Photojournalist Fred G. Haseney here, with his eye on Scientology, reporting from Glendale, California, a city that’s east of Los Angeles and home to one of Scientology’s Front Groups, Sterling Management Systems.
On April 3, 2014, a chiropractor filed a class action lawsuit against the Emery Wilson Corporation (“EWC”), also known as Sterling Management Systems (“SMS”). According to the complaint filed by Dr. Robert L. Meinders (of the Back Pain Clinic, 5206 W. Main St., Belleville, Illinois), his facility received faxes from the defendant—unsolicited junk mail that reportedly violates the TCPA, or Telephone Consumer Protection Act. With the suit, Dr. Meinders requested that the judge grant an injunction which would prohibit SMS from engaging in such violations. The lawsuit seeks damages and costs for each TCPA violation to be paid to Dr. Meinders and other businesses that SMS may have sent similar mail to.
Photo (1): This is the top of the first page of the document entitled, “Dr. Robert L. Meinders, D.C., Ltd. Supplement to its Prior Comments on the Emery Wilson Corporation d/b/a Sterling Management Systems’ Petition for Waiver.”
I found out about the lawsuit through the Angry Gay Pope who posted the document entitled, “Dr. Robert L. Meinders, D.C., Ltd. Supplement to its Prior Comments on the Emery Wilson Corporation d/b/a Sterling Management Systems’ Petition for Waiver.” The lawsuit looked simple enough: a chiropractor, fed up with the unnecessary loss of his fax machine, paper and toner (not to mention the time spent receiving an unwanted fax when a fax of importance could have been received instead), decided to turn the matter into a court case. The supplement, however, includes a 184-page deposition with an SMS executive who I know and worked with, so I had an interest in finding out what SMS has been up to.
The lawsuit accuses SMS of violating the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005, in that the faxes Dr. Meinders received from SMS in 2013 did not include an “opt-out” notice. Such a notice allows a fax recipient to “opt-out” from receiving such faxes in the future.
While the deposition is revealing about Dr. Meinders history with SMS, it’s even more interesting for what it doesn’t say. The following bullet items are based on data from the deposition, my experience with SMS as well as information from the Church of Scientology’s Flag Executive Directive (“ED”) 2380, from September 10, 1991, entitled, “Suppressive Persons and Suppressive Groups List”:
- That in 1987/88, SMS took on Dr. Robert L. Meinders as a client;
- That Dr. Meinders went on to do services with the Church of Scientology;
- That for one reason or another, Scientology declared “Robert L. Meinders” a Suppressive Person (“SP”);
- That SMS failed to removed Dr. Meinders from their client’s database;
- That Dr. Meinders saw a way to fight back when SMS incorrectly sent him unsolicited faxes, inviting him to attend a free seminar (all clients who complete SMS’s business program can attend such seminars).
Photo (4): This is the top of page 35 of Flag ED 2380, from September 10, 1991, entitled, “Suppressive Persons and Suppressive Groups List.” The name, “Robert L. Meinders,” appears at the bottom of the page (see Photo 5).
Photo (5): This is the bottom of page 35 (as well as the top of page 36) of Flag ED 2380, from September 10, 1991, entitled, “Suppressive Persons and Suppressive Groups List.” The name, “Robert L. Meinders,” appears near the bottom of this page.
How many “Robert L. Meinders”—one, a chiropractor with an SMS affiliation, the other, someone declared an SP by the Church of Scientology—could there be?
What are the odds?
I worked at SMS from, roughly, 1987 to 1994. I worked in Division 3 (where I handled the posts of Audits Officer, the Director of Disbursements, and Acting Treasury Secretary) and Division 7 (where I handled the post of Admin for the Flag Banking Officer, or “FBO”). When I began working at SMS, Cynthia Manning wore the FBO hat; when Cynthia and her husband, Rick, relocated to northern California, Susan Ochart assumed the duties of that post. Susan and I worked together very well.
In November 13, 1990, Susan assigned me the condition of Power and sent copies to the company’s governing bodies (“EC,” or Executive Council; “AC,” or “Advisory Council”), with a copy to the Ethics department. Susan wore dual hats: as FBO, she also wore the hat of “OES,” or the Organization Executive Secretary. Susan appreciate greatly what I did in the Finance departments. It’s from that perspective that I write about this lawsuit.
Six months later, on May 6, 1991, TIME magazine featured an expose (“Scientology: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” by Richard Behar) on the Church of Scientology (which included coverage of Sterling Management Systems). Soon, SMS’s Gross Income began to suffer.
