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Mark Bunker on Scientology’s sneaky plan for Clearwater: It’s dead in the water now

After the new blockbuster from Tracey McManus about Scientology’s sneaky plans in Clearwater dropped Sunday morning at the Tampa Bay Times, we’ve been itching to find out what Clearwater City Councilman Mark Bunker made of it.

Last night, we caught up with him to talk over what came out in Tracey’s story.

A quick recap: The Tampa Bay Times had obtained an email showing that Scientologists had brought in an outside developer as a “white knight” to mask their involvement in a $350 million plan for the North Marina district. The outsider, Rodney Riley, would make the project “legit” by masking the actual real players involved, including OT 8 Scientologist Stephen Epstein of Nashville, and wealthy top Scientology donor Trish Duggan.

Thanks to Tracey’s previous investigations, we knew that Scientologists had gone on a buying spree after 2017, more than doubling the footprint of Scientology- or Scientologist-owned parcels and buildings in the city. But now, here was a smoking gun, an email that not only revealed that Riley was being brought in to front the North Marina project, but also that it would be done with the guidance of Church of Scientology flack Ben Shaw (and ultimately, with the direction of Scientology leader David Miscavige.)


All of them — Riley, Epstein, and Shaw — deny what the email suggests, and deny that the Church of Scientology itself has anything to do with what Riley is trying to do in the North Marina district.

So we asked Bunker, now that he’d had more than a day to absorb the story, what did he think?

“In my mind, the key aspect of the story is deception. And if the city and Scientology want to have a partnership, this is no way to go about it,” he said.

Bunker told us he first heard from Rodney Riley several months ago, when the developer invited him to meet at a restaurant to go over his plans for the North Marina area, which included parcels that had been purchased by Scientologists.

“He said he’d been getting some pushback from the city over details. They wanted changes from him about parking and density. And I started off by saying, if there are Scientologists who want to do a project I have no problem with it.” Bunker said he cited developer Moises Agami, for example, a wealthy Scientologist from Mexico City who had rehabbed a vacant former bank building into a new condo tower downtown. “That’s great. That’s fine. So if there are more Scientologists who want to do something with the buildings they purchased, I’m OK with it.”

Bunker says Riley’s reaction immediately struck him as disingenuous.

“He said, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that. There are no Scientologists involved in this.’ So of course I knew he was blowing smoke at that point. And I asked him, ‘Listen, I went online and I couldn’t find any major projects you’ve been behind.’ I expected some developments he could brag about. He said he didn’t like to toot his own horn. I thought, sure, you’re coming in to take over this massive development, and you can’t say, here’s a big success I’ve had in the past? Something didn’t add up,” Bunker said.

And again, Bunker reiterated that he’d have no problem with Scientologists developing the properties they’re holding onto. It was better than simply using empty buildings as leverage against the city’s plans to revive the downtown.

“So I’ve talked to Tracey a few times over the months about this. And I had a general idea of what she was looking into, but then she sent in two emails to Ben Shaw, which laid out the extent of the deception. So I had a couple of weeks to adjust to this before the article was published. And I’m anxious to see what comes of this,” he said.

As for Riley’s project and the variances he wants from the city, Bunker is skeptical about its success after the article appeared.

“I think it’s dead in the water. Which is unfortunate in some respects. But I think the people of Clearwater wouldn’t stand for it now, that Scientology is tricking us into approving their projects,” he concluded.

“If they had just come to us and said, all those buildings we purchased, here’s our plans. OK, fine, we want you to meet code. We don’t want to disrupt the feeling of the neighborhood we want to create. But instead, deception,” he said.

We asked Bunker about something Mike Rinder posted at his blog yesterday: Rinder suggested that Scientology leader David Miscavige’s overall plan was to use Riley to develop the North Marina project but then sell it to Scientology to use as a new extension of the Flag Land Base, and farther away from the bustling commotion of a revived downtown.

“I could definitely see Miscavige trying to get away from the noise, and if they want to move to another area, that’s fine with me. They can move to Largo. It’s nice and quiet there,” Bunker quipped.


