Despite the fact that she was innocent, Lana Mitchell was forced to endure an extraordinary vendetta by what she says is a religious cult spinning out of control.
Mitchell was once a devoted Scientologist, but when Tom Cruise got food poisoning, Mitchell said she was blamed and forced into hard labour as punishment.
Mitchell is now one of Australia’s top farmers. She was named New South Wales Rural Woman of the Year 2010, and sells Australian wildflowers all over the world.More stories from Today Tonight
Before leaving the religion in 2004, she worked for Scientology's controversial leader David Miscavige in his private fortress in California.
“I definitely think that (Miscavige) has lost touch with reality,” said Mitchell. “I do know in terms of Tom Cruise the two of them have created this bond and this friendship that seems to be - well, it's been said before - unnaturally close.”
Both Cruise and Miscavige have had a terrible and lasting impact on the life of Mitchell.
“I actually don't have or harbour any ill will against the many wonderful people I worked with,” she said.
“David Miscavige lives a lifestyle that very few people actually know about. He lives a life of royalty.”
There are banquets; luxury cars; performance bikes; suits tailored by John Travolta's tailor; and a personal entourage to rival and even eclipse that of his best friend, movie star Scientologist Cruise.
Mitchell recalls that meals for the leader came every few hours, featuring the best of the best. When Cruise came to visit no effort or expense was spared, and that’s when things came to a head.
“Tom Cruise got food poisoning. He apparently ate a prawn that was off (shrimp as they call it in the US),” she said, recalling the 2003 incident in vivid detail. “He ate a prawn that was off and he had food poisoning.
“There was an investigation that ensued, and they decided that I was responsible because I had taken it out of the freezer and defrosted it under cold, running water,” Mitchell explained. “So I was removed. I was not allowed to see my husband. I was removed from the property and told that I was ‘offloaded’.”
Mitchell lost her job, her home, her family and friends in one fell swoop.
“I was given no opportunity to defend myself. They needed a head on a pike, as they call it, they needed someone to shoot. Tom Cruise got food poisoning, somebody needed to go so … that was the end of me at the International Headquarters of Scientology.
“I was sent to hard labour,” Mitchell said.
“They told me I would not be able to see my mother,” Mitchell said. “There was no valid reason for it, they would not approve it. You don't get between an Australian girl and her mother”
“Every phone call is listened to, every letter is read, in and out - it gets to a point that people really have nobody left to go to in many cases. In my view it's a violation of human rights.”
“Not only was Lana's treatment bizarre, it was shocking and unacceptable,” said Independent Federal Senator Nick Xenophon, who has long campaigned against Scientology's abuses. Even he has been appalled by its leader's lavish lifestyle.
“How is it that these cult leaders can live in absolute luxury whereas their followers live in poverty?” Xenophon asked.
Tony Ortega, the Editor in Chief of the iconic Village Voice in New York says that “Katie Holmes ought to be upset”.
“This is the kind of thing that a lot of people in Hollywood should be concerned about, that Scientology retaliates against people who dare to criticise them, including the South Park crew.”
In November 2005 South Park produced an episode that was deeply embarrassing for scientology.
“We're now finding out through formerly secret internal documents that the Church retaliated against South Park with an investigation against Trey Parker and Matt Stone, their friends and their employees, using private investigators digging through their trash and trying to find vulnerabilities to exploit against them,” Ortega explained.
Tom Cruise reportedly refused to promote his movie War of the Worlds on certain networks unless Comedy Central promised not to repeat this episode.
So what’s next for scientology?
"David Miscavige has serious problems on his hands and this next year is going to be crucial to see whether Miscavige can rally his troops and keep them going in the same direction because I think that's getting very difficult for him,” Ortega said.
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