“It’s insane, it’s just insane,” Valerie Haney kept saying as she emerged from her first day undergoing the Church of Scientology’s ultra-secretive “religious arbitration” process.
Dressed in a tight black minidress and thigh-high leather boots, which, with her long curly hair and spiky sharp fingernails, Haney presented a picture about as far as possible from the drab Sea Org uniforms she had been forced to wear for decades.
Her two attorneys, Guy D’Andrea and Graham Berry, were ready with their notepads, and all eyes were on Haney, who was set up in front of a portable backdrop in a hotel room at the Commerce Casino, just a mile away from Scientology’s massive printing plant warehouse southeast of Los Angeles—where she had just spent the past several hours reliving the most traumatic events of her life.
“How did you feel going in there?” D’Andrea asked after a privately hired court stenographer had put Haney under oath.
“Scared,” she replied. “I was shaking.”
Seven years after escaping from Scientology in the trunk of a car and taking her fight against the church all the way to the Supreme Court, Haney had been forced to go crawling back to the place she never wanted to step foot in again.
Valerie Haney was born to parents who had already signed Scientology’s billion-year “Sea Org” contracts by the time she arrived in 1979.
In a new 54-page sworn declaration, Haney explains why spending the first 33 years of her life in Scientology—raised by the church rather than by her parents—helps to explain how she got where she is today.
At the age of 5, she was put into Scientology’s junior version of the elite Sea Org that existed then for children, the Cadet Org. According to her declaration, it featured military-style discipline, and her childhood was a never-ending schedule of jobs like cleaning out maggot-infested dumpsters, painting property, washing dishes, and housekeeping. By the time she was 10, she’d already made two escape attempts and was brought back both times.
At 15, she signed a billion-year contract of her own and joined the Sea Org, thinking she had no other choice. Part of her indoctrination, she alleges, was having it drilled into her that she couldn’t go to the police or other outside authorities about anything in Scientology, and that anyone who did try to run away, which was called a “blow,” would be brought back by special teams that were trained to spring into action in a “blow drill.”
Multiple times she watched as escape attempts were foiled by the blow drill, and after someone was brought back after making a run for it, they were punished with grueling manual labor and by being put on a 24-hour watch with special “handlers” who spent every moment with them, day or night. In her declaration, for example, she describes seeing an older woman make three separate attempts to escape, and when she was brought back each time, she was put under round-the-clock watch.
In 1998, at the age of 18, Haney married another Sea Org employee, a man named Danny Light, whose parents were senior Sea Org executives. Being married in the Sea Org, she learned, meant being separated from her husband for long stretches as they were assigned to different posts.
Eight years after signing her billion-year contract, Haney was sent at age 23 to Scientology’s most elevated place for Sea Org employees: the secretive international management base near Hemet, California, known as “Int Base” or “Gold Base.” It was there that she was assigned to work in the private quarters of Scientology’s ultimate leader, David Miscavige, and his wife, Shelly.
Then, in 2005, Shelly seemed to fall out of favor with her husband, and both she and Haney, as her steward, were punished. According to her declaration, Haney found herself working hard physical labor jobs for about nine months before she was reassigned again, this time to Golden Era Productions, the audiovisual division that gives the compound its name. (Shelly, meanwhile, vanished in the late summer of 2005 and has only been seen in public one time since then, at the funeral of her father in 2007.)
After working on a crew that was building sets for in-house video productions, Haney became a casting director, which involved bringing non-Scientologist actors to the base, a rare connection to the outside world. Increasingly, Haney points out, she was getting more depressed about being confined to the Scientology world and cut off from the rest of civilization. According to her sworn statement, by 2012, when she was 33 years old, she had made three separate suicide attempts.
In 2016, she learned that the production of videos would be moving, and that she had one last chance to have contact with non-Scientologist actors at the remote base.
She has described the desperation she felt as she crawled into the trunk of the car driven by one of the actors on this final shoot—her last chance to make such an escape. After some nervous moments, her plan succeeded and she ended up in Burbank. She used a restaurant’s phone to call her father and her sister, and then got on a plane and was reunited with her dad, who still considered himself a Scientologist but was no longer employed by the church, in Oregon.
