Why lawyers have been unable to serve papers on Scientology leader

David Miscavige, the head of the Church of Scientology (Rex Features)

Scientology leader David Miscavige is “nowhere to be found”.

Named as a defendant in a federal child trafficking lawsuit, Mr Miscavige has repeatedly dodged lawyers who have tried to serve the 62-year-old 27 times in four months at Scientology properties in Clearwater, Florida, and California, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Every time, security guards refused to accept the lawsuit and claimed not to know where Mr Miscavige lived or worked, court filings obtained by The Tampa Bay Times alleged.

Lawyers have resorted to sending Instagram messages to the church’s official account as they try to locate Mr Miscavige, attorney Neil Glazer said in a court filing, per the Bay Times.

According to journalist Tony Ortega, who has written about Scientology since 1995, Mr Miscavige has frequently tried to dodge lawsuits by altering his address between California and Florida.

Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw disputed that Mr Miscavige was “missing” in a statement to The Independent.

“Neither the lawsuit nor the plaintiffs have stated such. This is an invented allegation,” the spokeswoman said.

Despite being in charge of the controversial church since the death of church founder L Ron Hubbard in 1986, Mr Miscavige remains a mysterious figure who has largely stayed out of the public eye.

Who is David Miscavige?

According to an official church profile, Mr Miscavige’s official title is ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion.

The 62-year-old is also chairman of the Board Religious Technology Center (RTC), a corporation that controls the church’s trademarks and copyrights.

While the church claims to be a force for good through its charitable outreach and practice of dianetics, which is said to help treat mental illness, critics and former members have described it as an alleged “cult” that separates families, forces members into slavery, and extorts money from its followers.

The church flatly denies these allegations.

Mr Miscavige was introduced to Scientology by his father Ronald Miscavige in the 1960s, and quickly rose through the ranks of the Sea Org, a group of the most dedicated members that essentially serves as the church’s managerial arm.

He was mentored by church founder L Ron Hubbard, a former science fiction author, and assumed leadership of the church in 1987.

Mr Miscavige has overseen the rapid expansion of Scientology from its roots in southern California to now claim tens of millions of adherents worldwide.

In his first interview with ABC News in 1992, Mr Miscavige sought to dispel claims that former members were fearful of speaking out about the church.

“Every single detractor on there is part of a religious hate group called Cult Awareness Network and their sister group called American Family Foundation,” Mr Miscavige said according to a transcript of the interview.

“Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard of these people, but it’s the same as the KKK would be with the Blacks. I think if you interviewed a neo-Nazi and asked them to talk about the Jews, you would get a similar result to what you have here.”

Miscavige has overseen the rapid expansion of Scientology (Getty Images)

Miscavige has overseen the rapid expansion of Scientology (Getty Images)

After a decades long battle with the Internal Revenue Service, the church was granted tax-exempt status in the US in 1993.

“The war is over,” Mr Miscavige told a group of thousands of cheering Scientologists in a Los Angeles arena in 1993 after the IRS abandoned its investigations into the church and granted it tax exemption.

The ruling saved the church millions in taxes and confirmed its status as a religious entity in the US.

It has subsequently gained notoriety as former members who left the church began to detail the alleged abusive and coercive practices that the church supposedly subjected its followers to.

Mr Miscavige also faced long-running complaints from the medical and scientific communities over claims that Scientology could cure mental illness.

Church doctrine, written by its founder, proclaims that psychiatry is not only bogus, but evil, and promotes a “mind over matter” philosophy that claims attaining a “clear” state will eliminate any ills.

So-called auditors are assigned to each church member to go through past events with them to help “clear” any negativity.

Despite the many controversies, high-profile members including celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta continued to praise Scientology for having changed their lives.

Scientology now claims to have 11,000 churches in 180 nations, and millions of global followers.

Ms Pouw said it was incorrect to say that Mr Miscavige had stayed out of the public spotlight, adding that he had travelled all over the world with officials and religious leaders from multiple faiths.

The Miscavige family and Scientology

Mr Miscavige’s father Ron Miscavige left the church in 2012 after falling out with his son and complaining he had been forced to work in slave-like conditions for the church..

According to his 2016 book Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me, the elder Miscavige claimed that Church members were “subjected to deprivation and violence” while detained at a punishment centre called “the Hole” – an accusation the Church has always denied.

According to a 2015 report in the Los Angeles Times, Ron Miscavige’s car was tracked, his emails read and he was followed.

David Miscavige with Tom Cruise, at the opening of a Scientology church in 2004. (AP)

David Miscavige with Tom Cruise, at the opening of a Scientology church in 2004. (AP)

Florida-based investigator Dwayne Powell was arrested in 2013 near Milwaukee and allegedly told police he had been paid $10,000 through an intermediary, on behalf of the Church of Scientology, to follow Ron Miscavige “full-time”.

