Akron Beacon Journal: A Tale of Capture and Brainwashing

Source: Akron Beacon Journal
Date: January 21, 1990


by Richard Weizel, Beacon Journal business writer

During a five-month period in 1988, Bob and Dorothy Geary paid $200,000 to the Church of Scientology to gain spiritual perfection.

Instead, they say, they nearly lost their minds.

A Medina dentist, Geary said he also nearly lost his 5-year-old practice, and his wife wound up requiring hospitalization after allegedly being held captive for more than two weeks by Scientologists in California.

'Our story is so bizarre that when you hear the whole thing it sounds like something that would only be made in Hollywood,' said Geary. 'I wouldn't have believed it myself if it didn't happen to me.'

Dorothy Geary says that at the conclusion of her five-month involvement she remained in a dazed state for months until being deprogrammed by a former Scientologist in Canada.

The Gearys say that they have recovered about half the money paid to the Scientologists. But, they said, they rejected a $44,000 cash settlement offered last month by the church, because it would have required them to remain silent.

A spokesman for the church's San Francisco mission, August Murphy, did not dispute that Mrs. Geary was taken by Scientologists to a cabin in California in the fall of 1988. And he agreed that the church had made a cash settlement offer to the Gearys, because it was church policy to 'return donations' when members choose to leave.

He denied, though, that Mrs. Geary was ever held against her will and said, 'We would love to resolve things with the Gearys and work out these differences. We made them an offer, but they rejected it.'

Instead, Geary has begun to speak out. Recently, he addressed a group of health professionals in Michigan about his family's experience, which began at a free seminar offered by Sterling Management Systems.

Sterling, a California company, has been described by Inc. Magazine as one of the 45 fastest growing private firms in the country. Sterling Management is not connected with Sterling Inc. of Fairlawn, the retail jewelry company owned by Ratners of Great Britain.

Sterling Management runs seminars and services that the company says will help medical professionals increase their profits. But the Gearys and other former Scientologists said Sterling also is a front organization for the Church of Scientology. Many medical professionals in the Akron area confirm they receive Sterling's mailings frequently.

Murphy said that there 'are Scientologists working for Sterling, but it is not part of the church at all.' He said that Sterling workers consult with dentists and other health professionals to help them use the management techniques of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. 'Some of them get involved in the church and some don't,' Murphy said.

Repeated attempts to reach Sterling officials in California for comment were unsuccessful.

Scientology is considered a dangerous cult by the national Cult Awareness Network. The church received considerable negative publicity for burglarizing and wire-tapping government agencies in the late 1970s, and has lost its tax-exempt status in California.

The Gearys say their involvement with Scientology began when Bob Geary attended a three-hour Sterling seminar in May 1988 at the Cleveland Marriott hotel. After the seminar, Geary said, he was given a personality profile and told he needed further seminars to improve his practice.

'They knew exactly the right emotional buttons to push to influence me,' he said. 'I don't know why, but I couldn't say no.'

Before he left, Geary said, he had signed a $10,500 check to attend a weeklong seminar at Sterling's Glendale, Calif., facility.

A month after the initial seminar the Gearys, along with their two daughters, flew to Glendale so Bob Geary could attend further seminars.

Once in California, Geary said, he and his wife were pressured into signing up for additional work at the Church of Scientology's San Francisco mission.

'They told us we had marital problems,' Mrs. Geary said. 'They separated us and told me that Bob needed this to improve his life and his practice. They came on real strong and wouldn't let up.'

But Bob Geary said he was being told another story, that his wife wanted him to take more seminars because she wished he were more successful.

After returning home for a month, the family flew out to the San Francisco mission in mid-July for 10 days of intensive 'auditing,' a term the church uses for counseling and retraining. Former members maintain it actually is brainwashing.

Included in the auditing procedures is the use of an E-Meter, a wire that holds two cans together. The meter supposedly indicates whether a person is telling the truth and if he or she has advanced spiritually.

Geary also described taking part in a practice called 'bull-baiting,' in which two persons sit face-to-face and stare at each other for hours without saying anything.

'The scary thing was that those kinds of exercises were making me emotionless,' said Geary. 'It was like I didn't have a mind of my own.'

But the Gearys' daughters say they were never impressed by Scientology. 'I didn't believe anything they told us,' said the Gearys' 15-year-old daughter, who did not want her first name used. 'I never believed in the E-Meter and I thought the whole thing was real stupid. I would sign out to go to the bathroom, and go shopping instead.'

The Gearys said that within a few weeks of their involvement they were unable to resist signing checks, arranging for bank loans and borrowing money from the dental practice to pay the Scientology group for additional seminars. They showed a Beacon Journal reporter canceled checks written out to the Church of Scientology totaling more than $180,000.

The couple also said that a Scientologist forged Bob Geary's signature to a check for $20,000 when Geary didn't 'move fast enough' to pay for additional seminars, a charge Murphy denied.

The Gearys said they allowed Scientologists to move into their house for additional auditing after Geary and his oldest daughter returned home at the end of July.

But Mrs. Geary did not return home. She said she stayed at the mission, along with her youngest daughter, because she was advised that she needed to be cleared, a Scientology term for climbing to higher spiritual levels. She said she could not return to Medina even when it was time for her youngest daughter to resume school at the end of August.

