Denis Leary is denying allegations that he's being used by Tom Cruise to spread the word of the controversial Church of Scientology. Leary raised $720,000 for firefighters this past week at his third annual Bash for New York's Bravest, attended by Robin Williams, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McEnroe, among others.
Cruise wasn't at the fund-raiser, but Leary has said that the actor has been "working behind the scenes for a year" to help firefighters with respiratory problems.
Leary said recently that Cruise wants to build the smoke-eaters "a steam and sauna place on Long Island ... [to help] their condition" - which, he said, Cruise is funding privately.
"I think Denis Leary is well-meaning," says Rick Ross, executive director of the New Jersey-based Ross Institute, which monitors what it sees as cults. "But he's savvy enough about the Hollywood scene to know that if Tom Cruise does charity work, it's almost always related to Scientology."
Ross suspects that Cruise's "steam and sauna place" is based upon what Scientologists call the "purification rundown," a ritual based on the teachings of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
Ross says the same rundown is touted by Downtown Medical, a controversial Manhattan clinic whose staff includes some Scientologists. The clinic has offered more than 140 New York firefighters a detoxification program consisting of exercise, saunas and vitamin therapy.
FDNY officials are worried by the clinic's requirement that firefighters abandon their inhalers and medication. FDNY Deputy Commissioner Francis X. Gribbon told us that Downtown Medical "is not a bona-fide detox program. It should not be a substitute for the medical treatment that our doctors have advised. We don't endorse it."
Leary told us: "The program has no religious aspect to it. It's all about getting sick firefighters well again. We just sponsored six firefighters who had breathing problems and are now better. There was no Scientology pamphlet or brochures."
"I'm sure the clinic doesn't overtly proselytize to the firemen," said Ross. "But they use them as sympathetic, heroic figures who can garner public support and federal and state funding. The firemen may be getting the treatment free. The public won't." (A staffer at Downtown Clinic said a 21-day purification treatment runs $5,200.)
A church official recently told the New York Times that many Scientologists had donated to the clinic, but "as far as it being part of the church, it isn't."
A spokesman for Downtown Medical did not return calls.