With the publication of the TIME article on the church and SMS, the pressure on SMS’s finance lines increased substantially. Creditor calls overwhelmed the desk of the Board Finance Officer (“BFO,” a person who secretly interviewed with TIME for their expose). SMS began incurring considerable debt; their Bills Summary once strained at twenty-seven single line typed pages and hovered well over $500,000 in debt. Soon, staff were not paid on time, then most were paid only a maximum of $250 a week (and sometimes nothing at all).
Photo (9): This is 520 North Central Avenue, in Glendale, California, where Sterling Management Systems conducted business from, approximately, 1987 to 1991. For a while, Sterling operated in the whole of the fifth and sixth floors as well as almost half of the seventh floor.
When I handled FBO Admin chores for Susan Ochart, my job involved checking the bank account balances every day. I found this task painful especially on payday as I’d be the first to know whether or not SMS had any money in their accounts (one or more creditor liens would often deplete those accounts the night before). Finally, in 1994, I gave up, leaving Susan Ochart a “farewell” note when I learned of an impending IRS audit on the company’s books.
Photo (10): This is 143 Glendale Avenue, in Glendale, California, where Sterling conducted business, sometime between 1991 and their current location. If I remember correctly, Sterling operated out of this location’s second floor. (For while, Sterling also operated out of a location on Wilson Ave., but it appears that that building has since been torn down with new construction about to commence).
SMS is now known as “Sterling”; I wonder if any corporate restructuring involved may have allowed SMS to assume some or all of that huge debt and let Sterling move forward. Sterling’s corporate representative, Ms. Dana Moraru (the Director of Public Affairs, a person I used to work with) told Jonathan B. Piper, Esq. just how much Sterling has shrunk since 1994:
MORARU: We are a small company.
PIPER: How many people are currently employed at SMS?
PIPER: How many were employed in 1994 when you became Director of Public Affairs?
MORARU: Close to 300.
PIPER: Is there any particular reason why the number of people working there has gone down?
MORARU: Well, I can answer with one question. The economy. One answer I meant. The company went down with a number of personnel during the years. A lot of ex-personnel created their own companies. In the 1980’s, Sterling was the only one with this type of management, and now there are many based on our ex-personnel.
Photo (11): This is 350 West Arden Avenue, in Glendale, California, where Sterling currently conducts business. Sterling may not be using both floors of the building as they share the space with at least one other tenant (“Glauber/Berenson Attorneys”).
Once one of Scientology’s biggest “Front Groups,” Sterling is shrinking. It’s too bad that such a dynamic venture such as Sterling (once Scientology’s biggest FSM, or “Field Staff Member”) would plummet from 300 staff to 25. Ms. Moraru says that the reason is the economy; I beg to differ. I believe the 1991 TIME article hit the company hard, and they’ve never recovered from it.
(Ms. Moraru’s country of origin, by the way, is Romania; English is her second language. She once explained how the President of Romania tried to get his populace to have more babies: one winter, he turned heaters everywhere “off,” hoping that couples would snuggle closely, very closely, for warmth.)
Photo (12): For a number of years, Sterling’s clients registered and attended seminars and/or workshops at the Hilton, located at 100 W. Glenoaks Blvd, Glendale, California, now a short walk from Sterling’s current location.
On page fourteen of the deposition, Ms. Moraru says that Sterling has five consultants; I remember a time when Sterling had, perhaps, dozens of consultants. And with that many consultants, there were plenty of administrative personnel to help them.
As Director of Public Affairs, Ms. Moraru reports to Sterling’s EC of which there are two people: Kevin Wilson, Chairman of the Board, and his wife, Barbara, who is Senior Vice-President of Public. Before I quit working at Sterling, Susan Ochart also sat in on EC. Tina and Chris Estey were once part of EC, too. Chris Estey is largely responsible for what may very well be Sterling’s “last hurrah”: shortly after the TIME article came out, he inspired Sterling’s money-makers (in-house and external registrars) to work hard despite the bad press. That venture resulted in, I believe, over $400,000 Gross Income in one week.
Ms. Moraru stated that Sterling has a “so-called” Advisory Council, which is true. I sat in as the Division Three Finance rep for AC; EC, the group we offered suggestions and recommendations to, almost never accepted our advice, which we based on the financial guidelines as set out in Scientology’s finance policy letters. AC met weekly (after 2:00 PM, when Sterling’s week ended, just like it does in Scientology Organizations, or “Orgs”). I also handled Secretary duties for AC. One week, I wrote poetic nonsense in my notes, wondering if EC would even notice it (they did; Tina Estey laughed with me and very nicely asked me to refrain from doing that in the future; I kindly obliged). Sterling’s current AC has representatives from Personnel, the Technical area, Quality Control, Finance, etc., much like AC had in the early 1990’s.
