Texts Reveal How the Church of Scientology Shadowed Leah Remini and Jennifer Lopez
Text messages between private investigators show how ex-cops were trailing the ‘Second Act’ stars around New York City on behalf, they say, of Scientology.
Retired NYPD detective Yanti “Mike” Greene had spent three days weaving through Manhattan traffic in pursuit of two Cadillac Escalades and their precious cargo—actress Leah Remini and her friend Jennifer Lopez—when, on the fourth night at 2:01 a.m., he received a text from another ex-cop turned private eye, Saul Roth.
It was December 2017 and Roth, then 58 and a former Nassau County police detective, asked Greene what the job was, and whether he’d be paid his rate of $50 an hour.
“Main question lol,” Roth texted.
Greene, 46, assured him they would be getting their “normal rate” working for International Investigative Group (IIG), a company founded by renowned polygraph expert Dan Ribacoff, which employed a number of ex-police officers and other private investigators.
When Greene texted that their target was Remini, Roth admitted he didn’t know who that was.
“Matrimonial?” Roth asked, assuming that the job was trailing a spouse in a divorce case, one of the most common ways PIs are used.
Greene informed Roth that the King of Queens actress was in fact shooting a movie in New York City with her good pal Jennifer Lopez, and that the two often stayed together. So they would essentially be following both Remini and J.Lo.
“Nice,” Roth replied.
Greene explained that Remini was staying at the Four Seasons (actually the Ritz Carlton Private Residences in Long Island), so they’d be parked outside it much of the time. And, in addition to the movie shoot in SoHo, Remini was also filming scenes for the CBS series Kevin Can Wait at a studio in Bethpage, Long Island, so her movements would be complex.
“I’ve been on it for 4 days now. We got her last night but then lost her,” Greene texted.
“Why are we following her?” Roth asked.
Greene was initially circumspect: “Basically the client just wants to know her movements and locations. I don’t have any more details as to why and who.”
“Could be matrimonial,” he added, throwing Roth off the scent.
But then Roth indicated that he’d Googled Remini, and Greene knew what he’d find.
“Or Scientologists,” Greene added.
“She quit,” Roth texted.
In fact, Leah Remini’s defection from Scientology had already been a major media story for several years. News that she’d ditched Scientology first became public in 2013 and exploded in 2015 with the release of her bestselling memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. Then in 2016, she began exposing the organization in the A&E series Scientology and the Aftermath, which won its first of two Emmys in 2017. When Roth joined Greene to tail Remini, her series had just wrapped its second season.
Remini was doing major damage to Scientology, and in December 2017, there was little doubt that she was going to get a third season of the hit show.
Knowing that Roth realized what was really going on, Greene sent this shocking reply:
“Yeah—word is they want to kill her. Or at least know what she’s doing when in NYC.” (Greene’s texts offered no support for this wild claim.)
Remini was well aware that she was being followed by private investigators in unmarked cars around New York that December.
She told me as much at the time, and by March 2018 the two of us had figured out that Greene was the one following her in a silver van with Texas plates, and according to Remini had nearly caused Remini’s driver to have a collision.
When I got him on the phone, Greene claimed he didn’t know who Leah Remini was.
A former NYPD detective doesn’t know about King of Queens? I asked him.
“I never watched the show because I was working,” he said. “I’m a guy who’s always working.”
He also denied that he was working for the Church of Scientology.
But now, three years later, the texts that Mike Greene sent his fellow private investigators over the period that he was surveilling Remini in December 2017 have become part of the court record in a disturbing $50 million lawsuit originally filed two years ago by David M. Smith in Nassau Supreme Court. In the suit, Smith accuses Greene of raping his wife Susanne Gold-Smith while following her in May 2018, just months after he’d been tracking Remini for a different client.
Dan Ribacoff, the IIG owner, has denied the allegations in the lawsuit and called us to address Greene’s texts.
“If you think the Church of Scientology is my client, you’re 100 percent wrong,” he said. But when asked who his client was, he said he couldn’t say.
Remini told me she was stunned when she got a copy of the texts and saw the extent of the operation against her.
“They had people from the movie set sending them call sheets. They got someone inside the set at Kevin Can Wait. They knew things only people who are on the show knew!” she says.
She asked what her legal recourse may be. As for former NYPD cops following her, she says it does surprise her. “I guess I was naive to think that East Coast people would be different. I never thought New York police officers, even retired, would be for hire by Scientology. I guess my naivete is showing.”
But she’s still not impressed by their skills. In 2018, she spotted them and even helped me identify Mike Greene.
“IIG should rename the company dumb, dumber, and dumbest. These are the worst PIs in the world. These guys were actually trying not to be seen, and I saw them,” she says.
I put in a message with Greene again, telling him that we now have his texts. And I did the same with the three principals at IIG: Dan Ribacoff, his daughter Lisa, and his son Lance, who did the most texting with the private eyes while they were following Remini.
Greene, the Ribacoffs, and other private investigators named in the lawsuit have been fighting the litigation for several years now, denying its allegations.
