Investigative reporter Mark Ebner has a new haircut. He has gone for the military look. It’s all part of a would-be ruse to infiltrate the Church of Scientology, pop down to their “Super Power Building” in Clearwater, Florida, and deliver a subpoena to “Scientology dictator” David Miscavige.
As regular DM readers will know, I am big fan of the brilliant Ebner, and he is in rollicking good form on this edition of Media Mayhem, “Leah Remini and the Scientology Apocalypse.” Here, with host Allison Hope Weiner, Ebner discusses why Remini quit Scientology, the inside story on Miscavige’s influence on Tom Cruise, the “Super Power Building” fraud, ponzi schemes, and the homicides that have been committed by the “cult.”
As Ebner points out Scientology is in crisis, and it’s not just the likes of Remini that are leaving: to say people are leaving the Church in droves, wouldn’t be right, “as there aren’t any droves left to leave.”
Mark first met “The Rat” while he was working on one of his books:
‘While researching Six Degrees of Paris Hilton, from out of the blue I received an email from someone claiming that he knew more about one of the criminals I was writing about than anyone. Intrigued, I phoned him, and soon realized that it was HIS story I wanted to tell…
‘“The Rat” and I have remained friends through the years, and I trust him with my life. Once, when I had to confront a pair of Russian mobsters operating out of a pawn shop front, The Rat flew down from Seattle to simply stand behind me and look intimidating. Only a true friend would do something like that.’
Mark also tells Dangerous Minds that “The Rat” will be going public this Thursday, when he will reveal his true identity for the first time on camera.
Here is an extract from Mark’s article on “The Rat”:
The first sign that something was wrong was when a car followed him onto his street – a one-way cul-de-sac at the top of Nichols Canyon in the Hollywood Hills where the mansions start at a million dollars. He was driving back from Bad Boys Bail Bonds, where he’d just dropped three grand to spring one of his drivers who had gotten popped in Santa Monica on a routine haul. Earlier in the day, he had pulled off the kind of transaction that some dealers go their whole lives without seeing – 300 pounds of primo weed for $1 million, which had netted him a cool $90,000 for two hours work. His senses heightened, he could feel the vibe going sour as he steered his discreet rental car past his own driveway. Another 60 feet, and suddenly there were searchlights washing every street corner – at least 30 undercover police cars – with a helicopter swooping down on top of him in case he decided to make a run for it down the open cliff face.
“I hadn’t done a deal in six months,” says Oz (most names in this story have been changed), a 48-year-old ex-marijuana trafficker and big-time baller who once dominated the I-5 corridor from British Columbia to Tijuana, was responsible for 70 percent of the marijuana smoked in Los Angeles and saw $4 million move through his operation every two weeks. “They take me inside – they’re stripping the house, and here’s my $90,000 all out on the table. I said, ‘Dude, just shoot me now. I don’t blame you guys, but I’m not going to rat on any of my people, so I’d prefer to be dead.’ The Fed says, ‘No, man, I can’t do that. But we need to talk.’”
Cruising through the Hills in a tricked-out Lincoln Navigator, on loan from a fellow drug runner who got out of the game when he found religion, Oz can’t help but point the sites of his former glory: The Russian tanning salon in Hollywood where you could order up Vicodin or steroids on demand; the Melrose Avenue tattoo shop that moves 50 to a hundred pounds of weed a week; the Mexican restaurant that serves up kilos of coke with its carne asada. But he is less expansive when describing his life since the 2004 bust that curtailed his hand-built empire – and his uneasy resurrection as an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency. In the world he lived in for over 20 years, the worst thing you could be was a rat – a turnabout of fate that obviously weighs heavy on him. In the past three years, Oz has survived three suicide attempts – not counting his choice of livelihood.
Still retaining the hard angles and displaced muscle mass from his early years as a bodybuilder and protracted steroid enthusiast, Oz today most resembles Arnold Schwarzenegger if you put him through a threshing machine and then tried to spot-weld the bigger pieces back together. He’s had his bicep torn off from trying to break a guy’s neck in a bar, all his teeth are capped from being broken off in fights and he’s literally got screws in his head to hold his skull in place. He earned the sometimes nickname “Shrek” from taking so many punches to the face that his eyebrows calcified into scar tissue, leaving a large protruding ridge in his forehead. And in the kind of colorful anecdote that no doubt made it easier for him to do his job, he once bit his best friend’s ear off in the back seat of a limo.
“I have a short man’s complex,” admits the 5’8, 220-pound brawler, still capable of flashes of intense anger and pervasive menace, as well as intense emotion over the secondary victims of his chosen lifestyle. “I realized at one point that most people were my friends because they were scared of me. I’ve never killed anybody, but I’ve hurt a lot of people – and every one of them deserved it.”
