Scientology's Crushing Defeat

A previously unpublished saga of an $8 million check

A Scientology spokeswoman says that the organization was simply tired of the case.

But the timing of the payment suggested another reason.

The very morning that Scientology paid to end the case, superior court judge Robert L. Hess was scheduled to begin a new hearing in the 22-year-old case—a hearing Wollersheim’s attorneys had been preparing for, and demanding, for years.

Scientology leader David Miscavige, in full Sea Org regalia. Miscavige's
status as "captain" of the Sea Org was central to a court case that resulted
in the largest court penalty in Scientology history.
Scientology leader David Miscavige, in full Sea Org regalia. Miscavige's status as "captain" of the Sea Org was central to a court case that resulted in the largest court penalty in Scientology history.

Wollersheim’s attorneys were about to present evidence that they believed would not only show how Scientology had juggled assets to avoid paying Wollersheim in the past, but would also convince Hess that Scientology’s complex corporate structure itself was an elaborate sham. Contrary to what it had assured the IRS when it regained its tax exempt status in 1993, the “church” and its affiliated organizations, Wollersheim’s attorneys assert, was really a dictatorship with power centered in one man, Hubbard’s successor David Miscavige, who had directed all of the litigation against Wollersheim and had ordered documents key to the case altered or destroyed.

Scientology’s attorneys had managed to keep Miscavige out of the proceedings, but the organization’s nominal president, Heber Jentzsch, was facing cross examination by Wollersheim’s attorneys if the hearing came off as planned.

In the final days before the scheduled event, Scientology attorneys continued to argue for delays and outright dismissals, but Hess denied them and would not budge on the May 9 date. After inheriting the case three years earlier, Hess, in transcripts, appeared determined to turn over his courtroom to a live hearing.

Scientology’s $8.7 million check arrived just an hour before the proceeding was scheduled to begin.

In the months since, the court has gradually released the money to Wollersheim for him to dole out to numerous attorneys to pay for years of service. Those fees will eat up much of the money, but Wollersheim expects to end up with between $1 to $2 million of it. [That hasn’t turned out to be the case—see the update at the end of the piece.]

He is fond of noting that that’s a lot of dimes.

His attorneys are relieved that their client has finally received the money he had won 16 years earlier, but they admit to disappointment that the evidence they collected for so many years was never presented to the public in a live court drama.

They were happy, however, to share it with New Times. [And now, the Voice.]

A central contention in Wollersheim’s case was that even sixteen years after Hubbard’s death, his writings provided an unalterable blueprint to how the organization of Scientology really operated.

And to understand what happened to Wollersheim and others who have defected and now regret the time and large sums they spent learning about Xenu and other dubious concepts, they say, you have to have a working knowledge of Hubbard’s jargon and policies.

Wollersheim got his first taste of it while walking on a street in San Francisco in 1969. He had grown up in Milwaukee and was attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison when he took a summer trip to California. A young woman approached him and made him a pitch, telling him that she had something he’d like to see.

“You’re 18. You think you’re going to get lucky,” Wollersheim says in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location.

Today he’s 51, and he spends much of his time in Nevada and Utah. But the telephone number he provided New Times suggested that he was in Colorado this day. He claims that even after collecting his award, and more than 23 years after leaving the Church of Scientology, he still must be careful about his personal security by staying on the move. [Six years later, he’s still cagey. I spoke to him on the phone the other day—he was in Nevada.]

That day in 1969, Wollersheim followed the young woman to an office and she handed him over to other Scientologists, who asked him to take a “personality test.” It seemed innocent enough, but later he ended up convincing many others to do the same thing. “No matter how you answer the test,” he says, “they tell you you’re screwed up and that they can fix you.”

He was soon hooked. “I decided to quit school, make a bunch of money, and pay them to get all these secret levels of ability.” New recruits are told that advancement in the religion can bring them all sorts of benefits—high level members are said to experience raised IQs, clairvoyance, an immunity to disease, and are able to leave their bodies.

Scientologists believe they can attain these abilities through a process called “auditing,” which enables them to remove “engrams” from their “reactive mind,” something akin to talking away the scars left over from life’s traumas. When all of those scars are removed, a Scientologist is said to be a “clear,” and can attain amazing powers. Like other low-level Scientologists, Wollersheim was kept in the dark about much of Scientology’s true core beliefs. Only through attaining far more experience and going through increasingly expensive auditing could he hope to “go clear.”

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