But along with the texts, there was another new filing in the case last week that stunned Remini.
Saul Roth, who had initially denied the allegations in the lawsuit, has now come clean, filing an affidavit confirming not only that he saw private investigators, including Greene, have improper contact with the woman they were following, but also that he believed he and others were following Remini on behalf of the Church of Scientology. (The Church of Scientology did not respond to requests for comment.)
David M. Smith is usually described in press reports as an “ice cream heir.” His father was Richard E. Smith, himself a second-generation ice cream man known for reviving brands on life-support and for inventing the super-premium ice cream market with his 1980 brand Frusen Glädjé, a brief sensation that had no actual ties to Scandinavia.
Richard’s son David continued the family tradition as CEO of Coolbrands, which produced the Chipwich and Eskimo Pies (now Edy’s Pies). These days, however, he’s mostly garnering headlines for his personal life.
In 2018, David Smith and his wife Susanne Gold-Smith were divorcing, and they were each separately suing the other, resulting in repeated and very ugly mentions in the New York Post, which salivated over the vicious battle involving a wealthy Chipwich scion.
“Ice cream heir is a monster who forced me to have sex to see our son: wife,” read one Post headline, while another exclaimed, “Former Chipwich exec sues ex for $25M over sex-for-visitation claim.”
In those stories, David accused Susanne of trying to get out of her prenup by claiming that she was disabled and couldn’t work. So he said he hired Dan Ribacoff’s IIG to follow her 24 hours a day in order to try and disprove her claim.
Knowing they had the heir to a $100 million ice cream fortune on the hook, Smith claims that Ribacoff’s firm convinced him that it needed a small army to keep an eye on his wife. Smith alleges in court papers that he was paying IIG $350,000 a month to keep tabs on Susanne in 2018.
And we know all this today because eventually David and Susanne reconciled, and then refocused their ire on IIG.
David sued IIG, alleging in his complaint that he’d been double- and triple-billed by the agency because it knew it was fleecing a wealthy man.
“During the investigation, Plaintiff was charged and paid for the following, the list of which is not exhaustive:
- Rental vehicles for each investigator;
- Hotel rooms used by the investigators when Gold-Smith left for weekends and/or vacations; Meals, alcohol, and incidentals the investigators consumed while on the job;
- Tickets for the investigators to follow Gold-Smith on cruise ships;
- Concert tickets for the investigators to follow Gold-Smith into venues; Airline tickets the investigators used to follow Gold-Smith when she traveled;
- Payment for multiple and unnecessary investigators to follow and surveil Gold-Smith when they had advanced knowledge of Gold-Smith’s whereabouts and destinations.”
In total, Smith says in court papers, IIG charged him $8.8 million for their investigation into his wife.
Smith got access to Mike Greene's texts with a court order as he looked for evidence that IIG had overbilled him. But also in those texts were things Smith wasn’t searching for—including the surveillance of Leah Remini and Jennifer Lopez.
Gold-Smith, meanwhile, claims in court papers that IIG’s investigators not only improperly contacted her while surveilling her, but that five of the investigators ended up having intimate contact with her, and two of them raped her. The two private investigators deny it, and no criminal charges have been filed against either of them.
Mike Greene was one of the IIG investigators accused by Gold-Smith of raping her, but the former NYPD detective counterclaimed that Gold-Smith had raped him.
“In a case with more twists than a soft-serve cone, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Greene claims he was raped in a car in a Long Island parking lot in 2018 by the 5-foot-3, 130-pound Susanne Gold-Smith, wife of Chipwich scion David Smith, who is worth an estimated $100 million,” reported the New York Post.
“This was one of the most traumatic experiences I have ever endured. It was already a challenging time in my life, and IIG and their investigators exploited the power dynamic they had over me during the investigation. I was powerless, and after I was raped and sexually assaulted by these investigators, I lived in a constant state of fear. They made it clear that there would be repercussions if I ever exposed what they were doing. I’ll have to live with that threat and the emotional toll this has taken on me for the rest of my life,” Gold-Smith said in December, echoing her claims in the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, Greene got back to me after my recent message.
“I got nothing to hide,” he said, alleging that he hadn’t actually seen the texts that were added to the court record recently.
He said that the lawsuit by the Smiths was “beyond frivolous,” and that the lies told by their attorneys makes him distrustful of anything they put into the court record.
“On my end, I don’t even trust what’s in those texts,” he said.
I asked him to set aside the Smiths and their lawsuit and answer a simple question: Was he following Leah Remini in 2017?
“They might have text messages saying that, but I don’t trust them,” he replied.
And you don’t remember following her, regardless of what the texts say?
“I don’t know. I’d have to look. I don’t recall that. If I sat and thought about it I might be able to tell you something, but as of now I don’t recall. I don’t recollect that,” he said.
On the evening of Dec. 5, 2017, according to Greene’s texts, IIG’s Lance Ribacoff first asked Greene if he could “jump on a rush NYC surveillance” that night and follow a “celeb.”