But just as she had seen with others, Haney’s escape prompted Scientology to go into its “blow drill,” resulting in an intense campaign to pressure her family members to convince Haney to return to Scientology and “route out” properly. In the Sea Org, you can’t simply leave; the routing out process involves interrogations that can go on for months and only ends when Scientology decides.
One of the most persistent Sea Org officials, Haney testifies, was a woman named Kirsten Caetano who worked for Scientology’s “Office of Special Affairs,” or OSA, which has been described as its legal and public relations arm, but also as Scientology’s secret police.
According to a 2023 court filing by Haney’s lawyers, Caetano assured both her and her father that if she returned to Scientology to “route out,” it would take only two or three weeks, and then she could leave the Sea Org officially.
Once Haney did submit to the process, this time at the headquarters in Los Angeles, she was then subjected to the same thing she had seen happen to others years before: She was put under a 24-hour watch, with a handler accompanying her at all times, even on trips to the bathroom. Her handler, a woman named Deirdre Brousseau, slept in the same room with her and ate all meals with her. Instead of two weeks, it lasted for more than two months, from late November 2016 to February 13, 2017.
On that date, she was taken to another location, on an upper floor at the Hollywood Guaranty Building, a Scientology property on Hollywood Boulevard, and shown into a small room. Her identification was taken from her and her luggage was held, she says in the sworn declaration. She was told that her flight leaving Los Angeles would be taking off soon, but she couldn’t get on it until she had signed a certain document.
In the small room were two people with her: an armed guard, who operated a video camera to record her, and an attorney named Gary Soter. Confused, tired, and just wanting to sign whatever they put in front of her so she could finally leave Scientology and catch her plane, Haney testifies that she would have agreed to anything as Soter began questioning her.
She claims in another court filing that Soter said he was “there for her,” and she took it to mean that he was representing her in some way (Soter denied this claim during arbitration). He then asked her to say repeatedly, on camera, that she had not been held against her will and that she had not witnessed any abuse.
The Daily Beast reached out to The Church of Scientology and Soter to comment for this story about Haney’s allegations, and neither responded.
She signed the document and Soter handed her a check for $4,500. But then, just outside the room, a Sea Org member handed her a bill for the same amount—supposedly what she owed for all the discounted Scientology services and room and board she had received as a Sea Org worker. (In Scientology, this is known as a “freeloader’s bill,” another of founder L. Ron Hubbard’s quirky inventions.) After she arrived in Oregon again, Haney cashed the check Soter had given her and then sent the money to Scientology to satisfy her “debt.”
Finally, she was officially out of Scientology after 33 years, and she wanted to use her experience as a casting agent to stay in the entertainment business. Leah Remini, who was then producing her hit A&E show, gave Haney a job as a personal assistant, and featured her story as the premiere episode of the third and final season of Scientology and the Aftermath.
The next year, in June 2019, Valerie Haney filed her lawsuit against Scientology, alleging that she had been held against her will in the Sea Org, and then had been the target of intense retaliation after she left it, including not only stalking by private investigators, but also offensive smears about her that appeared on church-owned websites.
However, in January 2020, Scientology convinced Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Burdge Jr. that because Haney signed her exit agreement on that day in 2017 with the attorney Gary Soter and the armed security guard watching her, she was obliged by that contract not to sue the church but to submit to its own brand of internal “religious arbitration.”
She fought that ruling for three years, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to argue that forcing her to go through religious arbitration in a church she no longer belonged to was a violation of her First Amendment religious rights. But the lower court’s order stood. By 2023, it was obvious that the only way she could keep her case going was to submit to the arbitration and then appeal the results later.
The next hurdle was assembling an arbitrating panel. Scientology has only held one other religious arbitration in its 70-year history (a California couple who sued in 2013 were forced into an arbitration proceeding in 2017), and church founder L. Ron Hubbard left behind no rules for arbitrating. So Scientology has adapted its rules for something Hubbard did describe, a “committee of evidence,” which is akin to a court-martial dreamed up by the World War II Navy veteran.
Based on those rules, Scientology required that an arbitrating panel consist of three people, each of whom must be Scientologists in good standing. Haney would get to select one, the church would select a second, and those two would select the third.
