A French investigation into the suicide of a Scientologist has stalled because police have been unable to interview key witnesses in the case. But the movement has not shared everything it knows about the affair.1
(This story first ran on March 31 at Tony Ortega's Underground Bunker. Thanks again to Tony for helping us launch this investigation at his site.)
A judge investigating the 2006 suicide of a Scientologist in France may finally close the case because police have not been able to track down key witnesses.
Officers have been looking into the death of 47-year-old Gloria Lopez, who in December 2006 stepped in front of a speeding train at Colombes station just outside Paris.
But they have been unable to find three Scientologists the judge considers key to the affair, all of whom had dealings with Mme Lopez in the months leading up to her death.
After Scientology officials in France insisted they did not know where the three women were, police wrote to Scientology centers in both Copenhagen and the United States in a bid to trace them. They got no help there either.
But Infinite Complacency – with the help of ex-Scientologists, public records in Florida and an investigative team over at the French newspaper Libération – has established that the movement's executives have not been telling the whole story.
Gloria Lopez had been involved with Scientology since the mid-1990s. During that time her family estimates she spent around 250,000 euros on the movement.
Her two children say she was depressed in the months leading up to her death and they blame that on her involvement in Scientology. The family's lawyer, Maître Rodolphe Bosselut, dates her final crisis to a visit to Scientology's Copenhagen centre that she made in July 2006.
Strangely, she did not return on the appointed day,” he said. “When she did return, several days later, she said that Scientology had asked her to stay and she had not felt she could leave.”
Her work colleagues said they noticed a dramatic change in her mood after she came back from Copenhagen. “She was much more withdrawn,” one co-worker, who asked not to be named, told Infinite Complacency. “She hardly spoke at all… . She seemed sad, withdrawn, preoccupied.”
Documents her family found at her apartment after her death included a billion-year contract for the Sea Organization, Scientology's corps for its most dedicated, full-time members. She had signed it during her July visit to Copenhagen.
Other papers show she was expected to return to Copenhagen for further training and then travel on to Clearwater, in Florida. Yet she never told her family about her Sea Org membership or her plans to travel to the United States.
Gloria Lopez committed suicide on December 21, 2006: she had been due to start in the Sea Org in January 2007.
Lopez's family has filed a complaint against persons unknown alleging abuse of weakness, organized fraud and failure to help a person in danger. Scientology officials have repeatedly insisted that her death had nothing to do with them, and a Paris spokesman refused any further comment for this article.
In 2011, prosecutors abandoned the case after several years of investigation, arguing that there was not enough evidence to build a case. After the family filed a second formal complaint, an investigating judge was appointed to take another look. Like the prosecutor, he has the power to take the matter to court if he thinks there is a case to answer.
But now Maître Bosselut has sounded the alarm.
He fears the judge is about to close his investigation, at least in part because police cannot locate the key persons of interest to interview them. The judge's decision is expected in the next few weeks.
Persons of interest
These are the three Scientologists investigators want to interview:
Elisabeth Haley, Lopez's auditor at Copenhagen. Haley wrote twice to Lopez in the months that followed, trying to get her to return for further auditing. The contents of her letters make it clear she knew that Lopez was in difficulty;
Gloria Lopez's behavior changed drastically on her return from Copenhagen in July, said Maître Bosselut. “She stopped taking courses and she became more withdrawn at work,” he explained.
During the same period, letters were arriving from Copenhagen urging her to return. But as Gloria Lopez sank into depression, the Scientologists around her failed to give her the help she needed, he added.
Lopez's son, Gwenn Le Berre said that when police searched Scientology premises in 2009 looking for documents relating to the case, all they found was an empty dossier with Gloria Lopez's name on it. And when officers interviewed Scientologists about his mother, none of them admitted to knowing her well, even though she had been a regular at the Celebrity Center for years.
“Nobody knew her, even those who wrote her letters with 'kisses, lots of love',” he said. “Even those people continue to say that they didn't know her. It's completely bizarre.”
Among the papers that Lopez's children found at her home after her death were writings in her own hand from the final months of her life. In them, she expressed her distress at the financial difficulties she was experiencing, as well as a sense of failure – the antithesis of what Scientology promises its followers.
The financial advisor
These writings also revealed the role that Danielle Ambert played in advising Lopez on her financial affairs, said Maître Bosselut.
Lopez had inherited a property in Spain, which she had told her family she would sell so as to buy an apartment just outside Paris. The handwritten documents found at her apartment make it clear however that instead of buying the French apartment she spent the money on Scientology courses.