Later in the deposition, Ms. Moraru stated that Sterling used to be a business name for the Emery Wilson Corporation, but is no longer. She clarified that by saying, “It’s called Sterling dba Sterling.” Further, there are other entities that have been created since I left, other business names that Emery Wilson uses such as “Sterling Dentist”; “Sterling CPA”; Sterling Veterinarians”; “Stering OD” (with “OD” meaning “Eye doctors”).
Ms. Moraru is also the Director of Finance. She has worn the hat of Director of Public Affairs for a long time: twenty-one years (since 1994). That post’s statistic is “Number of Happy Clients.” With only twenty-five staff, I’d say that Ms. Moraru’s stat is down, way down; Dr. Robert L. Meinders isn’t very happy, that’s for sure. We’re talking, graph-wise, a downtrending statistic over a long period time, much lower than a Danger Condition, probably even lower than a Liability Condition. Ms. Moraru acknowledges that Sterling last did their best around 1991.
Through the deposition, we learn that Dr. Meinders signed up for a major program (an “SMP,” or Sterling Management Program) with Sterling on August 1, 1987 (the depo doesn’t offer any evidence that Dr. Meinders and Sterling carried on a business relationship since 1988, with all services completed before December 16 of that year).
When Sterling got word of Dr. Meinders’ lawsuit, Ms. Moraru considered collecting samples of how Sterling has promoted seminars to existing clients. She wasn’t very interested, however, in gathering those samples because she had “other important stuff to do.” Ms. Moraru “collected stuff just to have materials, examples” to show the court. After Dr. Meinders filed the lawsuit against them, Sterling designated him as “major entheta” (with “entheta” defined as “disturbing”). In May 2014 (the month after Dr. Meinder filed the lawsuit), Sterling created a new fax cover sheet for general use, revised to show the “opt-out notice” at the bottom of the page. Before then, Ms. Moraru didn’t know whether or not Sterling needed to have such a notice.
Exhibit 16 is a 2-page brochure for a Sterling workshop held in Minneapolis in 2013. This document, if faxed, would have been sent from the fax machine in Sterling’s Tech area, and sent to clients that existed in their active database (“central files”), not in their dead files (which is where one would assume that an ex-client declared a Suppressive Person by the Church of Scientology would be moved to).
Along with the deposition, we also have Exhibit 6, a 1-page document by Sterling entitled, “Dead File Routing Form” (Dead file for Robert Meinders). Ms. Moraru explains further to Mr. Piper:
MORARU: Currently he’s [Dr. Meinders] no longer in our database.
PIPER: Okay. Why was he taken out of the database?
MORARU: When somebody is asking to be taken off or if they have a legal situation like the one we have now, we take them in a so-called dead file.
PIPER: Okay. And how are the dead files maintained?
MORARU: Currently dead file is still in ACT. We didn’t move it. We didn’t transfer it to Infusion.
PIPER: So he became a dead file when he filed the lawsuit?
MORARU: Right. He never asked to be taken off.
Central files existed at Sterling in 1988. In mid-2014, Sterling began using Infusion, a “web-based program,” as Ms. Moraru describes it on page 3 of the depo. In early 2000, Sterling began using ACT; before that, they used Goldmine, a program they began using around the mid-1990’s.
In closing, it may very well be that Sterling’s “Robert L. Meinders” is the same “Robert L. Meinders” declared as a Suppressive Person. If that’s true, it also appears that Sterling may not have correctly moved Dr. Meinders to their dead files (in the event that Scientology declares a member Suppressive, all Scientologists everywhere are to immediately cease contact with that individual). If the two “Robert L. Meinders” are one in the same, then Dr. Meinders may not be very pleased with Sterling for having ever gotten him mixed up with Scientology in the first place.
 “Class Action Complaint,” filed April 3, 2014, by Dr. Robert L. Meinders, D.C., Ltd., versus The Emery Wilson Corporation d/b/a Sterling Management Systems. See page five of the document.
 “Dr. Robert L. Meinders, D.C., Ltd. Supplement to its Prior Comments on the Emery Wilson Corporation d/b/a Sterling Management Systems’ Petition for Waiver,” filed circa May 19, 2015, courtesy the Angry Gay Pope.
 “Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005,” passed January 4, 2005, at the One Hundred Ninth Congress of the United States of America.