Haney responded by submitting the names of well-known Scientologists such as Elisabeth Moss, Tom Cruise, and Shelly Miscavige. The church complained to Judge Burdge’s successor, Judge Gail Killefer, that Haney was being “obstructionist” by nominating such figures to be arbitrators, but then Haney also submitted a list of other names of people she had personally known. After that, Scientology notified the court that it had its panel of three people, but refused to name them.
Now, the arbitration had finally arrived. Haney was told it would last three days, not a single afternoon, which was the case with the previous California couple.
When Haney arrived at the huge warehouse in Commerce on Monday, Oct. 16 for the first day of her proceeding, she still had no idea who the three people selected for the arbitrating committee were, one of whom was supposed to be someone she herself had nominated.
Would that panel of “Scientologists in good standing” somehow be able to consider fairly her allegations that she had been stalked and smeared, and that she had been held against her will as a Sea Org member, when she was by definition an enemy of the church for filing a lawsuit against it?
The first day of arbitration had begun about 1 p.m., and there was immediately a conflict when Haney, her attorneys, and the videographer and stenographer from the court reporting service they had enlisted showed up at the giant Scientology Dissemination and Distribution Center.
The court reporter duo were told they couldn’t even step foot in the parking lot by Scientology’s security guards. The lawyers, D’Andrea and Berry, were allowed to park their car and they could come into the building, but they were restricted to a vestibule and were not allowed to go with Haney into the conference room where the arbitration was going to happen.
Once she was inside, she finally got to see the panel of three arbitrators that Scientology had assembled. Only, there were actually five people waiting for her around the conference table, she later said. (On Oct. 23, Haney’s attorneys filed a Status Conference Report with the court, complaining about the way Haney was treated during the arbitration and drawing from her sworn statements made at the Commerce Casino.)
All five of the people in the arbitrating room, Haney said, were Sea Org officials.
According to the rules Scientology had created, one of the arbitrators had to be someone nominated by Haney herself. And now she realized that one of the people she had included on her list, Emily Jones, was in the room.
Jones was born into Scientology and is a familiar Sea Org fixture, for the reason that she represents the church’s for-profit publishing wing, Galaxy Press, which keeps L. Ron Hubbard’s 1930s pulp fiction in print. Jones goes to conventions like San Diego Comic Con repping Hubbard’s books, and she has also been seen at the annual Writers of the Future awards gala in Hollywood, which is put on by Scientology.
Her parents, Phil and Willie Jones, are well-known defectors who have not seen their daughter or her brother Mike for nearly 10 years after their kids “disconnected” from them for leaving Scientology.
Haney had put Jones on her list of possible nominees because she had known her in the Sea Org since 1995, and they were very close at one point. Haney told me she hoped that Jones, who understood what it was like to lose her parents to disconnection, might have some sympathy for her claims.
The person that Scientology had chosen for the committee was Kirsten Caetano, a familiar figure in OSA (sometimes described as Scientology’s “secret police”) and the same woman who had allegedly pressured Haney to return after her escape and assured her that her “routing out” would only take two or three weeks. Haney testified that she was astonished to see someone she considered one of her “abusers” (as her attorneys described her in the Status Conference Report filed in her lawsuit) to be on the panel that would supposedly judge her claims fairly .
Jones and Caetano had then supposedly chosen the third arbitrator on the panel, who was actually its chairperson, a woman named Sarah Heller. (With Heller in the chair, Caetano was considered “secretary,” and Jones was the “member.”)
Haney had never met Heller and didn’t know anything about her.
OSA’s former top executive, Mike Rinder, who wrote about his experiences at the upper echelons of Scientology in his 2022 bestselling memoir, A Billion Years, is very familiar with both Heller and Caetano.
“Sarah Heller has been the Legal Officer OSA Flag for decades,” he told me, referring to the Flag Land Base, Scientology’s spiritual “mecca” in Clearwater, Florida. “She was originally a ‘preps’ person in the Legal Department and through the natural attrition process she eventually became the head. She is the one that oversees litigation, contacts the police. She was the one who made the complaint against Leah [Remini] and me when we were in the park in Clearwater with Mark Bunker [which was depicted in Scientology and the Aftermath] but she refused to show her face, and she sees that Scientology is complying with local laws.”
