mardi 4 octobre 2016

Alleged Scientology retaliation results in $46,500 fine

Alleged Scientology retaliation results in $46,500 fine.

Tampa Bay Times: Illegal house rental nets Clearwater lawyer $46,000 fine; she blames attention from Scientology

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Illegal house rental nets Clearwater lawyer $46,000 fine; she blames attention from Scientology

By Tracey McManus and Mark Puente, Times Staff Writers

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 5:00am

CLEARWATER — The sun was about to set on a July evening in 2013 when Betsy Steg heard a knock at the door.

She peered out her front window and wondered how two uniformed Scientologists got the code to her gated cul-de-sac in Harbor Oaks, an affluent neighborhood overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

As Steg opened the door, church official Peter Mansell delivered a warning.

"He said, 'You're an enemy of the church and we're going to harm and destroy you,' " Steg recalled.


The board showed no mercy, fining Steg $46,500.

In a statement to the Times, Blackstone's attorney, Steven Hayes, said his client was simply acting as a responsible neighbor.

"None of Ms. Blackstone's civic actions were 'directed' by the Church or anyone else, as you suggest, nor did they have any other purpose than to be a good neighbor and responsible citizen," Hayes said.

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While Steg battled complaints, a stranger appeared at Cedar House and destroyed $4,800 worth of privacy bushes.

Steg's handyman, Bob Covington, another prominent Scientology defector, witnessed the act one day in July 2015. Steg raced down to confront Arthur Keele, 71, who told her he was cutting hedges for a city program.

He called his actions "good samaritan efforts," according to a police report.

Prosecutors charged Keele with felony criminal mischief.

Still, he kept coming near the Cedar House.

In February, Steg told a judge Keele watched the property from another neighbor's home.

"We are very worried about this," she wrote to the judge, prosecutor and public defender.

Keele was slated to stand trial this month, but the public defender requested a delay to question Steg. Keele declined multiple requests to comment.

The Times could not find a link between Keele and Scientology. But the church goes to great lengths to surveil its enemies. For 18 months private detectives tracked every move made by the father of Scientology leader David Miscavige. They eavesdropped, spied on his emails and planted a GPS unit on his car.

Keele is scheduled for trial on Dec. 6. Steg says any plea deal must include an explanation of why he destroyed her property.

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Steg appealed her $46,500 fine. But the violations have not ended there.

The city mailed a notice of violation Aug. 4 for continuing to advertise the Cedar House as a short- term rental online in the weeks after receiving the record-breaking fine. Steg was scheduled to go before the code enforcement board Sept. 28, but the case was pulled days before.

Tanner said city officials did not explain why the case was removed but that it could go before the board this month.

The most recent violations were found by city inspectors sleuthing rental websites and were not a result of tips from Blackstone, said Terry Teunis, code compliance director.

Before the July case goes to an administrative judge, Teunis said his staff is combing through Blackstone's affidavit to verify real visitors stayed in the house on the dates she testified.

The city did no such checking before imposing the $46,500 fine.

"I had no reason to dispute her testimony," Teunis said. "We have an obligation to enforce our laws."

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Alleged Scientology retaliation results in $46,500 fine

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