happened. “I didn’t want rumors to start, so I laid it all out. We’re her family here.”

Today, they’re taking her to see her pain doctor in town. And in future days they’ll be taking her the one hour and forty minute drive to Savannah so she can make her hospital appointments.

“The toughest thing for her is the why. She says, ‘I understand why Arnie killed himself given his recent pain and paranoia, and his addiction to painkillers. But why did he do it to me?’ That’s what she wonders. It was settling in a little more this afternoon, and we encouraged her to reach out. Just call us, we told her.”

Ginger tells us she has arranged for Lerma’s cremation, and she has scheduled an April 14 memorial service at Covenant Church, which she wants to be a celebration of Arnie and all that he meant to the Scientology critic community.

She is determined to honor Lerma — the man who shot her in the face.

“Being angry about it isn’t going to fix anything. I just need to accept what occurred and fix myself,” she says.


SMERSH Madness 2018

Today we’re continuing with the second round of our big dance featuring the people we think are working hardest to defend Scientology against its enemies. These are not only Scientologists, but also the people who enable the church as it works against its foes. Which of them do you think deserves the most recognition for Keeping Scientology Working, spreading disconnection, and litigating former Scientologists into the ground?

Our number #5 seed, Washington DC tax attorney Monique Yingling, has been working for Scientology for many years. But for much of that time she was somewhat overshadowed by her husband, the late Gerald Feffer, who was Scientology’s biggest legal heavy hitter. After his death in 2013, Monique has really come into her own as David Miscavige’s legal shield, particularly her spectacular performance two years ago on an episode of ABC’s 20/20. She was a last-minute addition just as the program was about to air an episode about Ron Miscavige’s book, Ruthless, and she blinked her way through an amazing series of obfuscations and half-truths, becoming an overnight star for the church. She even brought the crew muffins that had been baked by Sea Org workers. With Miscavige not able to put any Scientologists in front of news cameras, we may be seeing more of Yingling in the future.

She’s pitted against #21 seed Bodhi Elfman, who defeated actress Elisabeth Moss in the first round. Bodhi isn’t as well known as his wife Jenna, but we felt Bodhi deserved his own berth in our bracket after we got a look at a disconnection email he sent to former close friend Paul McDaniel. In our long feature about Paul’s wife, Quailynn, we revealed the contents of that letter, which Bodhi sent when he found out that Paul had dared to “like” a Facebook post by Leah Remini. “I would rather not associate with those who support ‘whistle blowing’ or investigations outside of HCO/proper channels, or criticisms of Scientology or with someone who avoids auditing,” Bodhi wrote his former close friend. “I genuinely wish you and your family well and I, with all my heart, hope you go to Flag very soon, get on the cans and find harmony….Until then, let’s please not communicate anymore.” Harsh.


[Monique Yingling and Bodhi Elfman]

Who deserves to move on as champions of Scientology? Who has done more to perpetuate the church’s reputation in this time of crisis? Cast your votes!


Yesterday’s winner: Marty Rathbun defeated Trish Duggan!


Make your plans now!

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



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,059 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,662 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 205 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,268 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,042 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,816 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,162 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,656 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,696 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,408 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 934 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,023 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,163 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,483 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,458 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 814 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,116 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,222 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,625 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,497 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,079 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,584 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,828 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,937 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on March 20, 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

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email