As for Caetano, Rinder said that she is the “Internal Security Officer OSA International” and “has been for many years,” adding, “She is responsible for dealing with Scientologist SPs, but not journalists or politicians,” referring to “suppressive persons” who have been expelled from the church and labeled enemies. “Those who were formerly Sea Org members for the most part, but any ex-Scientologist who is causing trouble is her responsibility.”
So two of the three panelists were veteran Sea Org executives who had worked on Scientology’s sensitive legal operations, and one of them had even taken part in what Haney characterized as her mistreatment.
“The three-person Arbitration panel included two members who were either witnesses to [Haney]’s alleged abuse or were themselves one of the abusers!” Haney’s attorneys complained in the Status Conference Report they filed with the court.
Who were the other two women in the room?
Haney says that they were Sea Org women named Chelsea Graves and Amber O’Sullivan, who were there to represent the defendants in her lawsuit, the Church of Scientology itself.
So while Haney herself wasn’t allowed any representation in the room, Scientology had two Sea Org members there to represent its interests. And not only that, as Haney’s team pointed out in a court filing, O’Sullivan was another person who had taken part in her confinement, and Graves was one of her interrogators.
Haney could see right away how things were stacked against her, but she wasn’t going to submit so easily. She asked for the court reporter team to come in the room, as well as her attorneys. Heller, who did most of the talking as chairperson, refused.
Haney also asked for any documentation they could show her that governed the proceeding. Heller refused to show her anything.
The first order of business, Heller said, was to go over the exit agreement that Haney had signed on Feb. 13, 2017, by watching the video of her signing it. Then they brought out a copy of the contract itself.
“I’m still shocked by what I saw in the document,” Haney testified, insisting that she was actually reading the 14-page contract for the first time. “It’s outrageous.” She realized now that Scientology had required her to sign away rights that she would never do today. And they had done it while she was locked in a room with an armed guard and an attorney who had, she says, implied that he was representing her and looking out for her best interests.
At that point, the panel brought that attorney in as its first witness.
Gary Soter came into the room, Haney said, a very tall man with graying hair. (Haney had submitted a witness list, but it had not been approved by the panel.)
“[Haney] has testified that when Gary Soter introduced himself to her [at the contract signing,] he said that he was there ‘for her’ and that this led her to believe that Soter was providing legal representation to her,” Haney’s attorneys pointed out in their Oct. 23 court filing.
At the arbitration, Haney said that Soter called her a liar, and said it was “horseshit” that he had given her the impression that he was representing her the day she signed the exit agreement. He was there representing Scientology, not Haney. “He also said that if I didn’t want to sign the agreement, he would have called me an Uber and made sure I got to my plane, which is obviously a total lie,” Haney says.
When she tried to ask him a question, she was told that she couldn’t question witnesses, but she could submit her questions to Heller, who would then decide whether to pass them on or alter them.
“[Haney] was not permitted to know the identity of any witnesses being called by Defendants in advance of their actual appearance. Consequently, [she] had no opportunity to prepare any cross-examination. Besides, she was not a lawyer, had no legal training, was brought up in a cult, and was ill-equipped to conduct witness examinations and cross-examinations,” Haney’s attorneys complained to the court.
So the first day of the arbitration, which had started in the early afternoon, concluded after reviewing the contract Haney had signed and the video of her answering Soter’s questions, and Soter himself calling her a liar. The court, however, had already found that the contract was valid and that if Haney had any claims to make, the arbitration should consider them.
But after the first day, Haney’s claims hadn’t come up at all. Instead, they had only spent time apparently trying to prove to Haney what they had already proved to the court’s satisfaction.
What was the purpose of spending so much time on the exit agreement? Heller’s answer to that, according to Haney, was that it was necessary because Haney had violated the terms of the agreement.
“I said to them, if I violated the contract, then why don’t you sue me?” she said with a laugh.
Later, her attorney, D’Andrea, asked her how she felt about the first day. Terrible, Haney said. Her alleged abusers were in the room, she had no attorneys. “It was like I was back in prison,” she said.