The daughter flew home alone.

In early September Mrs. Geary came back to Medina for a brief time, but describes feeling 'weird' and out of place. She was by this time having hallucinations, according to family doctor W. Denny Robertson, and appeared to her friends and family to be unstable.

A week later, Mrs. Geary said, she returned to San Francisco for further auditing procedures that she hoped would clear her confusion.

Mrs. Geary says she was met at the airport by Scientologists who 'drove me around in a car for hours and hours,' and then held her captive for more than two weeks in a cabin near Mount Shasta to correct behavior that could harm the organization.

'All we tried to do is help Mrs. Geary with counseling procedures,' said Murphy. He declined to allow the Beacon Journal to speak with any of the three Scientologists Mrs. Geary has named as her captors.

Murphy said that Mrs. Geary had a pre-existing mental condition that the group was trying to correct and that the couple had agreed that she have the treatment. He also alleged that Mrs. Geary's family has a history of schizophrenia.

The Gearys, their psychiatrist, Dr. Myung Kwak, and their family physician, Dr. Robertson, deny that allegation.

'There was never anything wrong with her until she got involved with the Scientologists,' said Robertson.

Kwak agreed. 'I don't believe Mrs. Geary had any previous history of mental illness,' she said.

The Gearys say the result of her captivity was devastating. Mrs. Geary said she was a victim of sleep and food deprivation and was pushed against walls and onto a bed when she protested and demanded to be set free.

'I tried to escape from the cabin several times, but they wouldn't let me leave,' she said. 'They just kept saying they wanted us to give them more money and that I needed to be alone.'

Geary said that though he did not know his wife's whereabouts during this time, he did know that she was seeking Scientology counseling. That is why, he said, the couple has been advised not to pursue criminal charges.

But when he pressed for details about his wife's treatment, 'They refused

to tell me where she was,' he said. 'And that's when I started getting scared.'

At that point Geary's lawyer, Stephen Brown, met with Scientologists and said he alerted the FBI in Ohio and in California.

'We had a meeting with several of their representatives who were in the Medina area and we told them that we wanted to know where she was and wanted to talk to her,' said Brown. 'Within 24 hours Dr. Geary was notified that she was at an address in California and within a day she was back. But it was an intense few days.'

When Mrs. Geary returned, she required a week of hospitalization at Akron General Medical Center, according to Kwak and Robertson. Friends also say she had a bald spot on her head and had lost 20 pounds.

'She was skin and bones and had skinned elbows,' said longtime friend and neighbor Elaine Lamb, wife of former Medina Mayor William Lamb.

'I've been in politics for eight years and you come up against some incredible circumstances,' said Lamb. 'But this situation was the most frustrating and bizarre that I had ever had any connection with.'

The Gearys sought help from the local chapter of the Cult Awareness Network, and were referred to the Canadian deprogrammer, a former Scientologist who said she has been fighting the movement for 17 years.

'What they did to Dodie Geary is shocking, but typical of what they do to many others,' said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld because of a court-imposed gag order resulting from a legal settlement with the Scientology church.

The Beacon Journal submitted a list of questions in writing to both the Church of Scientology's San Francisco mission and to Sterling Management that have not been answered. Murphy declined to answer many questions during telephone interviews.

Other medical professionals say they, like the Gearys, were lured to Sterling's free seminars by the promise of greater profits.

'These people almost got me,' said Dr. Donald Shumaker, a Cleveland dentist who is past president of the Cleveland Dental Society and Ohio Dental Association.

Shumaker, now 51, had been practicing dentistry for 23 years when he went to the free Sterling seminar attended by Geary. He says that he and his partner, Dr. Frank Zeleznik, were initially impressed with some of Sterling's management principles, such as organization and goal setting.

But Shumaker said they got nervous when Sterling wanted them to sign up immediately and pay $20,000 for further seminar work.

'They were intent on closing the sale that night, and taking our $20,000 right then and there,' said Shumaker. 'They didn't want to wait and wanted to know how big our credit lines were.'

Shumaker said he became uneasy about what he termed unethical practices promoted by Sterling -- mostly that health professionals prescribe high-cost procedures regardless of whether they are in the patients' best interests.

Bob Geary says he wishes he had been able to resist Sterling's tactics.

The couple say they will carry serious emotional scars the rest of their lives.

Dr. Tom Ebner, an orthopedic surgeon from Medina, heard Geary's first speech to the Tri-state Dental-Medical Group in Michigan. 'He told us in his own words how he was duped,' Ebner said. 'People were quite shocked that something like this could happen. Almost all of the dentists said they had been approached by these consulting management companies, but many were not aware of the things that have been going on.'

Geary said that's why he's speaking out, though he has not yet arranged further speaking engagements.

'It was a total nightmare,' said Geary. 'I hope that we can help prevent other people from making the same mistake we did. Tell people that if they get any brochures from Sterling or any other Scientology group ... to just throw them away.'


Medina dentist Robert Geary has been in practice for 16 years, and in his present office for five years. The story above incorrectly stated the number of years he has been practicing. Also, Geary said that his signature had been forged by a Scientologist on a loan application, not a check, as reported below. A reporter misunderstood Geary during an interview.