In 2010, former Scientologist Michelle LeClair says her world was turned upside down when she left the church after allegedly facing persecution for coming out as gay.
In her new memoir, Perfectly Clear, the mother of four and self-described former “poster girl for Scientology” claims that she and her family were stalked and harassed by the church after she announced that she was defecting. The church denies her claims, calling them “delusional and paranoid.”
“From the moment I decided to publicly leave, my life unspooled as if I were in a suspense novel,” LeClair, 45, writes in an exclusive excerpt featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “Strange cars idled at the curb by my home at all hours of the day. Men wearing dark glasses followed me to the grocery store, my kids’ school. My computer and my phone [were] hacked.”
In her book, LeClair also recalls her rise within Scientology after founding one of the nation’s most successful woman-owned life insurance firms, her realization (while married to a man) that she was a lesbian, and how the love of her life, partner Tena Clark, ultimately helped her break free.
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LeClair, who says she donated an estimated $5 million to the church over the years, claims it targeted not only her family but also her livelihood in the wake of her defection.
For more on Michelle LeClair’s escape from Scientology, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
At what she believes was the church’s instigation, the state of California charged LeClair with running a Ponzi scheme, and she ultimately shut down her insurance business, agreeing to return $1.3 million to more than 40 alleged victims.
“I had heard how vindictive the church could be, [that] they used the courts to bleed people dry with litigation,” she writes. “Still, I hadn’t been prepared for the force of their retaliation. Now the government had accused me of a felony? My thoughts ran wild.”
Asked to comment, the Church of Scientology rebutted much of LeClair’s account, stating, in part:
“Ms. LeClair has not been involved with the Church of Scientology in a decade. The civil and criminal cases stemming from her financial misdeeds, which resulted in a permanent injunction and restitution order signed by a Superior Court Judge … and a plea agreement with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, were of her own making.”
It added, “Contrary to the myths spread by Ms. LeClair and her publishers as they try to sell her book, the Church has no position on sexual orientation. The Church is on record as being opposed to discrimination of any sort.”
LeClair’s legal nightmare stretched on for six emotionally draining years and left her millions of dollars in debt.
But on March 30, 2017, the criminal charges were dropped in what LeClair says the court called “the interest of justice.”
“Truth prevailed,” LeClair writes in her book. “I was innocent.”
LeClair is now living in rural Georgia with her children from her first marriage (Sage, 17, Savannah, 11, and twins Jadon and London, 9) and her partner, Clark, 64, a successful music producer.
After her years-long battle with Scientology, LeClair says she finally feels free: “Free for my children. Free to love the person I do. Free.”
From PERFECTLY CLEAR by Michelle LeClair, on sale from Berkley, September 11th. Copyright © 2018 by Chidubem LLC.