Scientology’s relentless hard sell has driven some members to the edge of bankruptcy, wrote one former member who had experienced such tactics.
While several former Scientologists had detailed how the movement ruthlessly milked paying members for their money, one letter to Senator Xenophon described what it felt like to be on the receiving end.
Kevin Mackey recalled not just the relentless pressure he experienced from Scientology’s sales staff, but how other members had given up inheritances or been driven to the edge of bankruptcy by their hard-sell tactics.
He himself had on several occasions been forced to kick sales teams out of his house after midnight after they had turned up on his doorstep and spent hours pressing him for more money.
He also wrote that he was involved in organising a class-action lawsuit in the United States in a bid to force Scientology to pay back some of the money he feels was fraudulently obtained.
Mackey, 46, was a Scientologist for 26 years, during which time he had spent around a million Australia dollars on services from the proceeds of his business.
“Having had a successful business in furniture manufacture I was ‘marked’ as someone they could extract large amounts of money from,” he wrote.
For the first 15 years, Mackey and his wife spent around 150,000 Australian dollars to get to Operating Level VII (OT VII), the second-highest level available.
“Scientology promises salvation from the life/death cycle,” wrote Mackey, explaining the incentive.
He had been taught that he was “an immortal being with personal power that would rival the characters of Greek mythology…”
The OT levels are supposed to unlock these godlike powers – though former members who have done these levels have dismissed these claims as nonsense.
“Once on and committed to attaining the spiritual freedom promised from OT VII we were bilked for another 820,000 to 900,000 [Australian] dollars between us,” he wrote.
They were to spend the next 15 years trying to get through that level.
In 1993, Mackey flew to Florida, reputed to be one of Scientology’s top centres, to learn how to do the solo auditing he would need for this level.
Auditing is Scientology’s version of counselling, or therapy, when the subjects go over their past – and their past lives – to discover what is blocking their spiritual development.
But unlike the lower levels, when you are audited by another Scientologist, those on the upper levels are expected to audit themselves.
And in the six weeks he was in Florida he paid more than 35,000 Australian dollars to learn how to do this.
For the next three years he went through the designated exercises several times a day, as required, and flew to Florida every six months for check-ups costing 800 dollars a day.
Those checks included confessional sessions in which he was expected to own up to any transgressions.
At the time, he thought it would take just a few years to get through OT VII.
But then in 1996 the movement suddenly released revised versions of all its training levels “… and we were told to return and retrain as we had been doing it all wrong.
“This was at our expense.”
At the same time, Mackey noticed a significant change in the way the training was delivered.
From what had been just a couple of hours, the mandatory six-monthly confessional sessions now lasted much longer: sometimes up to 36 hours.
One of Scientology’s “ethics officers” filed what was known as a “knowledge report” summarising the “crimes” that had been uncovered during the confessional.
And if the offences were considered sufficiently serious, the member concerned would be expected to make amends, wrote Mackey.
“As time went on these amends increasingly became donations of cash to the Church,” he added.
Offences could include failing to perform the daily training, taking alcohol or watching pornography.
Those who had looked at critical material about Scientology or given a less than glowing account of their experiences in the movement were seen in a particularly poor light, wrote Mackey: these offences carried heavy penalties.
He recalled one Scientologist, a widowed mother of twins, being forced to hand over 60,000 dollars for having failed to lock away her worksheets properly after a session.
Also during this period, it became compulsory to get involved with all of Scientology’s various organisations, he wrote.
That included groups such as the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) to the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE), an umbrella organisation for businesses run by members of the movement.
And every one of them wanted a piece of the action, wrote Mackey.
“Some of these groups would ask for donations of up to $100,000 and if they sense any weakness of resolve would push until the parishioner would sell their house if they required...”
When they felt there was money to be made, the different Scientology organisations would work together to get the maximum amount out of a parishioner, wrote Mackey.
“I know of several people who were coerced into giving up inheritances and pushed to the point of bankruptcy from these actions, which the Church calls ‘reg cycles’.”
Nor were these hard-sell operators restricted to Florida, he added.
“I have had teams… come uninvited to my home and have to be forcibly thrown out after midnight.” That had happened on at least four separate occasions, he added.
“My wife and I were persuaded to donate around $200,000 Aus from the early nineties in this manner,” he wrote.
“After 1996 I endured another 12 years of OT VII…” and Scientology’s “capricious and relentless efforts to defraud us of our money,” he added.
The IAS would call them regularly to tell them they needed more money to fight the mandatory drugging of school children “…by the evil psychiatrists or defeat Nazi Psychs who were behind the German government’s dislike of the Church…”
The IAS even likened Germany’s campaign to the Nazi-era persecution of the Jews. So they handed over 80,000 US dollars.
Why they stood for it
In his letter, Mackey tried to explain how financially independent public members of Scientology could allow themselves to be subjected to this kind of abuse.
“When one begins in Scientology there is nothing weird or space alien about it,” he wrote.
“One learns to resolve conflicts, work more efficiently, live without the use of drugs or alcohol, communicate more clearly and study better.”
For a troubled newcomer, wrote Mackey, Scientology would be seen as Godsend.
But he added: “Once you have taken the bait and become hooked, the real Scientology is presented, very slowly, over the years. It slowly becomes the only chance the human race or indeed the whole universe has.”
That, and the promise of the powers to be unleashed on the OT levels, helps explain why the paying Scientologists paid over such vast sums of money, he added.
“The fact is a Scientologist believes the Church holds their immortal soul in the palm of their hand…” he wrote.
 So far as I am aware, the proposed class-action lawsuit – against Scientology’s International Association of Scientologists (IAS) and its Super Power project ( a major development in Clearwater, Florida) – has not yet been filed: but when it is, it will be in California. The lawyer involved in this is Barry van Sickle, who is already representing several other Scientologists in separate lawsuits: Marc Headley; his wife Claire Headley; Laura Decrescenzo and most recently John Lindstein.
In a letter to Scientology’s lawyers, Van Sickle warns of the impending lawsuit unless they show a real willingness to settle. Summarising their case, he writes: “…the IAS has a history of obtaining money by misleading, coercing and deceiving its targets. A payment is not "voluntary" in the eyes of the law if made in circumstances of misrepresentation, deceit, coercion or fraud.”
Mackey posts as “Feral” at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board. For more information on the lawsuit see Mackey’s thread here.
 At current exchange rates, one Australian dollar comes to 0.92 of a US dollar. All prices stated here are in Australian dollars unless otherwise stated.
 Since Scientologists are forbidden to have auditing within 24 hours of having taken alcohol, that presumably rules out any consumption for people on the upper levels as they are required to audit every day. I’m not sure about the ban on pornography but Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s views on sex were, to say the least, fairly mixed up. “Pain and sex were the INVENTED tools of degradation,” he wrote in an August 26, 1982 policy letter, “Pain and Sex”.
 For a taste of Scientology’s position on this subject see “Practising Religious Intolerance”.
 Reacting to Mackey’s allegations, Raymond Hill, in the blog that goes with his excellent Scientology Critical Information Directory, makes the point that very similar hard-sell tactics have been well-documented in several investigations over the past two decades, suggesting that this is standard practice inside the movement (as does the evidence submitted by some of Senator Xenophon’s other correspondents, posted earlier).
The recent French trial (and eventual convictions) of several Scientologists and two of its organistions there for organised fraud also heard evidence of late-night hard-sell sessions. Some of the defendants tried unsuccessfully to convince the court that the French translation of “hard sell”, meant “looking after people”.