Scientology 'drug treatment' fraud: ''I want my two billion back''
Note: the money figures quoted here are in Italian money.
MEET MARIA PIA GARDINI
Raul Gardini's cousin exposes the "church" of Hollywood stars.
By Antonella Amendola - correspondent
Grosseto, March, 2001
I want my two billion back and I'm taking Scientology to court
"I believed in that "religion" but now I've waken up and they have to give me back the money I gave them!" says Maria Pia Gardini. The lawyer of the movement, Alfredo Biondi, replies: "We do not force anybody to pursue this."
The phone rings incessantly, she lifts the receiver and bangs it down. Maria Pia Gardini, 64, the cousin of Raul and former movie producer, doesn't have anything else to share with Scientology. After 10 years at the top of the church founded by Ron Hubbard, that attracted celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Michael Jackson, Maria Pia said "that's it!".
"They brainwashed me, and stripped me billions," she says. "I turned to Lisa McPherson Trust, an association that defends repentant former members. It takes its name from a woman from Florida who died under mysterious circumstances. My American lawyers have also addressed this with Law Enforcement, that is a sort of court for people's rights."
Alfredo Biondi, Scientology's lawyer in Italy, quietly replies to these fighting intentions. "I'd like to recount that the famous jurist and Vice President of the Chamber [of Deputies - the Italian Congress] says 'that the Supreme Court rejected the requests of the Milan Appellate Court three times, and it recognized that Scientology isn't a criminal conspiracy but a religion freely professed'. The freedom of religion is a mainstay of our Constitution.
Scientology states that the spiritual path stems from the individual's will together with a set of progressive teachings. These services are offered by structures that have a cost, and this is the way the organization supports itself. With its typical American pragmatism, Scientology also provides a refund clause, satisfied or refunded. Mrs. Gardini wishes to make use of this provision? I do not know her case in details, maybe the lady is disapponted because she wasn't able to reach the spiritual serenity she was so much longing for, and she's throwing her frustrations on others."
She's more than frustrated, the lady is furious. But her story, that seems more like a movie, is not lacking in irony. How was it possible that a practical and strong-willed Emilian woman, a woman belonging to the patron flock, used to commanding and always getting what she wanted, ended up in such a snag?
This comes from Emilia-Romagna, the Italian region whose main city is Bologna:
'My adventure started in 1985," Gardini says. "My daughter was taking drugs occasionally, because she was living in troubled times. She turned to a Narconon centre. This is a detoxification program designed by Ron Hubbard, it's very good I must say. My daughter saw that I was very depressed because of my father's death, and suggeted that I read some books about dianetics, the creed of the former sfi-fi writer Ron Hubbard (from the book Dianetics, the Modern Science of mental health). So, some very refined ladies affiliated to Scientology came to visit me. They told me that there was nothing better than a cycle of detoxicant saunas and vitamin drinks to make me feel better. I thought, 'ok, a healthy regime can do no harm'. But look out! You step into a sauna and you are already in Scientology. As this, the detoxicant programme, is the first initiation. I was already fed up after the second sauna, they wanted me to boil inside there for 5 hours in a row. But the physical treatment was associated with hours of auditing, a sort of psychoterapy based on talkings, and I needed a way to vent my feelings.
"So I went to an apartment in the heart of Rome, near the Pantheon where I was introduced to Pina, an auditor. She was very polite and very intelligent and I opened up my heart to her, told her my incapability of elaborating my grief, as they say in psychoanalitic speak, and she helped me. She made me tell my father's death over and over again, in order to "discharge" and "pass through it". It worked. I felt relieved and decided to buy 100 more hours of auditing from Pompeo, a registrar, that is a sort of organizing figure who sells the church services."
The first 3 million went that way, in the Pina's confessional, and the umbilical cord became stronger as Maria Pia was invited to go to the "academy", study courses directed by a "supervisor". The academy was attended by professionals, women somehow lonely, young people of good lineage who overcame their drug problems, etc. No class barriers, of course, but you are admitted only if you pay.
"The core of the problem, according to Hubbard, is the reactive mind," explains Gardini. "With the term reactive mind they mean your untidy emotions, the rage, the sorrows, the vexation. They maintain that you can get rid of this burden through a process of "auditing", until you become the "auditor" of yourself. Later on, they use a device called electrometer, that is a rough lie detector interacting with your improving.
"But the highlight of my story was when a "mission" of followers dressed in blue uniforms arrived in Rome. It was the "sea organization" and they offered to me something quite ridicolous, a contract for a billion years. Yes, I sign that life after life I'll end up again in Scientology! It's clear to me now that I'd lost my sensibilities. So, I flew to Copenhagen where I spend 160.000 $ for board and lodging, and a course to get a certificate of "clear", that is, my mind was to be cleaned, tidies-up and freed of my reactive mind. I still get furious that people acted improperly or used bad manners with me, but they were so full of admiration, pleased with my imperturbability! A career in the executive ranks of the church was sketched out for me: the path to become an instructor, an "auditor", and I had to go on with my studies, and I also had to pay.
"The next step, the "product zero", epitomized the comedy. They explained to me that I had to confront matter, energy, space and time. What the hell does tha mean? It means that they sent me to Milan where I had to wash dishes for 70 guests, 70 adepts. The proposal made me furious: I had never washed dishes in my whole life so became very annoyed then ran to Rome. But when I got there, they were waiting for me below my house, ready to forgive the lost lamb. They diplomaticly mediated, and I got out of cooking tasty "carbonara" [spaghetti] for those 70 followers!
