The Scientology Money Project

GPB Capital Hires NYC PR Crisis Management Firm Risa Heller; Denies Any Role in $103 Million Clearwater Land Purchases Made by Murky Scientologist-Owned LLC’s

                  Downtown Clearwater, Florida

In her bombshell 2019 news story Clear Takeover, Tracey McManus revealed that $103 million in Downtown Clearwater land purchases were made by a series of LLC’s owned by Scientologists. $99 million of the purchases were paid for in cash.

We have previously presented a case that the $103 million  was provided by Scientologist David Gentile’s GPB Capital Holdings.

Following the recent arrest of Scientologist David Gentile by the FBI on criminal charges related to allegations that GPB Capital Holdings is a $1.8 billion Ponzi scheme, Clearwater City Council member Mark Bunker raised the question about the land purchases. As reported by The Tampa Bay Times last week:

During a meeting Thursday, City Council member Mark Bunker discussed Gentile’s arrest and wondered whether he has deeper connections to the recent spate of obscure entities that have bought downtown real estate with cash.

GPB Capital Holdings’ reply to the Tampa Bay Times came from Linden Zakula who works for the powerhouse New York City PR and crisis management firm Risa Heller:

In a one-sentence statement to the Times on Friday, a GPB spokesperson Linden Zakula said: “GPB Capital did not make — and has no involvement in — any of those purchases.”

We find it extremely provocative that the first public statement out of Scientologist David Gentile’s mouth following his arrest by the FBI is a denial that GPB Capital was part of the Clearwater land purchases. One would think Gentile would use his incredibly expensive Risa Heller damage control expert to make a relevant and highly focused statement, e.g. “I’m innocent of all charges and look forward to being vindicated during my upcoming criminal trial.”

David Gentile’s statement via Risa Heller’s firm suggests that his messaging is being controlled by David Miscavige via Ben Shaw of OSA Legal in Clearwater.

The Massachusetts securities lawsuit against GPB Capital stated that GPB  has “hundreds of funds and sub-funds” and hundreds of bank accounts under its control. The Massachusetts lawsuit describes the “structurally complex” and interlocking nature of the organization in which the various funds and sub-funds own parts of each other. Therefore, while “GPB Capital” denied any involvement in the Clearwater real estate purchases, one of its many sub-funds could have been involved.

There may be semantics at work here as GPB owns many entities and sub-funds not named “GPB.” David Gentile personally owns, in whole or in part, various entities named Dripping Springs Holdings LLC, Pb&J Holding LLC, Volaire LLC, Gatsby Development, A&W Worldwide, and Jachirijo Inc., among dozens of others.

As lawsuits have revealed, Gentile used Volaire LLC to purchase a business jet for his use and that of other GPB executives. Volaire Management was used to hire and pay for air crew. David Gentile could therefore deny that “GPB Capital” had anything to do with the purchase and operation of jet aircraft. Our point is straightforward: There are many ways for a firm like GPB to engage in concealed transactions without anyone outside the inner circle knowing.

While GPB is a majority owner in many of the companies it purchases, GPB’s practice has been to allow the previous owner of a company it purchased to remain in place as the CEO. This allowed David Rosenberg to remain CEO of Prime Automotive after GPB purchased a controlling interest in Prime Auto for $235 million. Anyone not aware of this sale would assume that David Rosenberg was the CEO and owner of Prime Auto.

Again, the point to be made is that no one knows who the real owners are of the dozens of Scientologist-owned LLC’s used to purchase the $103 million in Downtown Clearwater real estate.

For these reasons, we think the FBI should investigate the provenance of the money that was used to purchase the Downtown Clearwater real estate.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times in November 2020, David Miscavige told Clearwater mayor Frank Hibbard that the Church’s outright purchase of Downtown Clearwater real estate was not “coordinated” with the separate $103 million in real estate purchases made by Scientology parishioners.

We find Miscavige’s denial to be absurd on its face. While Miscavige denied there was any “coordination,” he did not deny specific knowledge of the parishioner purchases. We see it all as a Scientology program to force Clearwater to capitulate to the Church’s demands by using financial terrorism.

These Scientology real estate land purchases have crippled the city’s development efforts in Downtown Clearwater. As McManus documented, some of the parcels purchased went for as much as five times their appraised market value. Many of the parcels remain vacant, some are simply bare land, and there is little or no return on investment being produced from the $103 million spent on real estate.

Who has $103 million to spend in such an apparently pointless, wasteful, and profligate manner?

The only seemingly rational explanation would be a covert “money is no object” Scientology program designed to force the city of Clearwater to accede to the Church’s tacit goal to essentially exercise complete control over Downtown Clearwater.

The Church of Scientology has consistently acted in bad faith towards the city of Clearwater since it surreptitiously relocated the Apollo crew to the city in 1975 under the guise of the “United Churches of Florida.” Scientology even went so far as to attempt to frame then Clearwater mayor Gabe Cazares (1920-2006) in 1976 for a hit-and-run accident in Washington DC. This operation against Mayor Cazares was an act of retaliation for his speaking out against Scientology’s various machinations in Clearwater. Cazares and his wife sued the Church for $1.5 million and a settlement in favor the Cazares’ was reached.

There is a prior precedent of Scientology offering to pay vastly inflated sums of money for land in its attempt to economically harm Downtown Clearwater by placing a stranglehold on all chances of redevelopment. Specifically, in 2017 the city of Clearwater contractually agreed to purchase a parcel of land from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for $4.25 million. Subsequently, Scientology leader David Miscavige, who wanted the land, stepped in and offered to pay $15 million in cash for the parcel.

Monique Yingling, the personal attorney to David Miscavige, wrote a letter blasting the Aquarium for not accepting the Church’s $15 million. What Yingling failed to address was the question of how her client David Miscavige could justify the use of $15 million tax-exempt religious dollars to further cement Scientology’s monopolistic stranglehold over Downtown Clearwater real estate.

Overpaying for a piece of land is arguably a serious breach of fiduciary duty on Miscavige’s part. Worse, using tax-exempt dollars to cripple Downtown Clearwater’s redevelopment efforts, and thereby cause economic harm to the city and the citizenry, is not acting in the public interest as is the duty of all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt religious organizations. Rather, as we have said, it is financial terrorism.

2 replies »

  1. I agree that it is curious that of all the things Gentile has to deny, THIS is the one they’d focus on.

    This denial isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. It costs him nothing (except for the time of his expensive mouthpiece who’s probably working overtime to manage this fiasco anyhow) to deny this. When things get real for him, having made a false denial or even the staggering amount of about $100m will be the least of his problems.

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