After just two hours of deliberation, a Colorado jury found Rex Fowler guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of his former business partner Thomas Ciancio. The case was fairly strait forward and the trial lasted only a few days. There was no question that Fowler killed his business partner; the only question was whether the crime was first or second degree murder. The state claimed the killing was premeditated and intentional; Fowler asserted that Ciancio’s death was not intended but, rather, a tragic accident. He maintained that Ciancio interrupted a botched suicide attempt and was killed in the ensuing melee.
As a practical matter, the jury’s verdict made little difference. His conviction of murder in the first-degree resulted in a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Had the jury convicted him of second-degree murder, he was exposed to a maximum penalty of forty-eight years incarceration. At age fifty-nine, it is unlikely that his life expectancy would exceed the likely prison term.
The victim, Thomas Ciancio, age 42, was a decent, hard-working and likable man. Married to his high school sweetheart and the father of four young children, he had been the Chief Operating Officer of Fowler Software Design in the Denver area for several years. He resigned in November 2009 after a dispute with the founder of the company, Rex Fowler. The parting of ways was not amicable and each claimed the other owed them money. Finally, Fowler agreed to pay Ciancio approximately $10,000 in severance pay. A meeting was arranged so that the final settlement papers could be signed. Ciancio, happy to put the matter behind him, met with Rex Fowler for the final time on December 30, 2009.
When Ciancio arrived at the company, he was shown into a conference room adjoining Fowler’s office. After the formalities concluded, Fowler drew a 9-millimeter Glock pistol and fired three shots any of which, would be fatal, into Ciancio’s head. Fowler then turned the gun on himself and fired one shot. Fowler’s aim on this occasion was not so good; the shot did not kill him and he stumbled into the street – alive but seriously wounded. While no one saw the shooting, several witnesses heard the shots and called the police. Initially, it was thought that Fowler was a victim and, believing the gunman to be alive and armed, the SWAT team was dispatched. A couple of hours later, they gained access to the business and discovered Ciancio’s lifeless body.
Ciancio’s murder, and Fowler’s arrest three weeks later, was local news and generally would not have attracted much attention outside the state of Colorado. Fowler’s case, however, became international news when it was learned that he was a scientologist – not just a garden-variety run of the mill scientologist – but an Operating Thetan level number seven (OT 7) – one of the highest and costliest states of spiritual awareness available in the market of spiritual ideas. The glossy promotional pieces used in the church’s direct mail campaign advertise that, by following their copyrighted practices – and at a substantial price – man can attain total spiritual freedom and truth. When one reaches the state of OT, they have the ability, according to the church’s website, to “handle things without having to use a body of physical means” and “handle things without physical support or assistance.” When a man like Fowler – with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men – is involved in a murder/suicide attempt, that is something that will attract some media attention. The case was newsworthy, however, not because Fowler possessed some awesome spiritual power unavailable to the impecunious – rather, it drew attention because Fowler, despite having achieved this status, lacked the ability to conform his conduct to even the most basic and fundamental rules of civilized society.
The church of scientology attracts more critics than a stray dog does fleas. Why would a religion that provides the keys to spiritual enlightenment of the magnitude advertised – albeit at a high financial cost -cause so much disconcert among so many people? The most obvious reason is that it does not deliver as advertised. When trying to impress new converts, they claim to be a precise science, while at the same time denying their critics the right to scientifically test their theories. The fact that Rex Fowler discharged a firearm four times and fail in his stated intent to end his own life is a sad testimonial the effectiveness of this religion and a tragic reminder of the injuries that conduct may have on any ‘bystanders’.
Second, there is evidence to suggest that the processes used by the church may, in fact be dangerous. The most noteworthy proof of this claim is the tragic case of Lisa McPherson who died while in the care of the church. As a result of her death, adherents of the religion must now sign a release prior to receiving spiritual counseling from the church.
A final reason for criticism is the church’s ruthless treatment of its critics. The victims of this fraud, after spending years of their time and hundreds of thousands of their dollars, are not allowed to complain without invoking the wrath of church management. Unlike Christianity which preaches that one should “turn the other cheek”, the religious scriptures of scientology command them to “to find or manufacture enough threat against [their enemies] to cause them to sue for peace. Don’t ever defend. Always attack.” Hubbard not only sanctioned, but urged the use of “black propaganda” to “destroy reputation or public belief in persons, companies or nations.” According to the church, this policy, called ‘fair game’, was cancelled in 1968-a claim that is disproven by the large number of documented instances of harassment and black propaganda that follows in the wake of any criticism. It is a reasonable conclusion that the application of fair game tactics remains a cornerstone of scientology practices.
