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


Joy Villa’s Scientologist husband shamed into dropping elephant skin bags from luxury line

[Thorsten von Overgaard and the photo dropped from his site]

The photography website PetaPixel is reporting that Thorsten von Overgaard, a wealthy Danish photographer, got into hot water with his fellow camera enthusiasts when he offered super-luxury camera bags made not only of alligator skin but also elephant hide.

The 53-year-old Overgaard, known for his photography writing and workshops, sells luxury camera bags and bespoke suitcases through a partnership with Italian luxury designer Matteo Perin. The bags typically cost from $6,000 to $40,000 depending on the skin used, with calf being on the lower end and crocodile on the high end. But what caught the eye of some photographers was the elephant skin bag that was listed on the page.

We know Overgaard well because he’s a longtime Scientologist who, in 2016, married Joy Villa, the ever-ambitious Scientology celebrity who zoomed to fame for wearing a pro-Trump dress at the 2017 Grammy Awards red carpet and then worked her way into the White House. At one point, the president himself endorsed Joy’s intention to run for Congress, but after a falling out with her manager over tensions between her Scientology obligations and her conservative political ambitions, she has lost much of the momentum she had with Trump followers.

Overgaard, meanwhile, is less famous for his photography than for running seminars for other photographers. We didn’t know he was also selling high-end camera bags, but that certainly fits. When it was noticed that he was selling a bag made of elephant skin, he had a controversy on his hands.


According to PetaPixel, Overgaard tried to tamp down the outrage by claiming that the skin used on the bags was from elephants that had died “naturally,” and that proceeds from the sale of the material actually helped fund elephant conservation in Africa. But that only seemed to generate even more outrage.

After 5 days and over 20 forum pages of conversation in the forum thread, Overgaard was convinced by his critics’ arguments and changed his mind on the issue. In addition to no longer offering the elephant skin bags for sale, Overgaard decided to adopt an elephant.

Thankfully, you can still get a bag made from crocodile skin and designed by Overgaard. He calls it “The Von.”

The grift that keeps on grifting

Meanwhile, in Oregon, it was front page news this week that the state’s Department of Justice had ordered Les Smith, the former organizer of the Portland Marathon, to pay $865,000 as the result of an investigation which found that he’d illegally loaned himself money from the race’s nonprofit.

Tsk, tsk. Such unethical behavior. And the last sort of person that you’d expect would be asked to, oh, you know, speak at the opening of a new “Ideal Org” for the most ethical people on the planet…


Yes, that’s Les at the 2013 opening of the Portland Ideal Org, which we had a lot of fun covering at the time.

Grift those Google results, baby!

Also this week, Bryan Seely is back with more evidence that Scientology is the beneficiary of unethical Internet practices intended to boost reviews of its drug rehab centers.


The KrebsOnSecurity website has a lengthy and technical rundown on how someone (cough, cough) is recruiting people to randomly pass out glowing reviews of Scientology rehabs, boosting their results in Google searches.

Says the site…

Bryan Seely, a security expert who has written extensively about the use of fake search listings to conduct online bait-and-switch scams, said the purpose of sites like those that Seorehabs pays people to create is to funnel calls to a handful of switchboards that then sell the leads to rehab centers that have agreed to pay for them. Many rehab facilities will pay hundreds of dollars for leads that may ultimately lead to a new patient. After all, Seely said, some facilities can then turn around and bill insurance providers for thousands of dollars per patient.

Kudos to Seely and Brian Krebs for staying on this complex story.

Grift all the little girls and boys…

Millennials have been freaking out over a story at The Outline which did a good job explaining how wealthy Scientologist Doug Dohring ran Neopets as a “WISE” business, and on L. Ron Hubbard’s business principles, complete with an “org board” for structuring the company.

We understand why people who grew up online at the turn of the century and spent half their lives on Neopets are shocked to learn that it was a Scientologist-owned enterprise, but as the story makes pretty clear, it was owned by Dohring only for about five years (2000-2005), and Scientology ideas were never allowed in the game itself.

We were only surprised that The Outline’s story didn’t mention that today Dohring owns Age of Learning, the company that runs ABCMouse, and that Dohring’s personal donations to Scientology reached a whopping $20 million last October, as we reported here at the Underground Bunker. (That was a cumulative $20 million over many years, not a single donation of that amount, by the way.)


