May 3, 2017

Documents detail FBI investigation of Scientology that never resulted in charges

An aerial look at the Church of Scientology's international headquarters near Hemet, Calif. In 2009 and 2010, FBI agents conducting a human trafficking investigation focused on the treatment of church workers at the facility, according to witnesses who talked to the agents and newly released FBI documents
Thomas C. Tobin
Tampa Bay Times
May 3, 2017

The FBI conducted a criminal investigation of the Church of Scientology in 2009 and 2010 that focused on allegations of human trafficking, according to documents released Wednesday.

The inquiry never resulted in charges against the church, but the documents — posted by the entertainment and gossip website Radaronline.com — say agents focused on the Sea Org, the low-paid, uniformed members who comprise Scientology's workforce.

According to one document, former Sea Org members told agents that the church "tricks" people into the organization with promises of a good living conditions, but later houses and holds them "at secure locations where they work 15 hour days in various positions for Scientology based companies … given no days off and are permitted only limited and monitored contact with anyone outside of the camps where they live and work."

The documents buttress a 2013 report by the Tampa Bay Times detailing a sustained and methodical FBI investigation of the church, with agents traveling to several states, questioning dozens of former Scientologists, obtaining surveillance video of the church's remote headquarters in the mountains east of Los Angeles, and even contemplating a raid of that facility.

The Times based its report on interviews with 15 people who talked to FBI agents. But the church dismissed the account, said it had no knowledge of such an investigation and questioned whether it ever occurred.

The documents released Wednesday are the first official affirmation that the investigation took place.

The church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Radaronline said it acquired 300 pages of documents from the FBI through a Freedom of Information request. The website posted only three of those pages Wednesday, but its managing editor, Melissa Cronin, alluded to other documents in her story.

The story said that in January 2010 FBI agents expected "the likely indictment of multiple subjects." Four months later, the story said, an assistant U.S. attorney filed a report indicating that a grand jury investigation was discussed.

In an interview Wednesday, Cronin provided a general description of the remaining pages, which Radaronline expects to publish in parts over the next three weeks. The documents revealed a wide-ranging investigation that began in October 2009, she said, after a series of Times reports detailing physical and mental abuse of staffers at the highest levels of Scientology who labored under extreme conditions and a controlling, high-security environment.

Cronin, citing the documents, said the agents traveled to multiple locales, including Hawaii, Portland, Ore., Texas and Clearwater, the church's spiritual headquarters. Multiple officials were involved in the investigation, she said, including agents in the FBI's Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. offices and officials from the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney's Office.

She said the documents made clear that the agents immersed themselves in Scientology's culture, learning its practices and its unique lingo. "It was a serious and well-researched investigation," she said. "They became experts on the case, they took it seriously."

The documents, she added, included discussion of a possible raid of the church's facility east of Los Angeles and how former Sea Org members had told the agents it appeared the church knew it might be coming. She said the documents contain discussion about church members being trained in destroying documents, creating "cover stories" and "playing dumb" to thwart any government agents who came calling.

This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.

Contact Thomas C. Tobin at tobin@tampabay.com. Follow @ThomasCTobin.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/scientology/documents-detail-fbi-investigation-of-scientology-that-never-resulted-in/2322624
Post a Comment