We also pointed out that according to Tracey’s article, Riley is living in a condo unit owned by Epstein’s company in a tower built by Snow White Program unindicted co-conspirator and former Guardian’s Office spy Brian Andrus. Does that tend to undercut Riley’s assertion that he’s not in Clearwater to do the church’s bidding?

“Well, it was just the most convenient place to live, according to what he said,” Bunker said sarcastically. “Here we have this guy with no connection to Scientology, and he has a connection to an unindicted co-conspirator in crimes against the US government? That’s just a fine, wonderful partner.”

Another thing that concerned us was that Tracey reported that Riley’s land use attorney, Brian Aungst Jr, had assured the city manager that Riley was just an independent businessman with no connection to the church. That not only isn’t true, but Brian’s father, former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst Sr, was selected unanimously by the city council recently to be acting mayor for the next eleven months after Mayor Frank Hibbard suddenly and unexpectedly resigned in the middle of a council meeting, and with nearly a year left on his term.

Does it concern him, we asked Bunker, that the son of the new interim mayor, who is scheduled to be sworn in today, was running interference for a developer acting as Scientology’s shill in Clearwater?

“I find it hard to believe that Brian Aungst Jr does not understand what’s going on here. It sounds like to me like an attorney who doesn’t want to dig any deeper, just taking his client’s word for it,” he said.

Bunker also wanted us to know that although the vote for Brian Aungst Sr was unanimous, he had concerns about bringing back the former mayor, even temporarily, because of his son’s involvement with a Scientology project.

“I had put forward Kathleen Beckman. Everyone else wanted Brian Aungst Sr. There was this massive lobbying campaign for him, and from some people I really respected. They said this is the guy who can come in and steady the ship for a year,” Bunker said. But Bunker said he asked the new mayor to recuse himself regarding any project that involved his son.

“Any project your son is representing, the mayor would have to guarantee that he would put no pressure on the city manager or staff, or do anything to push those projects along. You have to step back completely. And he put that in writing, apparently,” he said.

Bunker said he was looking forward to meeting Aungst Sr as the interim mayor was sworn in later today.

And Bunker is also looking forward to it for another reason: He’s scheduled to be sworn in as Clearwater’s vice mayor.


Technology Cocktail

“Only a clear could think and act fast enough to live in a disaster and to make others live. Only a clear could Survive in Space. Only a clear could enjoy the fast pace of the game to come.” — L. Ron Hubbard, 1957




We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links as Danny faces a potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison. NOW WITH TRIAL INDEX.


THE PODCAST: How many have you heard?

[1] Marc Headley [2] Claire Headley [3] Jeffrey Augustine [4] Bruce Hines [5] Sunny Pereira [6] Pete Griffiths [7] Geoff Levin [8] Patty Moher [9] Marc Headley [10] Jefferson Hawkins [11] Michelle ‘Emma’ Ryan [12] Paulette Cooper [13] Jesse Prince [14] Mark Bunker [15] Jon Atack [16] Mirriam Francis [17] Bruce Hines on MSH

— SPECIAL: The best TV show on Scientology you never got to see

[1] Phil Jones [2] Derek Bloch [3] Carol Nyburg [4] Katrina Reyes [5] Jamie DeWolf

— The first Danny Masterson trial and beyond

[18] Trial special with Chris Shelton [19] Trial week one [20] Marc Headley on the spy in the hallway [21] Trial week two [22] Trial week three [23] Trial week four [24] Leah Remini on LAPD Corruption [25] Mike Rinder 2022 Thanksgiving Special [26] Jane Doe 4 (Tricia Vessey), Part One [27] Jane Doe 4 (Tricia Vessey), Part Two [28] Claire Headley on the trial [29] Tory Christman [30] Bruce Hines on spying [31] Karen de la Carriere [32] Ron Miscavige on Shelly Miscavige [33] Karen de la Carriere on the L’s [34] Mark Bunker on Miscavige hiding [35] Mark Plummer [36] Mark Ebner [37] Karen Pressley [38] Steve Cannane [39] Fredrick Brennan [40] Clarissa Adams [41] Louise Shekter [42] John Sweeney



