Former Scientology officer reveals the church tried to recruit A-list celebs such as Brad Pitt, Demi Moore and Sean Penn - and leader David Miscavige deems Tom Cruise his 'biggest trophy'

Daily Mail, UK/November 29, 2017

By Laura Collins

The former Commanding Officer of the Church of Scientology's Celebrity Centre Network has opened up for the first time to reveal what she calls the 'down and dirty' tactics employed by the church to 'hunt' and hook in celebrities.

Karen Schless Pressley was an elite member of the church's administrative Sea Org who signed her billion-year contract in 1986.

Now, in an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV she has laid bare her life in Scientology's inner sanctum and the bitter cost of leaving.

She has told how celebrities are called 'raw meat,' and lists of desirable 'quarry' are compiled.

She has detailed leader David Miscavige's friendship with his 'biggest trophy' Tom Cruise, and the abuses that saw the leader's own father brand him 'a monster.'

And she has shared the heartbreaking cost of her freedom - the loss of the man she loved, husband of 20 years, Peter Schless.

Karen, 65, left in 1998 - after two failed attempts in 1991 and 1993. Today she is speaking out to mark the publication of her memoirs, Escaping Scientology, An Insider's True Story.

She said: 'Escaping Scientology is not just a one-time break out, like breaking out of a prison. Escaping is a process.

'The impact is very traumatic. It's like moving from Mars to Earth.'

Karen had been out of the church more than ten years before she realized she needed help and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

She said: 'What sort of church treats its people in such a way that they would develop PTSD?'

Perhaps the sort that would launch public, personal attacks on those who speak out against it, she says.

That is what has happened to Karen and the stress of it all is, she said, literally written all over her face.

Shortly after the publication of her book, an episode of Leah Remini's Scientology the Aftermath, to which Karen had contributed, aired. 

Her husband of 17 years, Greg, 60, decided to check whether the church had reacted by posting an 'attack video.'

They had. As they sat and watched Karen went into shock. It was her ex-husband, Peter Schless, 64.

'He lied. He trashed me. He said that I was trailer trash,' she said. 

'But it wasn't so much the shock of the lies it was the shock of seeing the man I had loved…like a prisoner of war, trapped behind the fences of this cult. That happened about 11 o'clock that night. The next morning I woke up and the shock showed itself on my face.'

Karen had suffered a Bells Palsy that paralyzed half her face. The exact cause of this condition is not known but the disruption of the nerve signal between brain and facial muscles has been linked to stress.

Initially, Karen said: 'I didn't really want to do this interview until I healed. Who wants to go on camera with a crooked face? But I decided it's more important to me to tell this story.'

Karen was raised Roman Catholic but never really 'found God' in that faith. In truth neither she nor her husband Schless were searching for something spiritual when they moved to Los Angeles in the late 70s.

She was a burgeoning fashion designer and Peter, a promising keyboard player and composer who worked with a host of luminaries including Cher and BB King. 

His greatest claim to fame remains writing the Grammy nominated song, 'On the Wings of Love,' in 1982 - the same year the couple became Scientologists.

Karen said: 'It seemed like everywhere we went we were meeting Scientologists. Our main goal was to increase our communication skills, the ability to design, the ability to perform.'

The 'self-improvement' classes offered at Scientology's Celebrity Centre appealed, as did the ego-stroking that came with them.

Founder L Ron Hubbard viewed celebrities as a special breed, higher beings who could raise the 'tone' of the planet and he preached that they should be treated as such. He also recognized the power of their social capital.

In 1965 he wrote up his personal 'wish list' of celebrity devotees. It included Pablo Picasso, Walt Disney, Ed Sullivan, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway.

One name that usually gets erased from the church's list of actual conquests, Karen noted, is Charles Manson.

She said: 'Celebrity Centre is a safe harbor, where you can come and be yourself under the protection of their wing. That is what lured in and trapped lots of people.'

Between 1982 and 1986, Karen said, she went from 'enthusiastic volunteer' at the Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles to 'radicalized' devotee prepared to sign a billion-year contract to the Sea Org.

Her husband joined the church but was disqualified from membership because he had taken LSD, which Hubbard had outlawed.