[Doug and Laurie Dohring, from Impact magazine]

So, we would encourage those young moms freaking out about their Neopets experience as kids to maybe check to see if they aren’t funneling cash to Scientology today through their toddler’s ABCMouse subscriptions.

Grifting the bestseller list…

After our most recent story trying to get authors to pay more attention to the blatant connections between Scientology’s controversies and its “Writers and Illustrators of the Future” contest, we noticed that this year more science fiction types were raising their voices on social media about it.

That’s good to see. And then there was this really eye-opening piece by Sci Fi writer Jason Sanford, who pointed out the grifty levels of sales that the contest anthology, put out by Galaxy Press, claims to be making each year.

Sanford noticed a really suspicious and huge uptick that happened in 2015…

2010 edition: 753 copies
2011 edition: 711 copies
2012 edition: 1,120 copies
2013 edition: 2,111 copies
2014 edition: 1,413 copies
2015 edition: 7,563 copies
2016 edition: 5,405 copies
2017 edition: 13,731 copies

Here’s what that looks like on a graph…


Yeah, that’s not very suspicious or anything.

Says Sanford, “Prior to Galaxy Press being created, Hubbard’s books were released by Bridge Publications, another Scientology owned company. As has been well documented, Bridge used Scientology members to purchase their own books from bookstores, enabling Hubbard’s works to land on the bestseller lists…To me these numbers don’t fit the pattern of normal book sales and suggest Galaxy Press may be engaging in the documented behavior used by their previous publisher to put Hubbard’s books on bestseller lists.”

That would be shocking. Simply shocking.

We’d ask Galaxy Press executives John Goodwin and Emily Jones about this, but they are currently participating in Scientology’s disconnection program and wish to be left alone.

The grift stops here?

Even if Scientologists and their gladhanding allies are finding ways to comport themselves like human slime molds in the above examples, the really comforting thing is that no matter how rotten things are in David Miscavige’s empire, he always finds friends in the government who will look the other way.

Our final item today should comfort our Florida readers in particular, who will be moved to learn that their attorney general, Pam Bondi, is doing what she can to fight the opioid crisis in her state. And in the “weekly briefing” she posted recently to her website, she made sure to include a link to a podcast she participated in recently about the drug abuse epidemic in Florida.

You will no doubt be thrilled to hear that the podcast Ms. Bondi appeared on, “The Addiction Podcast – Point of No Return,” is produced by Narconon Suncoast, the Scientology rehab clinic in Clearwater, Florida that we have kept an eye on over the years.

Bondi has a fairly lengthy record of playing footsie with the Church of Scientology.

We sent an email to Bondi’s office asking about her appearing on the podcast and promoting it at her website. We appreciated getting a prompt response from her director of communications, Whitney Ray: “In an effort to save lives, the Attorney General is committed to reaching as many people as possible through many different local, state, and national platforms — especially to warn teens not to take a pill from anyone because it could contain heroin laced with fentanyl.”

We certainly agree that kids need to learn about the dangers of fentanyl.

And Floridians can rest assured that Scientology grift will keep on grifting without much concern from the state’s highest levels of law enforcement. Good times!


Make your plans now!


We’re just a little more than two months out, and Chee Chalker is working hard to make sure things are going to run smoothly at this year’s HowdyCon in Chicago, June 21-23. As in past years, we’re looking forward to meeting readers of the Bunker, culminating in Saturday night’s main event.

The biggest difference this year is that our Saturday night event is separate from that evening’s dinner. Chee is setting up an inexpensive pizza dinner that you don’t need to pay for ahead of time, after which we’ll walk over to the theater where our event, hosted by Chicago Fire star Christian Stolte, will take place.

Because it’s a separate event, we’re asking that you pay $10 each to get into the Saturday night event, which will help us recoup what the Bunker paid for the venue. (We have never made a penny on our HowdyCon meetups, we only try to break even.)

Please email your proprietor (tonyo94 AT gmail) in order to reserve your spot for Saturday night’s main event. Seating is limited, and we’re going to have some really interesting people on stage and they may make a few announcements that you don’t want to miss.



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,090 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,693 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 236 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,299 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,073 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,847 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,193 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,687 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,727 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,439 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 965 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,054 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,194 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,514 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,489 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 845 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,147 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,253 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,656 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,528 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,110 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,615 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,859 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,968 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on April 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