The FBI is investigating the Church of Scientology over allegations its practices may have violated human trafficking laws, a news report states.
According to a profile of filmmaker and former Scientologist Paul Haggis in the New Yorker, the FBI is running an ongoing investigation into claims the church pays some of its workers as little as $50 per week, forces children into “billion-year” contracts and sometimes uses physical force to keep church members from escaping Scientology compounds.
The allegations center around Sea Org, a religious order inside the church whose 6,000 members are used by the church as labor, including maintenance of church properties.
In a 2009 expose, the St. Petersburg Times reported on former church spokesman Mike Rinder, who alleged Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige beat him on numerous occasions and that violence was generally encouraged as a means of maintaining church law.
It was around that time, the New Yorker reported, that the FBI began probing allegations against the church.
[FBI agents] Whitehill and Venegas worked on a special task force devoted to human trafficking. The laws regarding trafficking were built largely around forced prostitution, but they also pertain to slave labor. Under federal law, slavery is defined, in part, by the use of coercion, torture, starvation, imprisonment, threats, and psychological abuse. The California penal code lists several indicators that someone may be a victim of human trafficking: signs of trauma or fatigue; being afraid or unable to talk, because of censorship by others or security measures that prevent communication with others; working in one place without the freedom to move about; owing a debt to one’s employer; and not having control over identification documents. Those conditions echo the testimony of many former Sea Org members who lived at [a California compound].
The New Yorker reports the investigation is ongoing.
Many Sea Org defectors have alleged cruel treatment in the organization, which forbids adherents from having children and requires members, some of them children, to sign “billion-year” contracts for labor. The New Yorker reports that Sea Org members are paid $50 a week, though some are known to receive as little as $13.
“They were ten years old, twelve years old, signing billion-year contracts—and their parents go along with this?” Paul Haggis told the New Yorker. “Scrubbing pots, manual labor—that so deeply touched me. My God, it horrified me!”
And, according to Haggis, those who try to leave are slapped with a bill for the courses and counseling they received, which can amount to more than $100,000.
“Many of them actually pay it,” Haggis said. “They leave, they’re ashamed of what they’ve done, they’ve got no money, no job history, they’re lost, they just disappear.”
Haggis, who wrote Million Dollar Baby and directed Crash, left the church in 2008 after it voiced support for California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state.
He described the church as a “cult” he’s embarrassed to have been a part of for 34 years, and hinted he fears retaliation from the church over his comments.
“My bet is that, within two years, you’re going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church,” he said.