Scientology Goes Upstat for the Final News Roundup of the Year (And Why We’re Grateful)


On Thursdays, we like to put together a rundown of stories related to Scientology watching from around the world. We do this on Thursdays, because it’s that day when Scientologists rush to turn in their weekly stats.

Most of the time, those stories are embarrassing for the church and cast Scientology in a harsh light. We say that those items are “downstat” in the church’s own parlance.

But this week, our last news roundup of the year, Scientology scored some significant “upstat” stories to finish out 2011 on a high note.

We’re relieved. So much bad news was reported here at Runnin’ Scared this year, and we didn’t mean to give the impression that Scientology is on the ropes. Far from it. The church is still a sizable organization with plenty of resources (read = money), and particularly in legal affairs it is tenacious as a bulldog.

And that’s good news for us. Because this Scientology watching racket is just too much fun to end any time soon. After the jump, we’ll look at the church’s recent victories…

Story #1: A wrongful death suit dismissed

We’ve known about the Kyle Brennan wrongful death lawsuit for quite a while, but we didn’t write about before this. Why? Well, there were things about it that gave us pause — including the bizarre legal pretzel family attorney Ken Dandar was twisted into.

Dandar, of course, is known for representing Lisa McPherson‘s family in what turned out to be one of the most challenging legal onslaughts in Scientology’s history.

But this time, Dandar found himself in a complex legal Catch-22 that ultimately forced him from the case. Then, just weeks later, the lawsuit itself was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday. The Tampa federal judge’s decision became public last week, and at 24 pages was a pretty unequivocal smackdown of the suit brought by Brennan’s mother, Victoria Britton.

Brennan killed himself in 2007 with a handgun he found at his father’s apartment in Clearwater, Florida. Britton’s lawsuit alleged that Brennan’s suicide occurred because the young man had been denied Lexapro, a medicine that controlled his depression. Scientology virulently opposes psychiatry and psychiatric drugs. When Brennan arrived to stay with his father Thomas Brennan, a Scientologist, his father hid the drugs from his son on advice from his superiors at the church, the lawsuit alleged. One of those superiors was Denise Gentile, twin sister of church leader David Miscavige.

Britton’s case put a lot of emphasis on a direction from Gentile: “Get your son moved out and get him set up somewhere so that he can be handled.”

The lawsuit wanted a lot to be read into that last word — that it implied a nefarious intent by Scientology’s executives about the young man.

But Judge Merryday didn’t buy that interpretation. Kyle himself had wanted off the medication, his father alleged, and then he killed himself only a day after going off the Lexapro, an interval that seemed too short to blame on the drug withdrawal.

In other words, from Merryday’s view, the case was a bit of a mess, and trying to blame Kyle’s death on church officials was too much of a stretch. “No evidence suggests that Scientology or the Gentiles knew of the handgun in even the remotest manner or had reason to suspect the presence of the handgun in the father’s apartment. Both Scientology and the Gentiles are in this record utterly unconnected to the handgun and the ammunition.”

I asked Scott Pilutik, a local attorney who helps us understand complex legal matters involving Scientology, for his thoughts on Merryday’s ruling. He said that it troubled him that Merryday didn’t at all mention a declaration by former Sea Org member Lance Marcor, who suggested that by simply following church policy, Scientology’s officials should be considered complicit in the suicide.

Thursday’s Stats: Upstat or Downstat? Even with Marcor’s declaration providing an interesting look inside Scientology, it’s hard not to see Merryday’s point in this ruling. Yes, a troubled young man took his own life after putting himself in the hands of Scientologists, who adamantly oppose psychiatry and the drug he was taking. But does it follow that they are liable for that suicide? We see the judge’s point, and the church definitely gets an upstat from this decision.

Story #2: Another win for Scientology, this time in Israel

We wrote last month about Naif Salati, the Arab Muslim contractor who is suing Scientology over its big “Ideal Org” project in Jaffa, Israel. Salati was hired by Gur Finkelstein, an attorney who represented himself as the sole owner of the run down Alhambra cinema in Jaffa, but who turned out to be a front for Scientology as it had the building restored to its 1930s glory. Finkelstein asked Salati to engage in a kickback scheme, and then ended up facing arson and murder charges in a wild series of events.

Salati, meanwhile, finally learned that it was Scientology who had hired him to renovate the building, but asked for a temporary foreclosure order on the property while he is still owed money, and sued Scientology.

We learned this week, however, that a pre-trial judge has vacated Salati’s foreclosure order and awarded Scientology a foreclosure order on the assets of Salati Engineering in the amount of 6.5 million shekels. (This is not an order to pay; it’s a claim on monies that may become at issue later in a trial.)

This reversal, the judge said, was warranted because Salati had engaged with Finkelstein in the kickback scheme, defrauding Scientology. The judge also ordered Scientology’s entity in this case, Scientology International Reserve Trust, to post additional guarantees in the amount of 300,000 shekels.

Salati’s attorney, Eitan Erez, is appealing the ruling, saying that the pre-trial judge made many mistakes. For example, Scientology claims that Salati didn’t finish the job, leaving the building a mess. But Eitan has submitted a video we showed here at Runnin’ Scared that came from Scientology’s October meeting of the International Association of Scientologists. In that video, church leader David Miscavige can be seen boasting about what an amazing renovation job was done on the building, and that it is ready for business.

Thursday’s Stats: Upstat or Downstat? Once again, Scientology’s stalwart legal corps scores another victory and another upstat for the church. As we said in our previous story about him, Erez is a man who won’t back down easily, and we expect him to pursue his appeal vigorously. We’ll keep you updated.

Well, two wins for the church this week. One is already under the appeal, and we hear that the Brennan case will also be appealed. For now, however, the church can celebrate the work of its attorneys.

Tomorrow, we’ll get back to our year-end celebrations with a look at the stories here at Runnin’ Scared that got the most readership (yes, it’s a very different list than the readers poll we just completed). Our regular Friday feature, “This Week Aboard the Apollo” will return next week.

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.

@VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega


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