Tampa Bay Times identifies developer acting as Scientology’s front in Clearwater
We’ve told you how Scientology leader David Miscavige really wanted to get his hands on a small parcel of land in downtown Clearwater, Florida that is surrounded by other Scientology properties, but in 2017 the city stopped him from getting it.
As a result, we learned through some blockbuster reporting by Tampa Bay Times staffer Tracey McManus, wealthy Scientologists went on a buying spree, snapping up properties all around Clearwater’s downtown and North Marina areas, and for eye-popping prices, sometimes for much more than the properties were worth.
The implication seemed clear: Angry that he’d been spurned by the city, Miscavige was directing rich Scientologists to snap up even more control of it.
Scientology denied that it had anything to do with those land purchases, which have generally just sat unused since then.
Now, McManus is back with another blockbuster: She’s obtained an email which appears to confirm not only that the properties were bought in a coordinated effort directed by the church, but that an out-of-town developer with no ties to Scientology has been brought in as a ringer to front efforts to develop the parcels in the North Marina area.
Everyone is denying that implication, of course, including the developer, Rodney Riley, who arrived in Clearwater last year after establishing a record of working with the Mormon church to develop properties in Arizona.
And we want to make it clear: No one is saying that Riley’s $350 million development proposal in the North Marina area would be a bad thing for the city. But it would require permission from the city for variances to existing codes, and as new city manager Jennifer Poirrier explained, it’s not a good sign that the developer is not being more forthcoming about who he’s representing.
“Deception — that’s not going to be appreciated by the community and by the city, especially when there’s no reason for it,” she told McManus.
The email that McManus obtained spells out that Riley will be acting as the public face for OT 8 Scientologist investor Stephen Epstein, who is based in Nashville. And another player who is actually behind the North Marina development is Osman Ozsan, a Scientologist and money manager for Trish Duggan, the wealthy ex-wife of Bob Duggan, Scientology’s single biggest donor, who has given more than $360 million in donations to the church.
Trish Duggan, Ozsan, and Epstein were apparently concerned about the public finding out they were actually behind the new North Marina development, and so Epstein, in the email McManus obtained, asked Riley to come to town as a “white knight” and act as the project’s front to make it appear “legit.” It also suggested that Riley would be meeting with the Church of Scientology’s Clearwater spokesman, Ben Shaw.
Riley arrived in Clearwater in January 2022, and has been promoting the $350 million development, which involves numerous properties owned by Scientologists, while going out of his way to say that he is not a Scientologist himself.
He denied to the Tampa Bay Times that he received the email from Epstein, and he and his attorney denied that he was acting as a front for Scientology. From Tracey’s story…
[The email] says Epstein would “facilitate meetings” between himself, Riley “and Ben Shaw, with the Church, for the purpose of hopefully acquiring as much property as possible and figuring out where to place museum, etc.”
In his statement to the Times, Riley said he has never met with Shaw.
“The Church of Scientology is not an investor, tenant or end buyer of any project I’m developing in the North Marina area,” Riley stated. “Just because I’m buying land from Scientologists or would welcome investors of all religions does not mean I’m doing projects for the Church of Scientology.”
Meanwhile, we can now see why Shaw went into such a freakout and sent an unhinged letter to the city’s mayor about McManus, which we showed you on March 17.
Also, we raised an eyebrow when we noticed that Poirrier said she was assured by Riley’s land-use attorney, Brian Aungst Jr., that Riley was operating independently.
That turns out to be something of a fib, and coming from the son of the man, Brian Aungst Sr., who the city council just selected to be mayor for the next eleven months.
And look, we will again say this project in the North Marina area may end up being a good thing for the folks of Clearwater. But it’s sweet vindication for Tracey McManus that confirms what we all suspected: The property buying spree was a concerted effort by Scientology to gain even more control of the town.
That hasn’t stopped city leaders like Mark Bunker, who are going ahead with plans to revitalize the downtown without Scientology’s involvement.
Please read Tracey’s story for even more detail about the email and the denials she got from Riley, Shaw, and everyone else involved.
A special treat for our subscribers
Today at noon our subscribers will receive the episode 14 of our special podcast series, “Group Therapy.”
This week, Lynette calls in from a very special location in Scientology history!
We’re offering this series as thanks to our subscribers for helping to support the work we do here at the Underground Bunker.
Thank you for reading today’s story here at Substack. For the full picture of what’s happening today in the world of Scientology, please join the conversation at tonyortega.org, where we’ve been reporting daily on David Miscavige’s cabal since 2012. There you’ll find additional stories, and our popular regular daily features:
Source Code: Actual things founder L. Ron Hubbard said on this date in history
Avast, Ye Mateys: Snapshots from Scientology’s years at sea
Overheard in the Freezone: Indie Hubbardism, one thought at a time
Past is Prologue: From this week in history at alt.religion.scientology
Random Howdy: Your daily dose of the Captain
And whatever you do, subscribe to this Substack so you get our breaking stories and daily features right to your email inbox every morning.
Paid subscribers get access to two special podcast series every week…
Up the Bridge: A weekly journey through Scientology’s actual “technology”
Group Therapy: Our round table of rowdy regulars on the week’s news