We happened to catch last night's premiere of Turnaround King on the National Geographic Channel. Well, OK, we were tipped that it might be worth paying attention to, so we did. I mean, normally, we are not watching reality TV on the NatGeo channel on Sunday nights.
Starring a man named Grant Cardone, this was more or less a straight rip-off of Kitchen Nightmares, and if you're familiar with chef Gordon Ramsay's show, then you know the formula: Cardone learns how badly a small business is doing, then fights to get the owner to use basic business sense to get things going in the right direction. (Last night's first two episodes involved a Gold's Gym in New Jersey and a car dealership.)
Cardone is charismatic, smart, articulate, and really seems to know what he's talking about. It's a fun show. So we were intrigued to learn what the show didn't tell us: that Cardone is a high-level wealthy Scientologist who, four years ago, may have slimed a fellow top Scientologist at the bidding of Scientology's dictator-for-life.
This afternoon, Marty Rathbun, once one of Scientology's top executives before his 2004 departure, made public at his blog a dramatic set of e-mails that Cardone sent out to fellow Scientologists in 2007.
Rathbun notes that Cardone is a wealthy Scientologist who has reached the highest level of "Operating Thetan" training, OT VIII, and is known in the church for his generosity to the cause, giving $1 million to a "Superpower Project" and another $1 million to Scientology leader David Miscavige's "war fund."
Cardone is so eager to please Miscavige, Rathbun says, he was willing to do some of the church leader's dirty work.
Rathbun says he knows this because before he left Scientology, Rathbun himself was originally asked by Miscavige to perform an unpleasant task: go after longtime Scientologist and famous acting coach Milton Katselas for not being loyal enough to the new Miscavige regime and way of doing things.
In a phone call, Rathbun explained to me how punishing Katselas is a prime example of how Scientology, under Miscavige, has lost its way. Over his decades as one of Hollywood's best-known acting coaches at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, Katselas had helped bring into Scientology some of its biggest celebrities, actors like John Travolta, who first encountered Scientology by studying with the famous teacher.
But gradually, Katselas had been having less to do with Scientology as Miscavige increased pressures on members to give money, and as he began to drive away many high-level members in what author Janet Reitman has called a "mass exodus."
Rathbun says Miscavige wanted Katselas punished for not being more active, even though, over the years, he had been so effective at bringing in some of Scientology's greatest celebrity prizes.
That task, Rathbun says, fell to an eager, gung-ho Scientologist that Miscavige could count on. Namely, Grant Cardone.
On Tuesday, May 15, 2007, Cardone sent out an e-mail about Katselas that went out to hundreds of Scientologists, one ex-member tells me. (Rathbun produced a copy of the e-mail on his blog, but the Voice was able to get its own copy independently, as well as copies of e-mails from the Scientology community discussing Cardone's accusations.)
In the e-mail, Cardone accused Katselas of no longer participating in Scientology events, and not contributing money to Miscavige's push for new buildings:
- milton katselas does not attend or participate in any direct hard-sell dissemination projects to grow our church and make others aware of our efforts.
- milton katselas has not made any direct contributions to Ideal Orgs, IAS or any other of COB's command intention.
- milton katselas does not demonstrate being any part of the team of Scientologist who are doing what they can to make a difference.
The e-mail also accused Katselas of various sexual advances and practices with his female students, of paying female students to touch him sexually, and asking other students to perform sex acts in front of him. The e-mail provided no evidence for any of these accusations.
In other words, it appeared to be a simple smear attempt, intended to ruin Katselas' reputation in his own religion.
The message ended, "Please forward this to others that will benefit from this knowledge as it is true. Sincerely, Grant Cardone"
Rathbun says that almost immediately, Scientology's executives realized that this was a disastrous way to treat one of the organization's most loyal and most well-known members.
The next day, May 16, 2007, Cardone sent out a new e-mail. "Immediately destroy all forms of the e-mail I sent you," he wrote.
Rathbun notes that a little more than a year later, Katselas died of heart failure.
I called Cardone's office today, and was given the name and e-mail address of his assistant, Jen Harris. I sent a detailed message about what Rathbun planned to publish today. I am still waiting for a response.