Sandcastle

DOX: Scientology’s pricey Florida ‘spiritual mecca’ keeps up its value in latest tax records

(This piece was published on Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker on 12.2.2017. It is republished here for archival purposes)

Jeffrey Augustine is once again keeping us up to date on Scientology’s financial documents. In this case, he has new figures on how much just one of many Scientology’s entities is worth, according to newly available tax documents.

In 2006, a change in the law required all non-profit organizations — even churches — to submit tax returns known as 990-T forms if they generated what is known as “unrelated business income.” A few years ago, I began finding and turning over to the Underground Bunker the 990-Ts for Scientology’s various entities.

Often, that income is fairly modest. But what’s more important for our purposes is that on each 990-T form there’s a box to fill out for “book value.” In other words, these organizations are asked to estimate their value in assets.

That requirement has led to a rare window into Scientology’s riches, and we like to keep up on the latest changes in those values.

In this case, I’ve found new documents related to the Flag Service Organization (FSO), the entity that runs Scientology’s Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida. This is where wealthy Scientologists from around the world come for expensive high-level auditing and other services. And keep in mind, FSO is just one of many entities that make up the Scientology movement, but it’s one of the more important ones.

So let’s see how the value of FSO has changed:

2008: $234.8 million
2009: $246.5 million
2010: $251.9 million
2011: $210.1 million
2012: $290.7 million
2013: $218.2 million
2014: $241.1 million
2015: $257.5 million

And here’s what that change in value looks like…

FSO is not the most valuable entity in the Scientology orbit. When we first began gathering these tax returns, for the year 2011, the Church of Scientology International was worth $790.8 million and the Church of Spiritual Technology listed a value of $434.4 million, for a total of $1.2 billion just for those two entities.

But even if it’s a distant third, the Flag Service Organization is steadily increasing in value.

This is consistent with what the newest defector from Flag told the Bunker recently. Peter Nyiri, who made a dramatic escape to freedom several months ago, said that the Flag Land Base is still bringing in huge income, of $2 million to $4 million a week — by starving the “outer orgs” and pressuring Scientology’s shrinking membership to come to Flag as often as they can for services.

Looking more carefully at recent returns by the FSO with the help of financial expert Dr. Jeff Wasel, we found a few noteworthy items…

In Part V of Flag’s 990-T returns filed in the period 2008-2013, FSO checked “Yes” on question 1 to indicate that it had an “interest in or other authority over a financial account (bank, securities, or other) in a foreign country.” Flag filled in the line to inform the IRS that it has financial interests in the United Kingdom and Australia. What are Flag’s financial interests in the United Kingdom and Australia? More importantly, how are they moving this money, and declaring these movements to the appropriate authorities, given these movements are between foreign entities?

In Part V of Flag’s 2014 and 2015, Flag checked “No,” indicating that it no longer had an “interest in or other authority over a financial account (bank, securities, or other) in a foreign country.” What happened to Flag’s financial interests in the United Kingdom and Australia?

In examining the 2013-2015 990-T’s, my personal view is that Flag’s stated costs for building improvements are either padded or excessive. For example, NOVA HRC is the firm that does the actual renovations on Scientology’s buildings (as well as many other clients). In the NOVA portfolio we have two hard data points:

1. Nova gives a project cost of $18,000,000 to renovate 393 guest rooms at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California. This is $45,801 per guest room.

2. Nova gives a project cost of $27,000,000 to renovate 220 guest rooms Flag’s Fort Harrison hotel. This is $122,727 per guest room. This seems utterly absurd and suggests, in my opinion, that the IRS should open an inquiry into why Scientology spends so lavishly on parishioner guest rooms. Scientology orders its parishioners to stay at Flag hotels and does not have to compete with secular hotels, so why the excessive spending?

In the Flag tax returns we see approximately $80,000 spent on exercise equipment for two properties. Additionally, their 2013 990-T form states that they spent some $14,296,680 on “improving” the Sandcastle Restaurant, used for public dining. For this money, it better be “Nobu” quality in food and atmosphere! The price mark-up on restaurant fixtures, as well as the same convoluted permitting process as that of the construction industry, are rife with the same potential for what seems to be excessive spending. What exactly is going on inside of Scientology and Nova that seems to be driving up renovation costs as compared to lower costs in the secular marketplace?

On a final note, even with the opening of the Super Power building on November 17, 2013 the Flag Land Base does not appear to have “boomed” whatsoever as a result of this edifice. Valued at $80,000,000, the Church of Scientology raised $145,000,000 for the project. Where did all the extra money go?

— Jeffrey Augustine

Flag Service Organization IRS 990-T forms 2008-2015

FSO Book Value 2015 $257,506,278

FSO Book Value 2014 $241,134,104

FSO Book Value 2013 $218,154,319

FSO Book Value 2012 $290,655,686

FSO Book Value 2011 $210,075,914

FSO Book Value 2010 $251,896,300

FSO Book Value 2009 $246,516,017

FSO Book Value 2008 $234,764,273