David Miscavige denied hiring the PI to follow his father. The church threatened to sue him over over his tell-all memoir.

In an interview with ABC News in 2016, Ron Miscavige said his estranged son “wasn’t always that way… He was a loveable kid, he had a great sense of humour. We got along great.”

Ron Miscavige died in 2021.

In a statement to The Independent, Ms Pouw said: “Mr Miscavige always cared for and financially supported his elderly father.”

David Miscavige married wife Shelly in 1982. She has not been seen in public since 2007, leading to speculation about her wellbeing.

Former member Leah Remini, who has become an outspoken critic of the church and wrote a 2015 memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, filed a missing persons report for Shelly Miscavige with the LAPD in 2013.

The LAPD later said it had resolved the case and found her to be alive and well.

Mr Miscavige’s niece Jenna Miscavige Hill published a memoir Beyond Belief in 2013, which detailed her life in the highest ranks of the sect, her “disconnection” from family who were outside of the organisation, and her ultimate escape in 2005.

Miscavige and Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise was introduced to Scientology through his first wife Mimi Rogers.

While filming the 1990 film Days of Thunder, he reportedly fell in love with co-star Nicole Kidman, according to former Scientology senior member Mike Rinder, who writes about the period in his 2022 memoir A Billion Years: My Escape From a Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology.

According to Mr Rinder, the church helped to engineer Cruise’s split from Rogers in order for him to be free to marry Kidman.

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (Getty Images)

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (Getty Images)

Mr Miscavige was invited to the set of Days of Thunder, Mr Rinder writes, and assigned a trusted lieutenant, Greg Wilhere, to convince Rogers to go through with the divorce.

“Miscavige no doubt saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate his ability to make Tom’s wishes come true,” Mr Rinder writes.

The Top Gun star divorced Rogers in February 1990, and married Kidman later that year, with Miscavige acting as his best man.

A church spokesman has previously said Mr Rinder’s claims were “utterly ludicrous”, and said he was an “inveterate liar”.

The church requires members of its Sea Org to sign a one-billion year pledge, which former members have claimed is used to make children as young as 10 work for little or no money in virtual slavery.

Mr Rinder further writes that Sea Org members were assigned to carry out work on Cruise’s homes in Aspen, Colorado, install high-end audio/visual equipment at a property in Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills, and his Santa Monica air hangar.

Cruise appeared at openings of new Scientology churches around the world, including in Madrid in 2004.

In a Scientology recruitment video the same year, Mr Cruise said it’s a “privilege to call yourself a Scientologist”.

“That’s what drives me: is that I know we have an opportunity to really help, for the first time, effectively change people’s lives. And I am dedicated to that. I am absolutely, uncompromisingly dedicated to that.”

Cruise has reportedly played down his Scientology links in recent years.

Scientology in popular culture

In the 2015 documentary Going Clear, filmmaker Alex Gibney profiled eight former Scientologists who were critical of the church’s practices.

Among the former members featured in the film is Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis, who had been a Scientology member since the 1970s until his departure in 2009.

In November, Mr Haggis was ordered to pay at least $7.5m to a woman who accused him of rape at a movie premier in 2013.

During the trial, jurors heard extensive testimony about the Church of Scientology, with Mr Haggis claiming members of the church had tried to discredit him.

Ms Pouw, a Scientology spokeswoman, told The Independent the jury dismissed Mr Haggis’ defense.

“The Church repeatedly stated Haggis was lying about the Church having anything to do with his case and this is now proven in a court of law.”

Louis Theroux’s 2016 documentary My Scientology Movie shed further light on the church’s alleged indonctrination and disciplinary practices.

The lawsuits

Three former Scientologists filed a lawsuit in April alleging they were forced to work for the organisation from the age of 10 until adulthood for little or no pay, while suffering verbal and physical abuse.

Gawain Baxter, who is suing the church with wife Laura Baxter and a third plaintiff Valeska Paris, said in a statement released through his attorney that he was forced to sign a document at the age of six pledging to work for the Church of Scientology for one billion years.

He said he began working in low or unpaid labour for the Scientology’s Cadet Org from the age of 10 while being forced to attend “expensive indoctrination sessions”.

The Baxters later worked for the church’s military-style Sea Org before leaving in 2012.

“Growing up in Scientology, being separated from my family and subjected to severe verbal and physical abuse has scarred me in ways that I am still working through and uncovering,” Mr Baxter said in a statement released in April.

“All the while, Scientology continues to abuse and exploit its members, including young children, and does so with virtually unchecked power.”

Neil Glazer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, has asked the court to consider Mr Miscavige has been served and is in default at a court hearing scheduled in a Tampa federal court for 20 January.

“Miscavige cannot be permitted to continue his gamesmanship,” Mr Glazer wrote in a 13 December court filing, The Tampa Bay Times reports.

Correction: This story has been updated to remove an incorrect reference that prosecutors were trying to serve Mr Miscavige.