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Scientology critics parade to hearings

Title: Scientology critics parade to hearings
Date: Saturday, 8 May 1982
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: John Harwood
Main source:
Alternate and/or complementary:, link (178 KiB)

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CLEARWATER — Six more witnesses denounced the Church of Scientology and its practices Friday during public hearings on the organization.

For the third straight day, the critical testimony was a mixture of information concerning Scientology's Clearwater operations and church activities elsewhere.

City commissioners, who are having the hearings, heard from:

* Casey Kelly, 23, who joined Scientology to crusade against "war," "crime" and "insanity" but later became disenchanted with long hours and low pay as a church employee here.

* Rosie Pace, 30, who said she felt psychologically bound to remain at the church's Clearwater headquarters even though it made her miserable.

* David Ray, 18, while also disliking the low salary, complained that other Scientologists "loved to pick on me," and characterized the church-owned Fort Harrison Hotel as so hazardous and unsanitary that it should be condemned.

* Ernest and Dell Hartwell, a middle-age Las Vegas couple, who testified that they were deceived and mistreated by the church in Las Vegas and Southern California three years ago.

* George Meister, who said he still had unanswered questions about the death of his daughter Susan 11 years ago aboard a Scientology ship while in port in Morocco. The church said she committed suicide.

The hearings, which are scheduled to continue through May 15, resume this morning at 9 a.m. They are being held at a cost of $110,000 to look into allegations that Boston lawyer Michael J. Flynn leveled against the church last September.

FLYNN IS being paid $80,000 as the city's "consultant" for the hearings. He is presenting witnesses in an attempt to back up the charges he has made against the church.

Scientology spokesman Hugh Wilhere on Friday continued his policy of declining comment on the proceedings. He referred all questions to the church's lawyer, Paul B. Johnson of Tampa.

Johnson could not be reached for comment. Previously he has ridiculed the hearings as a "farce" and a "witch hunt," and said he would relish the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses presented by Flynn.

Commissioners have been questioning Flynn's witnesses, but their inquiries have been primarily sympathetic, not skeptical, in tone.

Indeed, commissioners in their questions have sometimes employed language more condemnatory of Scientology than that used by the witnesses themselves.

FOR EXAMPLE, Commissioner James Berfield asked Kelly Friday morning about a corps of Scientology youths aged 10 to 13, the "Commodore's Messenger Organization." Kelly had said the youths scrutinize various church departments.

"Is this like the Gestapo?" Berfield asked.

"They're not very pleasant people to deal with," Kelly replied, but he did not compare the youths to the "Gestapo."

At another point, Mayor Charles LeCher questioned the church's policy of giving 5 percent discounts to parishioners who sent their "donations" in advance for Scientology counseling.

"It doesn't seem logical," LeCher said. He elaborated when Kelly seemed not to understand his objection.

Finally, Kelly understood. "Good point," he told the mayor.

KELLY WAS the leadoff witness Friday, resuming where he had left off Thursday afternoon. A church employee for three years until he quit in October 1980, Kelly handled invoices for payments received at Scientology's Clearwater operation — "Flag Land Base" in church jargon.

"Flag" took in an average of $400,000 a week, and sometimes as much as $2.3-million, Kelly testified. The money was scattered in numerous Tampa Bay area banks. But Kelly said he didn't know how it was spent because he did not have access to the church's expense invoices.

Next to testify was Ms. Pace, a New York City resident whose sister, Lori Taverna, testified Thursday that the Fort Harrison was like "an insane asylum."

Ms. Pace had a similar view of her experience at "Flag" from May to December 1979. She described being asked to share a roach-infested hotel room with nine other women, being forced to work when she felt ill, and being disciplined for questioning conditions.

"I HATED IT," Ms. Pace said. "I wanted to die when I was there."

A Scientologist for 17 years until quitting two months ago, she described Scientology as "a harmful cult." Asked why she had not quit earlier, she replied:

"I thought I couldn't get out, mentally . . . I believe it would have come to be physical if I tried to leave . . . But most of it was mental."

Ray, now a hotel employee in Los Angeles, also said he felt psychologically bound to Scientology. Even though he was performing physical labor in what he considered to be unsanitary conditions,"I was scared to death to be kicked out" of the church, Ray testified.

Ray complained of aspects of his life as a church employee. He talked of being assigned to clean more than 70 hotel rooms in a single day, of carrying refrigerators upstairs with the help of just one other person, and of stomping on restaurant garbage to make room in a dumpster.

"I don't know what kind of diseases we were exposed to, but we were getting some really weird ones," Ray asserted.

HE ALSO said that the salad served to church employees was wilted, the cheese had mold on it and that he once found a palmetto bug in his French fries.

Ray also called the Fort Harrison a fire hazard. "If I was an inspector and walked in, I would have condemned it," the teenager said.

The Hartwells said they became involved in Scientology three years ago at the suggestion of their daughter, a church member.

After taking beginning courses, the Hartwells agreed to work for the church. They were told they would be sent to Clearwater, but instead were sent to a desert ranch near Palm Springs, Calif., to help make movies for L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder, they said.

Living conditions were "lousy," he said. "It was just a total pack of lies the entire time," Hartwell said of his experiences as a church employee.

After both Hartwells quit Scientology later in 1979, they were harassed by the church, Hartwell said. Church officials called him a murderer and an extortionist, and disclosed personal information he had supplied in confidence to newspapers, Hartwell said.

Meister, a Colorado resident, said he was not satisfied with the church's story that his daughter committed suicide by gunshot in June 1971, aboard the Scientology ship Apollo in Morocco.

While he did not accuse church members of killing his daughter, Meister told commissioners: "You draw your own conclusions. I know what I think."

[Picture / Caption: ROSIE PACE]
[Picture / Caption: DAVID RAY]
[Picture / Caption: ERNEST HARTWELL]