In a decision widely quoted, judge Breckenridge of the Los Angeles Superior Court wrote “ . . .[scientology], under the pretext of ‘freeing humans’ is nothing in reality but a vast enterprise to extract the maximum amount of money from its adepts . . . The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and the bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder [L. Ron Hubbard].” Many former adherents agree with this assessment. In recruiting new members, their practices work with scientific precision. They claim they are a religion when they are attempting to justify their tax exempt status, deny their staff members a living wage an avoid government regulation. To their membership, however, they are a business that must charge exorbitant prices for the services they render.
When the critic community learned the facts surrounding Fowler’s arrest, it added fuel to their belief in the corrupt nature of this sect. Ciancio had quit the firm because he was upset that Fowler had taken over $150,000 from the company and donated it to some arm of the church of scientology. This type of unauthorized expenditure – a prosecutor might call it embezzlement – along with the general economic downturn, caused the business to fail. Fowler was clearly despondent over his financial ruin and clearly suicidal.
Critics believed that many of the abusive financial practices of the church would become evidence in the trial. The governing financial policy of scientology is, according to Hubbard, to “MAKE MONEY, MAKE MORE MONEY, MAKE OTHERS PRODUCE SO AS TO MAKE MONEY.” According to former members, the church practices “crush regging” where high-pressure sales tactics are employed and the registrars are directed to: “rob the person of every opportunity to say ‘No’”. This “art of hard sell” is incorporated into the sacred and copyrighted writings of the church. The critics were, however, disappointed; Judge Francis Wasserman, who presided over Fowler’s trial, allowed very little evidence of Fowler’s faith and no evidence of the abusive practices previously alleged – a decision that shortened the trial immeasurably and caused many critics to cry conspiracy. Judge Wasserman’s decision was correct – this evidence, while interesting, had little relevance to the charge of murder.
Fowler and his wife had been dedicated scientologists for several decades; both had attained the revered status of OT. While it is not known how much money the Fowlers donated to the church over this period, by most people’s standards the amount would be staggering. The $150,000 dollar misappropriation apparently was just a drop in the bucket. Earlier in the year, they had sold their home for over a half million dollars. Like many committed scientologists, the Fowlers had financed the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’ with credit cards, personal loans and mortgages. With the economic downturn in 2008, credit sources dried up and business turned sour.
Fowler was not the only scientologist to be stung by the credit crunch and recession. In May, 2009, Stephen Brackett, a successful contractor, was despondent over his financial troubles and jumped several hundred feet to his death in Monterey, CA. He was also an OT and had contributed over one million dollars to the church. There are a number of other instances of suicides or attempted suicides among OTs; some resulting from the despondency of financial ruin, and others from the psychosis attributed to the harmful practices of the religion. Most, however, do not commit suicide but are left financially ruined by the ‘donations’ made under the constant demands by the church for ‘MORE MONEY’.
By the time of trial, Fowler was indigent and represented by the public defender’s office. It is the Colorado taxpayers that should be outraged by this fact. When stolen money is ‘donated’ to a church by a defendant, it is difficult to comprehend why the church does not have an ethical or legal obligation to return this money.
While he sits in prison, Rex Fowler should reflect on the sad fact that he is just one of many scientologists that can add ‘convicted of a felony’ to what would otherwise be an impressive resume. He follows in the footsteps of the church founder, L. Ron Hubbard, who was convicted, in absentia, of fraud by a French court in 1978. Hubbard was also an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Snow White case an spent the last years of his life in seclusion hiding from the authorities. Operation Snow White has been described as the largest infiltration of the United States government in history. It involved the use of 5000 covert agents who engaged in the illegal wiretapping and theft of government documents. In August 1978, eleven high-ranking scientologists, including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue, were convicted of obstructing justice, burglary, and theft of government property. In September 2003, Reed Slatkin, another OT 7 was sentenced to 14 years for fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice for his part in a Ponzi scheme that netted him millions of dollars – much of that money ending up in the coffers of the church of scientology. In October 2009, two branches of the church’s operations and several of its leaders were convicted of fraud in a French court. Additionally, there are dozens of other cases involving scientologists – convicted of a wide array of criminal behavior that would serve as a useful primer to students of criminal law.
In November 2009, Nick Xenephon, a member of the Australian Senate, labeled the church of scientology a criminal organization alleging that it engaged in blackmail, torture, violence, labor camps, forced imprisonment, and coerced abortion. He was instrumental in spearheading legislation forming a charities commission charged with ensuring that churches and other charitable organizations are held accountable and satisfy a public benefit test before being afforded charitable status. Such action is long overdue in the United States. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. 680 (1989) denying the church tax exempt status, the IRS inexplicably did an about face and entered into a number closing agreements with the church in 1993. The details of those closing agreements remained a secret for several years but, at the time, were lauded by church officials as the holy grail – giving them, in the form of tax-exempt status, the legitimization they had long sought after. To this day, the IRS has largely ignored numerous allegations that mirror those made in Australia and failed to revisit the church’s status as a tax-exempt entity – allegations that span decades and include a widespread pattern of abusive behavior and obstruction of justice.
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