“Was religion being forced on you?” D’Andrea asked. Yes, she answered.
To put it in religious terms, she said it was like they were all looking at her, a suppressive person in the estimation of the church, like she was a demon. The panel told her to be back at 10 a.m. the next morning for a full second day of the arbitration.
One of the allegations that Valerie Haney makes is that when she was forced by Scientology to sign her exit agreement on Feb. 13, 2017, the security guard in the room was carrying a gun. It was a detail she said helped prove that she had been under duress to sign the document.
Scientology denied that the guard was carrying a gun, and now, to start out the second day of the arbitration, they brought him in as their second witness. Haney said the security guard’s name was Andy Knapp, and that Heller got to the point: Did he have a gun that day, watching Haney sign her contract with Soter?
No, Knapp answered.
Was he wearing a security belt? Heller asked. Yes, he answered.
He even brought it with him, Haney said. She described it, saying that on the belt there was a knife, handcuffs, a radio, keys, and pepper spray.
When Haney related this at the end of the second day to her attorneys at Room 625, her attorney Guy D’Andrea seemed incredulous. Scientology had argued that Haney was incorrect, that the guard didn’t have a gun. But it did turn out that he was armed, and D’Andrea seized on that fact. He reviewed with her that the signing of her contract had taken place on one of the upper floors of the Hollywood Guaranty Building, a key Scientology location in Hollywood. Why would a security guard, he wondered, need handcuffs, a knife, and pepper spray in what was essentially a religious building?
Haney said she didn’t know why it was needed and felt it was only intended to frighten her.
For its next witness, the panel brought in Deirdre Brousseau, the Sea Org employee who Haney alleges had been assigned to spend every moment with her during the two-month “routing out” process during which she felt like she was being held in “captivity.”
But during the arbitration, under questioning from Heller, Brousseau painted a very different picture. According to Haney, Brousseu told the panel that she “was free to go wherever I wanted” and that “she had never held me against my will.”
Once again, they were calling her a liar. “It’s insane. All I wanted to do was leave. They would not let me,” Haney said. Her conditioning, after a lifetime in Scientology, had convinced her that she had to go through this process rather than simply walk away.
After Brousseau, instead of bringing out another witness, the panel now turned to the many contracts that Haney had signed at different times during her Sea Org career, including a couple she had signed when she was not yet 18 years old.
Of particular interest to the panel was the billion-year contract she had signed at age 15, dedicating herself for countless lifetimes to the Sea Org.
Haney said she pointed out to the panel that she had signed it when she was still a minor.
“You signed it,” Heller responded.
After hearing that from Haney, her attorney D’Andrea explained that a legitimate contract would include the idea that you were getting something for signing it.
“What were you getting for a billion years?” he asked Haney.
“Pocket money,” she replied.
Waiting for Valerie Haney at the arbitration chamber on the third day was a pile of banker’s boxes; about seven of them, she noticed. At one point, the panel began pulling out files from those boxes, which contained something especially sensitive for any Scientologist: They were Haney’s ethics folders. They contained records of confidential interrogations Haney had been put through, dating back to when she was about 16 years old. The panel began going through the folders, one by one.
Haney was actually very interested in what was in them, and when they asked her if she wanted to use material from the boxes for evidence, she agreed. However, Haney wasn’t allowed to touch the contents, and only Heller could actually handle them.
“Any document I wanted to have as evidence, she would read it to the entire room and then write a description of the page on a grid. It was grueling, and seemed deliberately done to drag out the process. And they didn’t even get through half a box,” Haney testified to her attorneys in the hotel room after the third day of arbitration was over.
What she was looking at, Haney says, were records of brutal interrogations that she had been put through when she was still a minor, and the interrogators had themselves been underage. They only managed to get through the years 1996 to 1999.
Well into the third day of the arbitration, the panel seemed to be trying to humiliate Haney over her record as a Scientologist, looking at the things she had admitted to in interrogations and punishments she had been assigned, all recorded in documents that Haney said had clearly been relabeled, highlighted, and rearranged.
Then, after a final break on the third day, the panel sprung its star witness: Haney’s ex-husband, Danny Light.
