David and Denise Miscavige
The Miscavige Effect; Scientology’s Dark Side
“An article in tomorrow’s paper may interest you,” said the voice on the phone. “It’s not directly about your son, Kyle, but I’m confident you’ll find the subject intriguing.” The speaker was Joe Childs, a Clearwater-based journalist who’d written multiple stories about the Church of Scientology.
“Let me know what you think after you read it,” Joe continued. “You wouldn’t believe how deep the sheriff’s department buried this story. I almost couldn’t find it, but the person who gave me a tip was reliable, so I knew it had to be there.”
Childs had my full attention. Why else would he call? Although he was vague, I was confident the story wouldn’t disappoint.
Gripping the phone, I hesitated before responding.
“I’ll be patiently waiting … for tomorrow’s paper,” I replied.
As I hung up, I wondered what new revelations would come to light thanks to Joe’s determined investigative journalism. After all, this was the reporter who’d penned the compelling and controversial “Truth Rundown” series that appeared in June 2009. That set of articles featured unflattering claims from former Scientology executives that the Church’s ecclesiastical leader, David Miscavige, routinely physically attacked Scientology coworkers during group meetings. To show their loyalty “and prove their mettle,” as Joe put it, they, in turn, attacked their colleagues.
As foretold, Joe’s story splashed across the front page of the June 29, 2013, Tampa Bay Times: “Scientology leader David Miscavige’s twin sister faces marijuana charges.” The piece focused on Miscavige’s twin, Denise, and her husband, Gerry Gentile. It described a duplex rental (and an attached cottage) owned by Gerry, where the tenants used and sold drugs. Childs wrote that Denise knew about the situation but did nothing to stop it. The illicit activities at the Gentile rental got so bad that the cops raided it twice in 14 months, “busting up a marijuana den and . . . a cocaine sales operation.” According to former tenants, Denise, who would drop by demanding the rent money, often “left with more than cash.” Additionally, one enterprising resident turned the Gentile cottage into an impromptu after-midnight strip club where the patrons bought liquor and paid the dancers by tossing money onto the floor.
The story’s opening was powerful: Denise’s arrest after police saw her driving away from the Gentile “drug house” and almost hitting an ambulance. When pulled over, “she slurred her words, belched, smelled of alcohol, and had bloodshot, watery eyes.” She failed her breath test, and the police found a bag of marijuana cigars, called “blunts,” under her seat. Charged with marijuana possession, DUI, and failure to yield, Denise was taken to jail.
Although being busted for pot possession isn’t a big deal nowadays, it must have been awkward for a well-known, high-level Scientologist like Denise Miscavige Gentile. Undoubtedly, it was also an embarrassment for the Church, as Scientologists have no tolerance for substances like the swisher blunts Denise had stashed under her seat.
Drug hovels, a seedy strip club, hidden blunts, stinking of alcohol, and letting out a 100-proof belch while being questioned by the cops is a thoroughly unflattering portrait of one of Scientology’s first families. Childs’s article claimed Denise was an “Operating Thetan VI,” a mere two levels from the top of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s “Bridge to Total Freedom” (a metaphor for the steps adherents take as they advance in the ideology). If Denise is an example of what you find in Scientology’s top tiers, one can only imagine the unsavory characters lingering at the bottom.
It’s apparent that Hubbard’s bridge is structurally unsound.
Denise pled not guilty and claimed she didn’t know of the drug activity at her husband’s drug den rentals or how a stash of blunts ended up in her car. Tampa criminal defense attorney Jo Ann Palchak from the high-priced Zuckerman Spaeder LLP law firm represented her. Palchak wouldn’t say who was paying for Gentile’s defense.
It wasn’t the first time Denise Miscavige Gentile used Zuckerman Spaeder to bail her out of a legal snafu. Attorney Lee Fugate of Zuckerman Spaeder represented Denise before and during the wrongful-death lawsuit, I filed against the Church of Scientology, Tom Brennan, and Denise and Gerry Gentile after my son’s suspicious death. Eighteen months had passed since Kyle’s passing when Fugate accompanied Denise to the Clearwater Police Department for an interview. That’s when Detective Stephen Bohling, presiding over the death investigation, told Fugate that he was “more than willing to work with him on this case.”
The result was a police report filled with lies and half-truths. Bohling continued this abhorrent behavior and committed perjury while being deposed under oath.
