Double Crossed

The Church of Scientology has a reputation for ruthlessly going after its enemies. Robert Cipriano claims Scientologists rewarded him for helping them do just that. Now he's turned on them.

During the early 1980s, Cipriano was the live-in lover of attorney Jerome Spiegelman, who had offices on East 53rd Avenue in New York over the gay nightclub Round. In the spring of 1984, Graham Berry took an adjacent office, forming a law partnership with Spiegelman. For 11 months, the three shared offices and spent time at the bar downstairs and at Studio 54, whose owners Berry represented.

In 1985, Cipriano and Spiegelman broke up, and Cipriano headed for Los Angeles. Spiegelman headed for prison after he was convicted of misappropriating more than $400,000 in client judgments. And Berry left for Australia.

Several years later, Cipriano returned to New York, married, and became successful in real estate, brokering deals for foreign firms. At one time in the early 1990s, he says, his Cipriano Development Group took up half a floor in a Park Avenue building and employed 35 highly paid executives. Then in 1993, CDG's fortunes took a downturn. Things had gone sour for a friend as well. Cipriano says the friend approached him, asking Cipriano to absorb his ailing Atlantic City renovation company into Cipriano Development. Cipriano agreed out of friendship, and within months was receiving calls from Atlantic City customers about debts the friend's company owed them. One of those creditors talked the Atlantic County, New Jersey, prosecutor's office into indicting Cipriano on theft charges.

Robert Cipriano

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Out of money in early 1994, Cipriano was forced to close his development firm. He had no cash to pay an attorney, so he ignored notices from Atlantic County to appear in court on the theft charges. One of those notices informed him that a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest.

His personal finances a mess, Cipriano somehow eked out a living in Manhattan while, just across the river in New Jersey, he was a wanted man.

Then, on May 4, 1994, Eugene Ingram showed up at his door. In a declaration he signed in August, Cipriano writes that when Ingram identified himself as a "Los Angeles police detective," he panicked, thinking Ingram was there to drag him away.

In fact, Ingram is a private investigator who has worked for the Church of Scientology since the early 1980s. A former LAPD officer, he was fired in 1981 amid accusations that he had informed drug dealers of upcoming busts and had operated a prostitution ring. He was acquitted on the charges in a criminal trial after losing his job. Working for Scientology, Ingram has been accused several times of misrepresenting himself or persuading people to sign untrue declarations:

* In his first high-profile case for Scientology, Ingram took out full-page ads in Eastern newspapers in 1982 looking for information in a bad-check case. Ingram then went to the press with accusations that Boston attorney Michael Flynn had concocted a scheme to steal millions from an L. Ron Hubbard bank account. (Flynn was litigating several cases against Scientology at the time.) Ingram's chief piece of evidence against Flynn was a declaration by a man named Ala Tamimi, who said that Flynn had tried to use his brother to pass a bad check on Hubbard's account. Former high-ranking Scientologist Stacey Brooks tells New Times that the ads and the Tamimi declaration were all part of a Scientology scam to ruin Flynn's reputation -- she knows because she wrote the ads. "Ingram manufactures whatever evidence he wants," she says. Ultimately, Tamimi admitted in yet another court declaration that he'd been paid by Ingram to write a declaration falsely accusing Flynn.

* In 1984, Ingram persuaded an LAPD officer to sign a letter authorizing him to surreptitiously videotape or wiretap a former Scientologist who had become a critic of the church. Chief Daryl Gates angrily denounced Ingram, writing in a public announcement: "The Los Angeles Police Department has not cooperated with Eugene Ingram. It will be a cold day in hell when we do."

* A Chicago teenager, Jonathan Nordquist, says he was convinced in 1991 to sign a misleading declaration by Ingram. Nordquist testified in a court case that Ingram paid him $300 just for meeting him to discuss making the declaration. "[Ingram] said, 'Now this isn't paying you for the declaration.' He insisted it wasn't. It was just for my time. It is the highest paying job I ever had," Nordquist testified.

* In 1994, a warrant was issued for Ingram's arrest on charges of impersonating an officer after he flashed a badge at a Tampa, Florida, woman and told her he was a police detective seeking information about a local sheriff's possible involvement in a prostitution ring.

* In 1995, Rubye Ward, 74, says Ingram identified himself as "Jack Hoff," saying he was a former classmate of her son, Grady. She turned over some photographs of her son, who was an outspoken critic of Scientology being sued by the church. Scientology officials later admitted in court documents that Ingram had, in fact, persuaded Rubye to turn over the photographs.

Ingram tells New Times that he did not identify himself as a police detective to Robert Cipriano when he visited his apartment in May 1994. Ingram insists that he handed Cipriano a business card that clearly identified him as a private investigator and says he couldn't have intimidated Cipriano about the New Jersey matter because he wasn't aware of it. He says he didn't learn that Cipriano was serving a probated sentence until years later when Cipriano mentioned the probation himself.

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