Tom Cruise — recently voted as creepier than ever in a Gallup poll, has lost a lot of fans. Chief among them: The New York Fire Department.
I’m told that the bad feeling toward Cruise stems from his attempt to bring Scientology into the department. His crusade began shortly after 9/11 and was briefly documented in the papers here.
The gist of it was that Cruise himself arrived and began to offer “detox programs” to firemen who had respiratory problems. The detoxing, he said, was developed by Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard, a dead science fiction writer.
Of course, the real goal was to grab new members for Scientology. Apparently, the group had some success. According to my sources in the FDNY, several firefighters not only joined Scientology but left their families in the process.
“They told the firefighters that they’d been unhappy in their lives before 9/11 and that they should leave,” said a higher up in the department who spoke to me recently. “Cruise is responsible.”
Cruise and Scientology dubbed their program “New York Rescue Workers Detoxificiation Project.” They got tax-free status for it, too, and used a California CPA named Roland Fink, who happened to be a Scientologist, to vouch for them in writing as an “independent auditor.”
Fink, according to reports, has coincidentally made the Scientology “honor roll” twice in the last four years.
The result, according to their federal tax filing, is the usual financial roundelay for the IRS-sanctioned religion. In 2004 they raised $1.6 million, nearly all of which went to “expenses.” Of that, $880,000 went to something called Downtown PC. Another $173,300 was funneled back to Dr. Steven Lager of Williston Park, N.Y., a major Scientologist who advocates alternative methods of detoxification.
The detox method is considered to be another name for Scientology’s “purification” program, long in existence before 9/11 and designed to “cleanse” their followers.
How the Scientology detox program raises their money is perhaps even more interesting. As detailed on their Web site, their new fundraising initiative — launched Nov. 1 and set to conclude on May 1, 2007 — reads very much like a pyramid scheme at worst, or Amway at best.
“To reach our goal, we are asking for your help and the help of all New Yorkers. Those who join the campaign as Participants agree to ask 25 of their family, friends and co-workers to donate $5.00 each to the project. When a donation sheet with 25 donors donating a minimum of $5 each is completed and mailed to the project, the Participant will then be entered into a drawing to win a Caribbean Dream Vacation for two to the Atlantis Hotel & Casino in the Bahamas. Participants are encouraged to complete as many donation sheets as they can — each completed sheet qualifies you for another entry in the drawing.”
According to the group’s Web site, at least two New York City firefighters joined Scientology as a result of the detox program. Both Sebastian Rapanti and Joe Higgins offer themselves as case studies for the group on the site. They also appear in pictures with actress Jenna Elfman and her husband, Bodhi Elfman, two avowed Scientologists, from a party at the group’s Hollywood headquarters, some 3,000 miles from their homes and families.
According to the New York Times, Higgins wound up joining Scientology and becoming a paid adviser.
My source within the Fire Department warns that Scientology will not be allowed in again if there’s another terrorist attack. “Our crisis workers weren’t equipped to deal with them last time. They’re ready now,” my source said.
By the way, the Scientology/Detox people should re-designate one of the spokeswomen in their recruitment and fundraising video. Margarita Lopez is no longer a New York City Councilwoman, as she is billed. She is now a Surrogate Court judge in Brooklyn. Her efforts to become Manhattan Borough president in 2005 were blunted when the New York Post reported that she directed hundreds of thousands of city dollars into the controversial detox program after receiving $115,000 in campaign donations from Scientology.