And this wasn’t the last time we’d hear the name Fugate in connection with the Church of Scientology. On November 9, 2012, Scientology’s former number two man, Mark C. “Marty” Rathbun, testified that the Church hired Fugate to have illegal meetings with judges in another Scientology-related lawsuit. Rathbun claimed that Lee Fugate’s value was to schmooze. “That’s what David Miscavige and I used to say,” said Rathbun, “Let’s get Lee to schmooze.” Fugate’s schmoozing and a hefty price tag of thirty million dollars were responsible for getting criminal charges dropped and helped mitigate the damage in the Lisa McPherson lawsuit. (This was the infamous case resulting from the 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who died in Clearwater, Florida, while under the care of a Scientology organization. Initially, the state medical examiner said her death resulted from negligent homicide.)
Childs’s article also mentioned a brief conversation I’d had with Denise less than one week before Kyle died. Gentile said she thought Kyle may have gotten hooked on street drugs and urged me to send him to Narconon, a drug-treatment facility affiliated with the Church of Scientology. Childs stated that the information came from Denise and Brennan’s sworn depositions. But the story omitted that the two Scientologists first claimed that they knew my son wasn’t on drugs: they’d recommended Narconon so that Kyle could get some rest and relaxation. In 2007, a Scientology-influenced Narconon program would have cost a whopping twenty-five to thirty thousand dollars (more than a premier travel destination).
Denise’s hypocrisy was staggering. When initially interviewed by the police, she said she knew Kyle was on “psychiatric meds” (which the Church of Scientology has been warring against since its inception). These two Scientologists were coached to change their stories because Brennan—had seized Kyle’s prescribed medication and locked it in the trunk of his vehicle. I had little doubt that Childs’s inclusion of Brennan and Denise’s altered storyline was to highlight their dishonesty, but I would’ve liked to have had a rebuttal in print. These two didn’t hesitate to lie. Their efforts to defame the dead and deceive the police to protect themselves and the Church of Scientology are painfully evident. With the help of their Church-bought lawyers, they played the system.
After reading the article about the morally compromised Denise Miscavige, I knew this latest controversy would quickly retreat into the shadows. Her twin brother would see to it.
Unfortunately, we live in a world slanted to benefit the wealthy. Nowadays, the Golden Rule is: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Corporations like the Church of Scientology have more power and money than most. And that gold gives the Church’s adherents access to a better, more qualified fleet of lawyers. And they certainly know how to use them to their full advantage.
During the early days of the police investigation into Kyle’s death, the Church’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA), under the direction of Ben Shaw, assigned Scientology’s in-house lawyer, Paul B. Johnson, to represent Tom Brennan, Kyle’s father. Johnson’s extralegal Clearwater-area activities are well known. In the mid-1980s, for example, he was brought to trial in Tampa on federal extortion, bribery, and perjury charges. (During this trial, Johnson attempted to stop the judge from revealing that the Church of Scientology was one of his biggest clients.) Because of Johnson’s early involvement, no police interviews of Tom Brennan—a questionable suspect in Kyle’s death—are available. Johnson insisted that they not be recorded. The police complied.
Was this an example of OSA involvement? According to the current OSA director, Peter Mansell (who replaced Ben Shaw soon after Kyle’s death), “OSA is essentially responsible for activities outside the organization; we deal with the church’s legal matters and public relations.” Former Scientologists claim that OSA is a malignant agency that often operates beyond the limits of legality—the Church’s own KGB. According to former senior executive Marty Rathbun, in sworn testimony, the Church’s Office of Special Affairs is carefully micromanaged by the ecclesiastical leader, David Miscavige. He exercised his control through me,” affirmed Rathbun,” and Mike Rinder, commanding officer of OSA International, “no OSA operation could be undertaken on any matter without Miscavige’s fully-informed and direct authorization and direction.”
“Does this mean David Miscavige himself would have had to authorize and approve of the Church’s in-house attorney to represent Tom Brennan?” Why would he do this in an alleged suicide investigation? It’s a question I’d like to have answered.
Perjury, ex parte meetings with judges, behind-the-scenes deals with the police, the list of Scientology’s illegal activities is long, sordid, and shadowy. The pattern, however, is clear: Those at the helm of the Church of Scientology ruthlessly and vindictively run roughshod over the law and those who question them.
Copyright©2023 Victoria Britton
Denise Miscavige Gentile Clearwater Police Interview
Denise Miscavige Gentile Deposition Excerpt
Tom Brennan Deposition Excerpt
Officer Jon Yuen
V. Britton Deposition Excerpt
Narconon for Kyle
Scientology: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power