Scientology bans couple from wedding

Tampa Bay Times/June 11, 2014

By Joe Childs

Beautifully plated filet mignon. Attentive servers. A rocking band.

Sophia and Jack Vasilaros wanted a first-class reception for their daughter Marina, who married Louis Michaelos on Saturday afternoon in Clearwater. They got it.

"My phone's been smokin' with people saying they had a great time," Jack Vasilaros said Tuesday.

Not in that group, and unhappy about it, are a well-known Clearwater couple who have been close friends with the Vasilaroses for nearly 30 years.

Voncele and Denis deVlaming were banned from the event by the Church of Scientology.

Needing a large venue for their many guests, the Vasilaroses had rented the elegant Crystal Ballroom in the church's Fort Harrison Hotel, which is available to the public. As part of the rental agreement, the Vasilaroses agreed to send the church the guest list in advance.

Last Thursday, the church informed them that the deVlam­ings could not attend. Denis deVlaming, a longtime Clearwater lawyer, had represented church opponents in legal matters. The church could not permit him to enter the building.

With the wedding just two days away, the Vasilaroses did not object. "Rules are rules," Jack Vasilaros said.

His wife phoned Voncele deVlaming with the bad news.

"What about me?" asked Voncele (pronounced Von seel). Could she go? She hadn't worked in her husband's legal practice or ever said anything critical of Scientology.

Sophia said she would inquire, Voncele said.

On Friday, she called back. Voncele was banned too.

"We were both very heartbroken," Voncele said.

Sophia Vasilaros didn't want to be interviewed for this story. The church did not respond to requests for comment.

The deVlamings are flummoxed. "I don't know what they thought I was going to do,'' said Voncele.

She and her husband have known the bride since she was a baby. Voncele went with Sophia and Marina to shop for the wedding gown. She went to Marina's fittings.

Voncele even offered to Marina a diamond necklace and matching earrings — a 25th wedding anniversary gift — for the big day. Marina accepted. The jewels are visible on Marina's Facebook page.

Late last week, deVlaming tried a final time to get his wife in. He ask for help from Clearwater lawyer F. Wallace Pope Jr., another close friend, who has represented the church for years.

On Friday, Pope left deVlaming a voicemail message. "He said, 'Dennis, I'm so sorry. I've done everything I can. They will not budge for you or your wife,' " deVlaming said.

DeVlaming's work on church-related legal matters dates back to the 1990s, when he represented a man who then was the church's No. 1 enemy — New Hampshire millionaire Robert Minton. He moved to Clearwater, bought a downtown building — deVlaming was his lawyer — and funded a small band of church protestors.

When Minton was charged with misdemeanor battery after squaring off with a church member outside the Fort Harrison Hotel, deVlaming represented him. DeVlaming also represented two members of Minton's group who were charged with misdemeanors stemming from clashes with church operatives. Neither Minton nor the other two were convicted.

"I won all three," deVlaming said. "And they (church leaders) don't like that."

He added: "I'm not a person who has an agenda. All I've done is defend others." Extending the ban to his wife was "a way to punish me," he said.

Voncele did go to the afternoon wedding ceremony at Clearwater's Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. DeVlaming didn't go, not wanting to cause tension.

After the wedding, Voncele explained to several friends why she and her husband would not be at the reception. "They were just appalled," she said.

Longtime Clearwater area wedding planner Diane Bates, a manager at the Chart House Suites on Clearwater Beach, said she never has heard of any venue reviewing an invitation list and insisting certain guests not attend a function.

The Vasilaroses are concerned the flap will tarnish memories of an event they hold dear.

"They're great people," Jack Vasilaros said of the deVlamings. "I love them. But it is what it is."

Their absence didn't impact the party, Vasilaros said. The church's team "did a wonderful job," he said. "Very professional, classy."

He said he is not a Scientologist, and neither is his daughter. The groom isn't a member either, said his father, Largo ophthalmologist Dr. John Michaelos. He said his family was comfortable with the ballroom choice. It was "spectacular," he said.

Vasilaros wouldn't say what it cost. Sitting in a lounge chair on a rear patio of his Clearwater Beach waterfront home, the retired businessman said: "How do you put a price on what it cost?"

He wanted the best for his daughter, he said. "She's a princess and she got her prince."

The bride and groom are honeymooning in Hawaii.

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