I like Mark Ebner, he’s a ballsy guy, and a brilliant investigative journalist, who may possibly be possessed by genius. Mark is the author of two excellent books Hollywood Interrupted and Six Degrees of Paris Hilton and the writer of a thick file of highly respected and award-winning journalism, ranging from exposes on Scientology, Pit Bull fighting, and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as pieces on celebrity stalkers, drug dealers, missing porn stars, and Hepatitis C in Hollywood. For this, Ebner has been hailed as “the best investigative journalist since Hunter S. Thompson.” No doubt. But back in 2000, Mark tried his hand as a shock jock, as he told Dangerous Minds:
The year was 2000. A Bay Area start-up investor group decided “internet radio” was the ticket, so they set up a mammoth broadcast base in a warehouse in LA and started hiring up local talent to host shows: Ahmet Zappa.,“Kennedy,” Brian Whitman, Beth Lapides, Greg Behrendt, The Boone Brothers and me.
Me? Comedy? My agent negotiated me $100,000-a-year to host 3-hour show twice-a-week, having never done radio before. This was more money than I had ever seen, and I actually took the gig seriously, assembling a crack crew - all of whom have gone on to big things in their respective careers. Lesson learned: radio is difficult.
When I started the show, it was The Mark Ebner Show - just me and a microphone, trying to work the Joe Frank-style brooding confessional schtick. I ran out of material for that fast, and - when The Comedy World Radio Network went terrestrial (broke into traditional, second-tier radio markets) I flipped the format to more of a Howard Stern-inspired shock radio, hot topic groove. I hired a co-host named “Grommet” - a Venice Beach-dwelling tattoo artist / rabbinical student for second-seat duties, and, well, that didn’t work. Along shambled Peter Oddo, or Pete The Cripple - a transplanted Long Islander taking full-advantage of the American Disability Act. The guy was perfect for the show: Genuinely crippled (cerebral palsy), with a sense of humor about himself and a encyclopedia of movie facts and pop culture.
Oddo sounds a character. Ebner jokingly described him as “more insufferable than Sandra Bernhardt”, so I wrote to him to find out his take on The Mark Ebner Show. After a few emails back and forth and the questioning disbelief that anyone would take Ebner seriously, he wrote back:
Mark’s early shows were what I would call Diamonds In The Rough. He was waiting to shine through. But his Producer didn’t really believe in him or the show and quite honestly was just going through the motions. He had a co-host named Grommit that did not contribute much of anything to the show. The show needed something. The program director at the network was Terry Danuser. And he was such a smart guy. He had a lot of faith in Mark and kept working with him through the changes. I started helping Mark behind the scenes prepping the show. Doug Steindorff was brought in as Mark’s sidekick and eventually Mark found his producer in a Mexican version of Roseanne Barr named Mickey Ramos. Kidding. Roseanne is much more heinous looking.
The new line-up worked, partly because Ebner was more in control. He had also called in an old friend, the actor and writer Douglas Steindorff, as Mark explained:
Doug was funny, but coming from an improvisatory school of life and acting, he had little patience with my show’s largely scripted format. He rebelled on the air, and got himself fired. But, he will always be remembered for dropping trousers in full-frontal monty in the middle of a interview with one Carrie Fisher. Drastic Radio, along with the entire network, was finished exactly one year after it’s founding, and the talent reunion was held in bankruptcy court.
Oddo recalled the show with Carrie Fisher best:
One day, Mark secured a big guest. Carrie Fisher was going to come in and spend an hour. Being the huge Star Wars fan and movie geek that I am, I begged Mark to keep me in studio for that hour. I promised him I would bring something to the table. I wouldn’t tell Mark what I planned. I told him to just react to whatever I did. As Carrie sat there munching on donut holes that she brought in a sandwich bag, I hit her with such FANS WANT TO KNOW QUESTIONS as “What was it like doing drugs with Belushi?” or “Paul Simon? Really???” and “Is it true Harrison Ford has the best Pot in Hollywood”? It was what would come to be known as Pete The Cripple takes a bullet for the show. We were a great crew together and it all ended too fast when the Powers That Be pulled the plug.
Ebner’s radio career may have been short-lived, but his last show is still talked about with a mixture of shock and awe:
Our last show on-the-air in six syndicated radio markets found me and Pete breaking every FCC rule in the book by breaking into the insufferable Sandra Bernhardt’s pre-recorded show, and loudly snoring, swearing and taking calls throughout.
All of the team have gone on to bigger and better. And as for Ebner, what’s been radio’s loss has been journalism’s gain.