“Ambert advised Mme Lopez that no bank would lend to her for Scientology courses but that she would be able to get a loan to buy an apartment,” Me Bosselut explained.
So despite having received a large sum of money from the sale of the property in Spain – more than 200,000 euros – she ended up having to borrow to buy an apartment near Paris.
Ambert's business card, which Lopez's family found at her apartment after her death, describes her as a “counsellor in independent investment”.
Lopez's handwritten notes show that she had paid in advance for most of Scientology's advanced Operating Thetan (OT) levels. “A first part of the money allowed me to get to Clear,” she wrote.
The state of Clear is the position half-way up Scientology's scale of courses. Attaining it opens up the route to the more advanced – and far more expensive – Operating Thetan (OT) levels. Paying for levels I to VII effectively meant she was paying for courses years in advance.
Ten days later she attended a seminar on a push to get 10,000 OT VIIs. “The next day I paid the levels up to OT VII,” she wrote.
The original 2009 Paris court judgment convicting two Scientology organizations of organized fraud noted that the movement's practice of hard sell meant that members were pressured into paying for training years in advance and thus driven into debt – as this site reported at the time.
The 2013 Cour de Cassation ruling that rendered those convictions definitive also specifically mentioned Scientology's hard-sell policies and referred to how Scientology's victims were:
...quickly led to commit to several years of courses, auditing sessions, purification cures forming part of the Scientology doctrine, for the financing of which they spent all their savings, got themselves into debt and in the end found themselves in a particularly difficult situation, both materially and morally...2
One former Scientologist has already explained to investigators how relentless the movement's salesmen can be in getting people to buy more courses, said Maître Bosselut. And despite the vast sums Lopez had spent on courses, the papers found at her apartment also show that Scientology was telling her she owed them money.
“Oppressive and aggressive”
Lopez's growing desperation is evident from the writings she left behind, said the lawyer. She wrote:
For the moment I am losing money instead of earning for the Bridge [her courses] (I have to get the money together to pay the expenses for when I will be in Denmark and the United States for the OT levels.) … Despite everything I have understood, I am not getting better, at work I am making mistakes.
The police unit that investigated Gloria Lopez's death was the Office for the Repression Violence against Persons (ORCVP). Their report, submitted to the prosecutor's office concluded:
…[I]n 2000 Gloria Lopez broke with her family and friends, lost custody of her children, sold her house and left her job with the sole aim of moving closer to the Paris Celebrity Center. She invested all her money, which was in fact a substantial amount, in Scientology and got into debt to pay for her expenses and an apartment... .
The report also described Scientology's operating method as “commercial, very organized, oppressive and aggressive,” designed to ensure maximum profits for its directors.
Despite those findings however, the prosecutors office at Nanterre, just outside Paris, decided in June 2011 to drop the case. They argued that there was not enough evidence to show that Gloria Lopez had been subjected to undue influence.
For Maître Bosselut, that decision betrays a complete lack of understanding of how Scientology operates; and it ignores crucial evidence in the documents written by Mme Lopez herself in the final months of her life.
Now however, it looks as if the investigating magistrate, Jean-Michel Bergès, might follow suit.
Maître Bosselut argues that the failure of Scientology officials in France and abroad to provide any leads that would help investigators to find these three women is evidence of their bad faith.
“For an organization as centralized as Scientology – as obsessed with documenting everything about its members – it is simply not credible that it can offer no useful information in this affair,” he said. Scientology officials had failed to turn over Mme Lopez's files or even to say who her auditors had been, he added.
Gloria Lopez's son, Gwenn le Berre, says he is determined to keep fighting to find out more about what drove his mother to kill herself.
“I would certainly like to have at least some answers from a few people named in the file, and if we could go after Scientology as an organization then that would be really great.” Because as important as the three missing witnesses are, this is not just about individuals, he insists.
“Clearly, it's the organization, because in this organization there are people who are just bad to the core, who do bad things, who ought to be convicted; and there are others who are the victims and who are in a way used by these people...
“[T]here are people who know. There are people who are paid to organize this fraud. And there are those who profit, clearly.”
Infinite Complacency has established that the movement's executives have not been telling the whole story about the missing Scientologists.
Public records in Florida show that at least two of the missing women, – Danielle Ambert and Juliette Wagner – spent the years following Gloria Lopez's death in Clearwater, one of the major centres for the movement.
And French paper Libération has tracked down one source who confirmed that Danielle Ambert has been working for the movement on Freewinds, Scientology's cruise liner in the Caribbean.
Up next: 2 Tracing Danielle Ambert