While Schless worked for the church's Golden Era Studios, scoring educational and promotional videos out at their International Base (Int Base) in the Southern Californian desert, Karen took on her first executive role as Deputy Commanding Officer of CC Public Relations.

Two months later she was promoted to Commanding Officer and from there she was catapulted to become CO of the entire network.

It brought her face-to-face with the what she calls 'down and dirty machine' that exists to recruit - and keep - celebrities.

She said: 'Staff who work for CC are billion-year contracted Sea Org members who give up any right to life outside. They are working in a slave like environment, 16 hour day, only a few pieces of clothing as a uniform, they didn't see their children.'

Members of this 'slave-like labor force' make less than $50 a week to maintain celebrities' five-star facilities and 'gold platter treatment.'

Karen said: 'We were always on the hunt for "raw meat." Our goal was to use existing celebrities to be the recruiters and we would teach them how to go out and contact people and bring them to understanding.

'That is the process of being on the hunt for raw meat: contact, handling, salvage, bring to understanding.'

Some methods were, she said, 'beyond ridiculous.' Recruiters would track where celebrities were filming and try to get onto the studio lots or sets. Celebrities who were already considered 'stable' Scientologists were asked to compile lists of celebrity friends, 'quarry' to be targeted.

Juliette Lewis, an up-and-coming actress and Scientologist during Karen's tenure was dating Brad Pitt - a name on their lists. Karen recalled he came in for 'a few courses but fell away.'

Demi Moore, Sean Penn, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Jackson (during his brief marriage to Scientologist Lisa Marie Presley) and, later, James Packer and Rupert Murdoch's son, Lachlan were all listed as desirable 'raw meat.'

According to Karen, Chairman of the Board, Dave Miscavige's team - which by then included Tom Cruise - set their sights on Packer and Murdoch. Packer briefly joined but left in 2006. Murdoch never joined.

Obtaining celebrities and getting them to spend money was key. An introductory auditing session might cost only $100 but more committed attempts to 'go clear' could cost upwards of $50,000.

The aim was to keep celebrities on an endless cycle of purchase and 'improvement.'

According to Karen, daily meetings were held between the CC President and heads of the sales, training and ethics divisions to work out what product or course a celebrity 'needed' next.

She said: 'So everyone is coordinating, telling each other what to sell those celebrities and how to make money off them. That's that it's all about.'

Karen had to get Celebrity Bodies in Shop (CBIS) to increase Gross Income (GI) as well as make the most of their social capital to endorse the religion and push its agenda.

She said: 'John Travolta took a special interest in Applied Scholastics, Scientology's version of educational programs.

'He took his programs to the government. He has spoken with more than one president about it, in my era it was the Clinton administration Travolta was lobbying for Applied Scholastics to be adopted into American schools system.'

The same was true of Narconon - the drugs rehabilitation program promoted by famous Scientologist, Kirstie Alley.

Karen said: 'Kirstie Alley was one of the original celebrity sponsors of that program. And for some reason Scientology for years tried to disavow Narconon being one of its programs, which is ridiculous.

'It's managed all the way up to the most senior levels under the Watchdog Committee for Better Living Education.'

Scientology has since admitted its link to Narconon.

Concerted efforts were also made to ensure that celebrities did not leave.

Karen recalled: 'For a while John Travolta was fading away. There was a lot going on in his personal life, personal issues were causing him conflict within his auditing and he stopped showing up for sessions.' 

She said: 'We had specific auditors that we would put on a plane and fly them to wherever he was filming and they would show up and surprise him and say: "Look we really care about you, we haven't seen you for a while, why don't I take you into [auditing] session and see if I can help you with whatever you might be struggling with right now?"

'All the information [from these sessions] is filed and stamped CONFIDENTIAL: PRIEST-PENITENT PRIVILEGE. That, as a church, allows them to keep those files confidential.

'However the bogus thing is that they are confidential within the organization. They are not.

'Dave Miscavige reads the contents of celebrity files. I know this for a fact. I've been in Dave Miscavige's office, I've seen files on his desk.'

One set of files that she recalled bore the name, Tom Mapother - Cruise's real name under which he joined.

