The Church of Scientology has long been regarded as a strange and secretive organization, able to draw in high-profile celebrity members while raising complaints from many former believers. Now, with the release of Alex Gibney’s documentary “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief”, interest in the shadowy religion seems to have been renewed in both public and legal circles. Now, the Los Angeles Times has reported that they have received police documents which show that the church once hired a team of private detectives to track every move of their leader’s father.
In July 2013, a private investigator for hire named Dwayne S. Powell was arrested outside of Milwaukee with two rifles, four handguns, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and a homemade silencer. While he initially claimed to be house-hunting, he later revealed that he had been hired by the Church of Scientology to conduct on the father of David Miscavige, 79-year-old man Ronald Miscavige Sr. Mr. Miscavige had reportedly left the organization and the Church was determined to make sure that he wasn’t leaking too much information about their affairs. With the help of other private investigators and associates, Powell said that his private detective services included conducting surveillance, photographing his movements and monitoring his conversations.
The Church of Scientology has denied Powell’s claims, especially his connection to David Miscavige, although a private investigation company in Florida seems to link the two. However, a church representative did say that the organization has used private detective services in the past for “matters related to litigation.” This statement only reinforces the secretive and frightening image of the religion, which was created by author Ron L. Hubbard in 1954 and focuses on his self-help system, Dianetics, a special type of “study technology”, and a closely-guarded story about Xenu, allegedly a soul-stealing alien overlord from 75 million years ago.
While hiring private detective services apparently isn’t uncommmon for upper-level Scientologists, it is a strange situation for many private investigators. Despite the mysterious, morally-gray depiction of private detectives in the media, most licensed private investigators perform legitimate work for municipalities, corporate entities, and individuals. Under these engagements, the detectives will typically investigate everything from insurance fraud to missing persons and may even work alongside local and federal law enforcement. The task of surveiling a religious leader’s father is therefore unusual.
Dwayne Powell was indicted last year on one count of possessing an illegal silencer, a federal offense. Upon his arrest, he said that the guns were for his personal use, not his work with Scientology. However, his indictment was reportedly dismissed when prosecutors allowed him to enter a pre-trial diversion program.