For 18 months private detectives tracked every move made by the father of David Miscavige, leader of the Church of Scientology, as they eavesdropped, spied on his emails and planted a GPS unit on his car, according to police records.
The church paid the two detectives $10,000 a week through an intermediary, the records indicate, all because Miscavige feared that his father would divulge too much about the organization’s activities.
The episode, detailed in documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, is the latest in a decades-long series of allegations that the church has intimidated, harassed or abused current and former members, at times going to great lengths to dissuade them from discussing their experiences or knowledge of the secretive religion.
The surveillance of Ronald Miscavige Sr., a longtime Scientologist who had recently parted ways with the church, was described by Florida private eye Dwayne S. Powell, after he was arrested in July 2013 near Milwaukee with two rifles, four handguns, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and a homemade silencer in his rented SUV.
When confronted by West Allis, Wis., police responding to a report of a suspicious man in the neighborhood, Powell said he was house-hunting, according to the documents.
“Do I have to give you my name?” he asked the officers. “What law did I break?”
Police placed Powell, now 43, under arrest on suspicion of obstruction and in his pockets found a folding knife, a flashlight and his Florida driver’s license and private investigator credentials. His Ford Edge also contained two laptop computers, binoculars, a GPS tracking device and a stun gun.
Powell initially declined to name his employer. But at the police station, he told Det. Nicholas Pye that he was hired by the Church of Scientology to conduct “full-time” surveillance of the elder Miscavige, now 79, who lived in a nearby town, the records state.
David Miscavige and the church deny any connection to Powell.
“Please be advised that Mr. Miscavige does not know Mr. Powell, has never heard of Mr. Powell, has never met Mr. Powell, has never spoken to Mr. Powell, never hired Mr. Powell and never directed any investigations by Mr. Powell,” Michael Lee Hertzberg, Miscavige’s attorney, said in an email to The Times.
Gary Soter, an attorney for the church, said Scientology lawyers hire private investigators “in matters related to litigation” but he called the allegations involving David Miscavige “blatantly false.” He declined to answer questions about David Miscavige’s relationship with his father.
Once, while tailing Miscavige on a shopping trip, Powell and his partner watched him grasp his chest and slump over while loading his car. After his arrest, Powell told police he’d thought Miscavige was having a heart attack and might die. He said he phoned his intermediary for instructions.
Two minutes later a man who identified himself as David Miscavige called him back, according to records.
“David told him that if it was Ron’s time to die, to let him die and not intervene in any way,” the records state, noting that the apparent emergency passed “and nothing further happened.”
Miscavige’s lawyer, Hertzberg, did not specifically respond to The Times’ question about the incident.
Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who parlayed his self-help system, Dianetics, into a worldwide religion-without-a-deity. It has its own “study technology” developed by Hubbard, a quirky vocabulary and long held secret story of Xenu, a soul-stealing galactic overlord from 75 million years ago.
The church teaches that spiritual freedom — the state of “clear” — can be reached through one-on-one counseling known as auditing, aided by a polygraph-like device called an “e-meter.” The sessions, along with extensive training courses, can cost Scientologists hundreds of thousands of dollars.
David Miscavige, 54, who spent his teenage years as an aide to Hubbard, has divided his time between the church’s international headquarters near Hemet in Riverside County, known as the Gold Base, and its facilities in Clearwater, Fla.
He rose to the head of Scientology after the founder’s death in 1986 amid a federal tax investigation that was later settled, resulting in the church’s tax-exempt status. As chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, which holds the lucrative rights to the Scientology and Dianetics trademarks, he is the church’s ultimate authority.
Ex-members, including four former top officials who told their stories to the St. Petersburg Times in 2009, have accused Miscavige of physical assaults and other violent behavior — all previously denied by Miscavige and the church.
Among other things that day in West Allis, Det. Pye quizzed Powell about the guns in his SUV.
“I asked Powell if he was hired as a hit man to kill Ron if the Church of Scientology ordered such action and he stated that he was not,” Pye wrote in his report.
The weapons were for “sport shooting,” Powell told Pye. He said his only mission was to keep a close watch on Ronald Miscavige, the records state.
“He explained that Ron and his younger wife, Becky, left the church and David is worried that they will divulge details about the church’s activities and that their job was to know who Ron talked to, emailed with, where he went, what he did, etc.,” Pye wrote.
Powell told police the church paid him through another Florida investigations firm, Terry Roffler and Associates. Although he reported directly to that firm — hourly, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — “the main client is a David Miscavige, who is the son of Ronald Miscavige,” the records note.
Roffler, reached by telephone, said he was “not too familiar” with the case and declined to discuss it.
In a brief telephone interview, Powell said he had let his investigator’s license expire and no longer worked for the church. He declined to comment further.
Ronald Miscavige Sr. also declined to comment, although he and his wife told police as recently as last September that they believed they were still being followed.
“They advised that Ronald’s son, David Miscavige, the leader of the Church of Scientology, is obviously having them watched because they left the church two years ago and David is afraid that Ronald will speak with the media about the negative inner workings of the church and David’s abuse of the members of the church,” a police report states.
In his July 2013 interview with police, Powell said he and a second investigator, his 21-year-old son Daniel, searched the elder Miscavige’s garbage, photographed him wherever he went and tracked him with a GPS device attached to his car and linked to an iPad that read out his location, the documents state. Police found marks on the underside of the car that they concluded were made by the magnetic GPS device, the records say.
“When Ron would go to the library to check his emails, they would stand behind him and take pictures of the screen,” one report notes. “When he would be eating at a restaurant, they would sit nearby or at his table and listen to his conversations. If Ron was in his vehicle on the phone, they would pull up next to him and monitor his conversation.”
Powell’s son, in an interview with police, corroborated key details of his father’s story, including that they worked for the church, records state. He also recalled the incident in the parking lot and David Miscavige’s purported response, the documents say.
“Who could let their father die like that?” he said, according to the records.
Dwayne Powell was indicted last year on one count of possessing an illegal silencer, a federal offense. The indictment was dismissed when prosecutors agreed to allow him to enter a pre-trial diversion program.
His son was not arrested or charged.