Source Code

“A fellow made a postulate. He said, ‘I’m going to square this all up. To be a pirate. That’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to be a pirate.’ And a few trillennia later, he sees a pig going down the road with a ring in its snout. And he faints and has a heart attack. Everybody says, ‘Look at what the hot weather has done to him.’ No! The hot weather might have assisted all this, but who did it to him? He did it to himself Way back down the track he said, to be a pirate. And, of course, pirates wear rings in their noses. There it is. Who did it? He did it. Well now, you can’t go around condemning this person for having done it to himself…you don’t have to blame him if you can eradicate it. Well, all of these causations for his ‘misfortunes’ are initially and basically resident in the GPM. Now, those of yesteryear have actually far more force on him, than those of today. These items here in present time — oh, those items are terribly important. Maybe he’s sitting in something that says, ‘Women who look like beatniks.’ You know? Maybe that’s the oppterm, see…And his wife’s a very neatly dressed girl and everything else and he’s always calling her a beatnik and she never can figure it out and he never can figure it out. And here are these items here, a chronic present time problem…He knows, you see, that the source of his ulcerous condition, you see, is because he eats too much harsh food. No, no. That’s the somatic ‘all women are beatniks.’ And what does he have to be? He has to be a Turk in order to combat this in some aberrated way. Well, there’s his ulcers and there’s his opposition. And he begins to think the whole environment is against him when in actual fact it’s just ‘women are beatniks.’ He sees some uncombed hair, he gets ulcers. Bang, bang, just like that — one, two!” — L. Ron Hubbard, April 4, 1963


Avast, Ye Mateys

“ENEMY FINANCES: I found Scientologists do not know (and the world sure doesn’t) the size and state of the enemy. For years, our orgs have made more in a week than Swersh does in a year. Two years ago Swersh was 25,000 in debt with little income in sight. Last year it was far worse. Brock Chisholen their world leader, just died, very few key figures are left. Their mouthpiece ‘The Daily Mail’ has just folded and Peter Younghusband who caused the Rhodesian upset has been sacked. We have traced their origins to 2 years before Hitler and have traced the Nazi death camps and Nazi Philosophy to this group. There were not 200,000 members at their peak. So over the world we outnumber even their rank and file 25 to one at a very low estimate. We could buy all they own out of a week’s income and never miss it. Although a few skirmishes or even battles are still ahead of us, there is now no slightest question as to who is winning this war. The Nazi Psychiatrist and Nazi psychologist will most surely go the way of the dinosaur. No, there is no question now as to who will win this war. We will.” — The Commodore, April 4, 1971


Overheard in the FreeZone

“There are currently three versions for the aplication of Scientology. 1. Anti ex-Scientologists (in our friends lists) applying reverse Scientology tech on USA (California and Democratic states). This is evolving fast into widespread implanting the likes of Gray ET underground/US military bases in the Western USA. 2. Church of Scientology applying a Marcabian version of Scientology (includes the Tax Compliance Offices in OSA). 3. And the standard application of Scientology in the Freezone.”


Past is Prologue

1996: Karin Spaink, recent victor in court in The Netherlands when the legality of her Fishman Affidavit web page was upheld, also posted a letter to Judge White. She is protesting the inclusion of her email in the Grady Ward deposition list. “I am a Dutch citizen, a writer, and I am currently being sued by Scientology (in their personae of RTC, CST and New Era Publications) for alleged copyright infringements. I fail to understand why my name is on the list plaintiffs have presented Mr. Ward with. Mr. Ward and I do not know each other, and to the best of my knowledge the first e-mail I ever addressed to him was sent on March 24, 1996, upon hearing that your court had issued a TRO against him at Scientology’s request. I mailed him some advice and later offered him the use of my personal archive of alt.religion.scientology postings, should he need it. Under Dutch Law, Grady Ward would not even be allowed to produce any e-mail communications we might have had. The Privacy law in this country only allows him to do so when a court order has been issued. It is my understanding that US law has an Electronic Communications Privacy Act (section 2700-2707 of Title 18 USC), which also states that lawful access to stored electronic communications requires a warrant or a court order. I cannot understand why Scientology would expect to find any communication between Mr. Ward and me – if it had existed – to be of any relevance to the pertaining case. I can only assume that Scientology either considers all critics to be linked in some kind of global conspiracy, and thus expects us to be scheming deviously, or – worse – that Scientology is hoping to use the mere fact that my name will be mentioned in your court as a means to thwart legal proceedings here and put me at a disadvantage in their upcoming appeal – for instance, by suggesting that _I_ am a part of Scamizdat or was at some time suspected to be connected with it, or with any other copyright infringing person or group. I must therefore protest to being in any way included in this ‘Notice of Deposition’.”