"Hooray! I was then appointed "Qualification Officer" for Italy. My task was to solve the technical problems of the different auditors scattered in the 23 Italian centres. But meanwhile I had to aim higher, to the initiation levels.
"I went back to Copenhagen, where another 40 million flew away. I was introduced to the theory of O.T., that is the operating Thetan, the operating spirit. On the first level I had to expand myself, on the second one I had to run all the dicotomies of my past lives, i.e. all the painful events that left their marks in "my many lives". On the third level I found the magic "wall of fire". It's said that when Ron Hubbard got to this level he broke his spine, and was able to fix it by himself! It's pure sci-fi, literature. They fed us with tales I think I read before. Where? Bradbury, maybe? They claim that 75 million of years ago there were the Galactic Legion and the perfidious Xenu. He froze the good ones in ice cubes and sent them to the Earth, a sort of universal garbage can. Where did the souls of these wretched people end up? Here you have the B.T., the body Thetans, the spirits that stick to human beings, to us. We think we are made of flesh and blood? No Sir, we are made of clusters of B.T.s and we have to get rid of them, on the initiation levels. So, in the upper levels in Copenhagen there were these frenzied people who, holding the electrometers, were talking to their B.T.'s. Annoying B.T.'s, sleeping B.T.'s and all those people were trying to become masters of themselves! This procedure disintegrates the personal identity, I could realize that, and I wanted to slam the door in the faces of these scientologists. But, I was asking myself, maybe I haven't properly understood the course and if so, what about me, with all this stuff stuck on mean?"
O.T. level four, O.T. level five: Maria Pia Gardini became more and more involved when, on Dec. 6th, 1986, the investigating magistrate of Milan ordered all the Italian centres of Scientology to be shut down.
"As the activity was suspended in Italy, I went to America for level six and seven" says Gardini. "The magistrate was right, but everything came to nothing. Italian adepts are powerful, they are industrialists, rich and unsuspected people. I went to Clearwater, Florida, where the Mecca of technical perfetcion is said to be. The management has its headquarters in Los Angeles where, in a special place, they give auditing to celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. I had already payed 300 million, so I sold my apartment of Rome. They were promising me free courses as I was a staffer. I was auditing people in English, French and Italian. Even still, I had to pay for everything. In Clearwater the cult owns almost every single building, so even if you're put up in a small apartment, the rent ends up in their pockets. They have five stars hotels, but I was sent to crowded rooms, and for lunch and dinner we had two slices of salami.
"Everything, I had to pay for everything. I slogged away all day long, auditing Italian small industrialists. According to the rules, I was asking them burning questions such as have you ever been unfaithful to your wife and have you ever evaded taxes. They were answered and then they were done. Because everything is filed for the records, it becomes a weapon in the hands of cult leaders. At one point, they wanted to send me to look after unruly followers, kept in special rooms called "wards", but it was a dirty task that I didn't want to do.
"In 1990 I got a call from Italy, my daughter was ill. I went back with the idea to severe all ties with the cult, but my daughter died after two months. I fell into a deep depression, and my mother propsed that I go back to America. I boarded the cult's ship, the Freewinds, to attend the level O.T. 8. It's very elitist and, of course, super expensive. They made me pay 32.000 $. They promised me the "Truth revealed". So, there, I was sitting beside Chick Corea in the courseroom. When I found out that such a magniloquent matter is nothing else than a tale I was deeply shocked. This tale, by the way, was already published in the Hubbard's book titled "History of Man" and basically said that we are all discendants of clams… buckets of dollars for this crap!! They made me hold the electrometer and I really went nuts, because I had to ask my B.T. "listen, that time the jam was stolen, who did it? You or I?". Got it? And I'd been working so hard to take my compatriots to this level! I feel remorse for there were so many good people. For example, a family from Padua who blindly trusted me.
"Moreover, when the ship moored in Nassau, Bahamas, I went ashore to visit the casino and I found the leaders, there. Everything was forbidden for simple followers, but everything was allowed to the leaders. They were there stuffing themselves and gambling the money that the undersigned dummy had turned over to the cult. The following day I was awarded in an official ceremony. I was weeping. Mine were not tears of joy, as my companions believed. They were tears of rage because I was in the middle of the ocean and I wanted to run as far as possible.
Mrs. Gardini managed to escape in 1991, when her mother fell ill, and she had to run to her bedside. Mavì Gardini died in December, and left her daughter a large inheritance.
"I found the scientologists in the garden of my villa "La Rombaia" in Castiglion della Pescaia", she told us. "They were pointing at me like bulldogs. Twenty, thirty phone calls a day, an unbearable pressure. Sure, I didn't want to let the "bone" of my mother's inheritance go. They were raving about a programme intended for Italy, I could become the program's only leader if I payed one million dollars. I threw them out with a 35.000 $ cheque, screaming "I don't want to see you anymore." They convinced me that if I wanted to get out of the Sea Org, I had to go back to America and follow the regular leaving procedures. Once again, in Clearwater, they squeezed me like a lemon, because they had my passport. Only when my American bank accounts were completely drained was I able to leave.
"Back to Italy, a new tragedy was waiting for me. "Clean Hands", the sad end of Raul, my mansion in Bologna was confiscated. A disaster. My life was a hell, I lost "La Rombaia" as well, but I still had my dignity to defend, and that of everybody who believed in Scientology. The cult gave me back only 500.000 $ but they still owe me one million dollars. The legal battle will be hard: I wrote to Jeff Bush, the Governor of Florida who is the President's brother.
"They have to know that all the burning materials I've taken with me when I left America are in the safe of a lawyer [notary]. I do not know who has to be more frightened, them or me."
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