Cruise came to the church through one of their 'feeder lines' which consisted of several actors' workshops including the 'Enhancement Centre' run by Francis Godwin and Mimi Rogers - Cruise's first wife.

Because Cruise joined as 'Tom Mapother' he was in Scientology for a year before he registered on Miscavige's radar. Once he did, everything changed.

Karen said: 'Tom Cruise was Scientology's biggest catch and Dave latched onto him intending to never have Tom Cruise fall off lines like John Travolta had off and on.'

He had his personal staff audit, counsel, and train Cruise. By the time Cruise started coming up to the Int Base in the early 90s the church had 'poured millions' into a renovation intended to make the Celebrity Centre, Los Angeles, fit for Cruise to bring his A-list friends and potential recruits.

Karen was tasked with designing new uniforms. She said: 'As part of that there was a project to review all the staff that worked at the CC and if they were too skinny, too fat, not beautiful enough, ugly, had some sort of impairment, these people were singled out and used as 'coins' and traded with better looking staff from other organizations.

'Can you imagine the humiliation of being one of those coins?'

Around this time Miscavige waived Peter Schless's disqualification and allowed him to join the Sea Org and move onto the Int Base.

Karen said: 'Peter and I sold everything we had, we gave up all connections to our outside careers and went out to this remote location in the desert and that was our death warrant.

'Peter stepped out of his career into total obscurity to do music for Scientology that nobody heard.'

But as Schless submerged himself more deeply in that sequestered world the seeds of Karen's disaffection took root.

By 1990 Tom Cruise had divorced Mimi Rogers and married Nicole Kidman.

Karen said: 'Everything had to be five-star perfect for Tom Cruise including an entire team of people in our estates division staying up with no sleep for weeks on end, transforming part of our property into a meadow and planting it with beautiful flowers so that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman could romp in it.

'We spent tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars installing a special gym that was used by no-one except Tom Cruise, Dave Miscavige, and maybe Mark Yager (then one of the most senior executives in the church).'

Miscavige tried to keep the project a secret but Karen explained: 'Peter and I were living with Dave's father, Ron, and he was given the task of building this gym.

She continued: 'Not to mention the complete renovation of a home that was at the base, Bonnie View.'

It started as a 'little cottage' set-aside in readiness for L Ron Hubbard's return to human form.

She said: 'I was on the renovation team and by the end Bonnie View was a mansion built into the hillside that ended up costing $8 million.'

She has been told a further $2 million was spent after she left and that Cruise and Miscavige use it to 'lounge and whatever else.'

'It had a fabulous kitchen, a pool, a workout room, and right behind was a gun range where they would practice shooting.'

It was common to see Cruise and Miscavige buzzing around Int Base on their motorbikes - with Miscavige wearing the Days of Thunder 'groupie jacket' that Cruise had gifted him.

Sea Org members were recruited to make bespoke furniture for Cruise, to kit out his airplane hangar in Burbank and make alterations to his motorbikes.

Staff was instructed not to look the actor in the eye.

It was clear, Karen said, that Cruise considered himself to be a 'godlike creature…the ultimate Scientologist.'

She said: 'That's when I realized we were under Cruise Control.'

And while many have assumed that the church's celebrity followers are ignorant of the abuses that have allegedly taken place within its walls, Karen insisted that Cruise and others simply choose to turn a blind eye.  

Karen claims she witnessed Miscavige change from a congenial leader into a man his own father described as 'a monster.'

She said: 'He sees Dave transforming into a power-hungry narcissistic individual whose power knows no bounds. 

'Ron told me: "Karen I've created a monster." And I saw the look in Ron's eyes of a man utterly filled with anguish and guilt.'

'I have terrible memories because what I saw during this time (at the base) actually fed into my development of PTSD.'

In 1991, Karen suffered what's called the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) following her first attempt to leave.

She claims she spent seven months on hard labor - running everywhere, dressed in black in the desert heat, digging ditches lifting rocks

It was not rehabilitation, she said, it was 'punishment…they were trying to break you.'

She disputed the church's insistence that this program is voluntary.

She said: 'I was sequestered into an outbuilding on the west side of the property, totally alone. The only people I ever saw were security guards.