Random Howdy

“Some of my greatest wins have come from applying the ‘you seem kind of tense’ back rub tech. Last thing we want is for the WOGs — a/k/a Women On Guard — to become aware of this wondrous technology.”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Mistrial declared November 30. Retrial scheduled, jury selection begins March 29. Next pretrial hearing: Feb 16.
‘Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’ (a/k/a Justin Craig), aggravated assault, plus drug charges: Grand jury indictments include charges from an assault while in custody. Next pretrial hearing Feb 13.
Rizza Islam, Medi-Cal fraud: Trial scheduled for March 1 in Los Angeles
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud: Next status conference Feb 13.

Civil litigation:
Baxter, Baxter, and Paris v. Scientology, alleging labor trafficking: Complaint filed April 28 in Tampa federal court, Scientology moving to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs filed amended complaint on August 2. Hearing November 17 to argue the arbitration motions, awaiting ruling.
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ Selection of arbitrators underway. Next court hearing: March 15, 2023.
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: Appellate court removes requirement of arbitration on January 19, case remanded back to Superior Court. Stay in place at least through February 7.
Author Steve Cannane defamation trial: New trial ordered after appeals court overturned prior ruling.
Chiropractors Steve Peyroux and Brent Detelich, stem cell fraud: Lawsuit filed by the FTC and state of Georgia in August, now in discovery phase.



After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society. Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in a weekly series. How many have you read?


[ONE year ago] Scientology private eye found guilty of contempt after judge sees alleged rape on video
[TWO years ago] Scientology social media: Does an E-meter count as a concealed weapon?
[THREE years ago] Scientology, stop being so stupid during the pandemic. We have some advice for you.
[FOUR years ago] Scientology’s bogus ‘arbitration’: The Garcia appeal brief is here, and it’s a beauty
[FIVE years ago] Scientology cranks up its ‘noisy’ investigation of Leah Remini, and she fires back
[SIX years ago] David Miscavige: Scientology TV launches by June 21, to show ‘planet’s coolest religion’
[SEVEN years ago] VIDEO: David Miscavige’s entire speech at Scientology’s Atlanta ‘Ideal Org’ opening
[EIGHT years ago] ‘Going Clear’ subject Tom DeVocht visited by Burbank PD after suspicious anonymous tip
[NINE years ago] Video Vault: Hear L. Ron Hubbard unite Dianetics and Scientology in connubial bliss!
[TEN years ago] The Secret to Scientology’s “Wins” Revealed?
[ELEVEN years ago] Mike Rinder on “The Hole,” Indoctrination, Confessions, and His Ultimate Escape


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 2,989 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 3,494 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 3,044 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 2,034 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 1,925 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 5,229 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 3,100 days.
Doug Kramer has not seen his parents Linda and Norm in 2,205 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,682 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 3,994 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,560 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 8,479 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 4,647 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 4,228 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 4,489 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 3,525 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 3,241 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 2,805 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 1,120 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 2,295 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 6,846 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 3,977 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 4,315 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 9,170 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 4,289 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 2,645 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 6,948 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 3,054 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 3,452 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 3,328 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 2,911 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 3,406 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,660 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 14,769 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on April 4, 2023 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post 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 new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, 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, 1995-2022 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2022), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | 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 | Shelly Miscavige, 15 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

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

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 | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Tony Ortega at The Daily Beast


Tony Ortega at Rolling Stone


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