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Scientology, hackers and private eyes

Scientology, hackers and private eyes
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

Say what you will about the Church of Scientology, all I will say is that the religion is shrouded in mystery. That's evidenced by the HBO documentary "Going Clear," and now, the story is more interesting.

In the documentary, eight former members of the church come forward and detail "the systematic history of abuse and betrayal by Church officials, including the current leadership of the Church." One of those abuses just got a private investigator arrested, although he won't admit that he was working for the Church of Scientology.

Self-proclaimed private investigator Eric Saldarriaga received a sentence of three months in jail, three years' probation and a $1,000 fine after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit computer hacking.

According to court documents, Saldarriaga hired hackers to break into email accounts of nearly 50 different individuals, among them is two very "prominent Scientology critics" featured in the "Going Clear" documentary, Mike Rinder and Tony Ortega.

Rinder is a former Scientology spokesman and Ortega is a journalist who has written about the religion for 20 years. It raises suspicion that Scientology could have been behind the hired hacks, but according to Naked Security, the court documents don't name the clients Saldarriaga was hired by to do the dirty work. Documents also did not name the hired hackers.

Also disturbing is the fact that Saldarriaga lied to the court about his professional credentials. He used a license number associated with another investigator on his website and lied about having a New York State investigator's license.

While nobody can yet prove Scientology was behind the hacks, Rinder and Ortega have urged the court to investigate further. Here's what Rinder wrote in his court statement:

This should be investigated as this is a pattern of behavior Scientology has gotten away with for too long – while making a mockery of the First Amendment protections they claim as a religion and a falsely obtained tax exempt status. Scientology is violating public policy by hiring people to commit felonies, and that is compounded by the fact they are using tax exempt funds. This sort of criminal behavior should cost them their exempt status under the law – these activities are being subsidized by US taxpayers. This will happen only if the USAO pursues this matter back to the perpetrators. Only then will justice truly be served.

If you want to watch the full version of "Going Clear," it's available on HBO GO.

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