The Scientologists and Me
Richard Behar - TIME reporter Strange things seem to happen to people who write about Scientology.
Journalist Paulette Cooper wrote a critical book on the cult in 1971. This led to a Scientology plot (called Operation Freak-Out) whose goal, according to church documents, was "to get P.C. incarcerated in a mental institution or jail."
It almost worked: by impersonating Cooper, Scientologists got her indicted in 1973 for threatening to bomb the church.
Cooper, who also endured 19 lawsuits by the church, was finally exonerated in 1977 after FBI raids on the church offices in Los Angeles and Washington uncovered documents from the bomb scheme.
No Scientologists were ever tried in the matter.
For the TIME story, at least 10 attorneys and six private detectives were unleashed by Scientology and its followers in an effort to threaten, harass and discredit me.
Last Oct. 12, not long after I began this assignment, I planned to lunch with Eugene Ingram, the church's leading private eye and a former cop.
Ingram, who was tossed off the Los Angeles police force In 1981 for alleged ties to prostitutes and drug dealers, had told me that he might be able to arrange a meeting with church boss David Miscavige.
Just hours before the lunch, the church's "national trial counsel," Earle Cooley, called to inform me that I would be eating alone.
Alone, perhaps, but not forgotten. By day's end, I later learned, a copy of my personal credit report -- with detailed information about my bank accounts, home mortgage, credit-card payments, home address and Social Security number -- had been illegally retrieved from a national credit bureau called Trans Union.
The sham company that received it, "Educational Funding Services" of Los Angeles, gave as its address a mail drop a few blocks from Scientology's headquarters.
The owner of the mail drop is a private eye named Fred Wolfson, who admits that an Ingram associate retained him to retrieve credit reports on several individuals.
Wolfson says he was told that Scientology's attorneys "had judgments against these people and were trying to collect on them." He says now, "These are vicious people. These are vipers." Ingram, through a lawyer, denies any involvement in the scam.
During the past five months, private investigators have been contacting acquaintances of mine, ranging from neighbors to a former colleague, to inquire about subjects such as my health (like my credit rating, it's excellent) and whether I've ever had trouble with the IRS (unlike Scientology, I haven't).
One neighbor was greeted at dawn outside my Manhattan apartment building by two men who wanted to know whether I lived there.
I finally called Cooley to demand that Scientology stop the nonsense. He promised to look into it.
After that, however, an attorney subpoenaed me, while another falsely suggested that I might own shares in a company I was reporting about that had been taken over by Scientologists (he also threatened to contact the Securities and Exchange Commission).
A close friend in Los Angeles received a disturbing telephone call from a Scientology staff member seeking data about me -- an indication that the cult may have illegally obtained my personal phone records.
Two detectives contacted me, posing as a friend and a relative of a so-called cult victim, to elicit negative statements from me about Scientology. Some of my conversations with them were taped, transcribed and presented by the church in affidavits to TIME's lawyers as "proof" of my bias against Scientology.
Among the comments I made to one of the detectives, who represented himself as "Harry Baxter," a friend of the victim's family, was that "the church trains people to lie."
Baxter and his colleagues are hardly in a position to dispute that observation. His real name is Barry Silvers, and he is a former investigator for the Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force.