'They kept me there three months then they told me, "You need to do the RPF and if you don't you're going to be declared a suppressive person, you will be expelled and you will never see your husband again."

'So based on the choices…did I willingly do the RPF? No. Did I sign my name [to a document consenting]? Yes. Under extreme duress.'

Karen completed her course and stayed and was ultimately promoted back into an executive role.

She came to dread the sound of Miscavige and his entourage stomping down the hallway near her office, his crew in tow.

She said: 'On one occasion they grabbed Ray Midoff (Senior Case Officer Int) and dragged him into the hallway. Dave Miscavige is approximately 5ft 1' and Ray is 6ft tall - ludicrous for such a short physical body to attack a man.'

She claims Miscavige pushed Midoff up against the wall and throttled him while yelling: "You're a c***sucker, you're a suppressive person, you're slowing down the expansion of Scientology."

Karen recalled: 'Shelly [his wife] was standing right next to Dave.

'I was horrified that this entourage of people was standing around him allowing him to do this. I looked at Shelly, "Why don't you stop your husband?" But the look on her face was fear.'

Karen never saw Miscavige hurt or even shout at his wife in public. About a year and a half before Karen finally left the base and the church something happened between her, Miscavige and Shelly.

Clearly distressed at the memory she said: 'I've never disclosed this to anyone ever but there was an incident.

'I didn't put it in the book because it was extremely private.

'I was working on some designs and I heard Dave say something, through a speaker system installed in the room I was working in.

'I still won't repeat what he said, it was so shocking to me that it was one of the things that drove me out of the Sea Org and Scientology.'

Karen cannot bring herself to share what he said. She will only say that it was neither a threat nor a confession.

She said: 'Put it this way, it was an invitation' - an invitation to her.

But the moment the 'glass shattered' was the day Miscavige glibly told her that the millions of dollars of members' donations to the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) was getting 'money for nothing.'

It was one she could no longer stomach and, in 1998, she was forced accepted the heartbreaking fact that her husband was never going to come with her if she left. She had already lost him.

She said: 'Peter a prisoner of war. He'd lost himself. He'd gone into complete obscurity. He had forsaken his family and I had too. But I had to still extract myself. And I made that decision and I came to peace with it.'

Karen left in August 1998. She fled back to Atlanta, to her mother and her family. Schless called for three days then the calls stopped.

For a while Karen returned, she said, to her Christian roots. She found a loving environment in a church and she met Greg Pressley a man who had lost his wife to pancreatic cancer five months earlier.

'We became friends at first,' she said.

One year later she received a letter from Schless. He wrote: 'I never thought it would come to this, but it has.' He said he wanted to part friends, divide their few possessions and sort out shared royalties. 'Divorce stuff,' she said.

Karen replied writing honestly about her views of the church and why she had left.

The next letter from Schless was very different. She said: 'I could tell someone else had written it.'

A couple of years later, Karen learned from others who had left that Schless could not bring himself to write the letter disconnecting from her and that, infuriated, Miscavige had ordered him to disconnect, divorce, and dictated what to say, she claims.

She said: 'How cruel that after 20 years of marriage to this man that I loved, his very final words to me were not even his, they were Dave Miscavige's.'

Today Karen has found happiness, peace and love - things she never experienced in Scientology. She returned to college and gained a Masters in writing and has found a loving supportive husband in realtor, Pressley.

She said: 'Scientology is an entrapment system. They lure people in for total spiritual freedom but what you get is total spiritual entrapment.'

It may have taken her almost a decade but Karen has finally escaped. 

Statement from the Church of Scientology 

In a statement to, the church said: 

Karen Pressley is a fringe apostate with a personal agenda and a single motivation to make money out of her former association with the Church of Scientology. 

Her allegations are not only categorically denied, but have been totally undermined or disproved in the past. 

Many of them, such as her false claims about the religion's leader, have been refuted through the sworn testimony of people with firsthand knowledge.

Karen Pressley's brief stint at Celebrity Centre ended nearly three decades ago, in 1989. 

Pressley failed at every job she had in the Church. Her last position was as a gardener at a Church facility in Riverside County.

Pressley is one of a small cadre of anti-Scientologists seeking their 15 minutes of fame through spreading lies.

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