He was carrying a copy of her lawsuit, she said, and he proceeded to berate her with accusations that it was all lies—that she’d actually been treated well as a child in Scientology, and that, for example, he himself had enjoyed a lot of privileges growing up in the Cadet Org.
Again, Haney was not allowed to question the witness. But she did ask Heller to put it to him: Isn’t it true that he actually attended a different branch of the Cadet Org, and they didn’t know each other at all when she was 5 to 12 years old?
He admitted that he was in a different group, and Haney explained that it was run by his parents, who were prominent executives, and he may have had more privileges. Yes, they worked at only 10 years old, Light conceded. But he had a normal childhood and he even had a bicycle.
After calling her a liar and saying her lawsuit was nonsense, he did get around to admitting that sometimes life in the Sea Org was “difficult.”
Haney’s ex-husband calling her a liar was the closest, over the three days, that the panel had come to actually addressing the claims in her lawsuit, which should have been the subject of an arbitration. Instead, she said, it was “just a bombardment of how wrong I am.”
After three days, the proceeding didn’t come close to arbitrating her claims, and she was told that the panel wanted to resume in January. Haney said she told the panel that she wanted to get things over with now, and was willing to stay. But she said Heller claimed their schedules wouldn’t allow it.
“At this rate, the arbitration will last at least another 10 days or more,” Haney’s attorneys complained in their subsequent court filing.
But on Monday, Nov. 6, Judge Killefer approved Scientology’s plan to continue the arbitration in January, despite objections by Haney’s attorneys that the proceeding was unfair and a waste of Haney’s time.
Judge Killefer set a new hearing date for June 5, 2024, so Scientology could take its time completing the “arbitration.” They’re scheduled to resume with Haney in the Commerce warehouse on Jan. 10.
With the third of her statements recorded, the court reporting crew broke down their equipment, and left with attorney Graham Berry. (D’Andrea had caught a flight back to Philadelphia earlier in the day.)
Now, Haney was ready to talk less formally about what she’d been through. Over three days of “arbitrating,” they hadn’t actually addressed her lawsuit’s claims, she said. “And they have people who are willing to say that I’m a liar, basically,” she complained to me. “That I was forced to go back to my abusers, I was actually in kind of a daze.”
She described being surprised at who was in the room waiting for her, women like Kirsten Caetano and Amber O’Sullivan, who she alleges were part of enforcing either her confinement when she was a Scientologist or who pressured her to go back after her escape.
“They’re trying to intimidate me. They’re trying to badger me. They’re trying to make me feel like shit,” Haney said. “They’re trying to do all the normal tactics that they do, that they did when I came back to route out. It’s a very normal standard procedure to try to belittle the person and make them feel they have nothing, and maybe try to make them actually think that they’re crazy and to have them go insane. It’s very calculated.”
And instead of going over her claims, they had her look over that billion-year Sea Org contract that she had signed at only 15.
“I told them I didn’t read it. It was super small writing. And then as I’m reading it now, as an adult, I’m like, I would have never signed this,” she said. “This is absolutely preposterous. This is literally insane. And, how are you expecting a 15-year-old to even understand what any of that means?”
So why have her read it now, when it has nothing to do with the claims in her lawsuit?
“It’s just to intimidate me, and to make me wrong, and to make me admit to them and rethink my brain to go, maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. Because that is what they train you to do in Scientology,” she replied.
Now, Scientology wanted her to come back in January for more, and there was no guarantee that even then, they would get down to arbitrating her claims of stalking and harassment. But Haney said she was determined to go on and that she would “absolutely” be returning in January.
“I want justice. I want to see this through. I want this handled,” she said. “There are still people suffering.”
She added that she would go on even though she now knows that Scientology has put some of the people involved in what she claims was abuse on her arbitrating panel.
“It’s insane. It’s so unjust and so manipulative,” she said. “It’s a fraudulent organization that’s hiding behind religion. People talk about kangaroo courts? This is like Disneyland-on-crack court.”
At least this time, however, she had been able to walk away from the Commerce warehouse without having to escape in the trunk of a car.
“That was one thing,” she said. “I was allowed to walk out the door and get into a vehicle and drive away on my own accord.”
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