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Woman accuses Scientology guard of threat

Title: Woman accuses Scientology guard of threat
Date: Friday, 20 October 1995
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Jane Meinhardt
Main source: pqasb.pqarchiver.com

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CLEARWATER — A Mexican woman has alleged that the Church of Scientology's security chief chased her and threatened to kill her for leaving the church.

The case has been referred to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office; no charge has been filed. A statement from a Scientology spokesman said the security guard has been suspended during a church investigation.

The police investigation began Sept. 28 after Naxilly Sofia Perez-Morales, 22, called 911 about 7 p.m. from the Post Office on Cleveland Street.

According to a report by Clearwater Detective Tom Miller, Perez-Morales complained that she had been threatened by a Scientology security guard, but she was initially afraid to speak to detectives because church members told her police worked "hand in hand" with them. The report's cover sheet indicated that Perez-Morales, who could not be reached Thursday, did not wish to prosecute.

Miller's report described her as shaken. She told detectives she was recruited as a church member by a friend in Mexico and that she moved to Clearwater, Scientology's international spiritual headquarters. But she said she had been harassed continuously since she broke what she called her "billion-year" contract with the church.

She told Miller that a Scientology security guard had said to her, "You're a suppressive, you denigrated the church. We're going to kill you! You will be dead!"

Church spokesman Brian Anderson said Thursday that the police report was inaccurate and illegally "leaked" to the media.

In a written statement, he said Perez-Morales had been a Scientologist for 1½ years before coming to Clearwater. She left the church in June after working there about three months. Anderson said she misrepresented facts, which disqualified her as a member.

"When the working relationship of Ms. Perez-Morales was terminated, the church was very concerned that she return to Mexico and not make false representations about her immigration status as she had only been legally in the country based on her working for the church," the statement said.

He said she completed five courses while on a training program.

Perez-Morales said that instead of the free classes she was promised, she was put to work renovating the old Clearwater Bank building and was injured. She told Miller she was belittled by other church members for her work pace and asked to work longer than 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in maid service at the Fort Harrison Hotel, according to the police report.

Anderson said he could find no record that Perez-Morales was injured while at the church. Members work about eight hours a day and study 2½ hours a day, he said.

"It is church policy and done on the basis of a prior written agreement that persons who terminate their staff relationship with the church are to pay for the training they received free of charge while a staff member," his statement said.

Perez-Morales said she decided to quit after having some kind of temporarily disabling medical problem. She stayed in Clearwater, but moved often because of conflicts with church members, according to Miller's report.

On Sept. 28, Perez-Morales went to the Fort Harrison Hotel to watch the children of a friend. A former supervisor saw Perez-Morales and called security.

A security guard identified by police as Bill Johnson, 44, yelled at her about owing money to the church and escorted her out of the building. She alleged that Johnson followed her, called her obscene names, told her she was in the United States illegally and threatened her.

Frightened, Perez-Morales ran into a martial arts school at Cleveland Street and Garden Avenue. Jim Bridgeforth, owner of Clearwater Martial Arts, said a Hispanic woman who was crying came into his school.

"She said somebody was following her," Bridgeforth said Thursday. "She asked if she could stay and sat down with some of the parents."

Concerned about protecting the children in his class, he went outside and saw a man in a uniform. The man left after speaking briefly with Bridgeforth.

"He looked like a security guard," Bridgeforth said. "He said something about her trespassing. He never came in. It all took place in about 30 seconds."

After Johnson left, Perez-Morales called police from the post office.

Johnson told detectives he was recently made head of the church's security. According to the church's statement, Johnson was security chief "on a temporary basis."

Miller's report stated that Johnson said he was angry at Perez-Morales for leaving the church after she got a visa as a student of Scientology. He also said she was talking to other Scientologists about leaving the church.

Johnson said he followed Perez-Morales to tell her she owed the church money. The report said he admitted calling her obscene names.

When detectives asked Johnson if he ever threatened her, he said he did say something "about killing her if she did not leave the country," the report said.

Tampa lawyer Paul B. Johnson, who represents the church and Johnson, said church records show Perez-Morales had a religious worker's visa that expired Aug. 21. He said it is the church's practice to advise people who have left the church that they have to return home.

The lawyer said his client did not chase Perez-Morales or yell obscenities, but did say something about killing her.

"It was just an expression, not a threat," the attorney said. "Admittedly, it was inappropriate, but it was not a crime. He had no intent to hurt her. He was exasperated with her. The whole thing has been blown out of proportion."