Once he heard from Lance that the target was Remini and that she was filming with J.Lo, he boasted that he’d made a source while following Kendall Jenner, a “paparazzi buddy” who could tip them off on someone like Remini for a $200 payment.
“Perfect if he’s legit,” Lance answered in a text.
Within minutes, the paparazzo had told them where to find Remini. And minutes after that, Greene had a copy of the call sheet for Second Act, the movie Lopez and Remini were filming.
“I know people,” Greene bragged.
“You da man,” Lance answered.
He soon had in his possession descriptions of the automobiles Lopez and Remini were traveling in—white and black Cadillac Escalades—and their schedules for the next few days.
The next day, Greene staked out Lopez’s apartment by Madison Square Park, and he and Lance joked about how Remini looked in a press photo, trying to decide if she was pregnant or not.
“Any gossip on her?” Lance asked.
“Nothing yet. I’m going to harvest as much as I can tomorrow.”
Later, Lance asked again by text if Greene had picked up any dirt on Remini: “This dude know somebody in the film crew or something? Looking for intel on her on set, etc. She rude to people?”
Greene answered that he hadn’t heard much, except that Leah wasn’t the “nicest” to the paparazzi. “But overall nice to others etc. Nothing specific about this project though,” he responded.
The next day after that, on Dec. 7, Greene was joined by another investigator, Ray Ramos, and they hit paydirt. Parked at different spots outside the Second Act set in SoHo, they were in good position to see Lopez and Remini filming their scenes.
Then, according to their text messages, they followed the two women to a family dinner with children.
“You guys both good for this case tomorrow?” Lance asked as they finished up that night.
“Yes indeed,” Green answered.
And they stuck with Remini that night as she went in for filming well into the wee hours.
At around 5 a.m., Greene texted, “Damn it! Late ass filming.” He stuck with Remini another hour, noting that around 6 a.m. the actress finally went home.
The next night, Dec. 9, Greene was joined by Roth, but they had less luck. While they sat outside the Ritz Carlton residences in Long Island waiting for something to happen, they talked by text about the best way to get a bathroom break.
“If you have your shield and sweet talk, you can use the one in the Four Seasons,” Greene texted. “Flash and ‘Can I ask if I can please use your bathroom—we are working outside following/watching a suspected child rapist.’ Something like that… Anything to pull on their heart strings to like us and let us use it.”
While Greene doesn’t recall whether he sat around for days with Ray Ramos and Saul Roth on assignment from IIG to follow Remini, Roth remembers it clearly.
“During the [Susanne Gold-Smith] Investigation, I was also assigned to work on other IIG private investigations, including the surveillance of the actress Leah Remini for IIG’s client, who, upon belief, was The Church of Scientology,” Roth said in his new affidavit.
IIG’s attorneys responded this week by asking Nassau County Superior Court Judge Sharon Gianelli to seal the new filings, and she acquiesced. They were only available to the public for a couple of days, but we managed to download them before they were taken down.
While the Church of Scientology did not respond to our requests for comment for this story, they’ve been very critical of Remini in the past, accusing her of attacking the church with a profit motive.
Scientology has been less vocal about Lopez, who has her own connection to the church. Her father is an ardent member, but Lopez herself has not been tempted to join.
“Jennifer is a very strong-minded female, and is a seeker of spirituality. She’s Catholic—always has been—and her father is a very indoctrinated Scientologist, and has been for quite a long time. He’s achieved the confidential levels of Scientology. But Jennifer makes her own decisions,” Remini explained to The Daily Beast in 2019.
For decades, Scientology has been known to hire private investigators to surveil and harass former members and other people it considers enemies. It even has a name for the policy, which founder L. Ron Hubbard called “Fair Game.” Hubbard said that people identified as targets for “Fair Game” could be “tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”
In 2015, police records in Wisconsin, for example, showed that Scientology leader David Miscavige was spending $10,000 a week for two private investigators to follow his own father, Ron Miscavige, who had fled a Scientology compound in 2012.
Critics of Scientology’s tax-exempt status have long pointed to the church’s “Fair Game” policy and use of private investigators as a prime example of the way that the organization is misusing its favored status with the government, and largesse from taxpayers.
Remini often decries that Scientology not only harasses and surveils former members, but that it does it with tax-free funds.
“For five decades, Scientology has denied that they use their tax-exempt status to engage in stalking and harassing their victims in an attempt to silence those speaking out,” Remini says. “This is dictated by the unchanging mandates of their policies and directives of ‘Fair Game’ written by L. Ron Hubbard. To see in writing the truth that Scientology wants me and anyone who speaks out against Scientology ‘dead’ is not just some idiot private investigator’s opinion or us just being dramatic but rather truth taken from the actual words and teachings of Hubbard where he writes, anyone opposing Scientology should be ‘destroyed utterly.’ I say this to Scientology and any piece of shit working for it: You got the wrong family to be fucking with.”