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A Texas woman says she’s lost over $800,000 to scammers attempting to extract money from her to ‘save’ actor Leonardo DiCaprio from the Church of Scientology.
The woman, 54, told The Daily Beast she was first contacted by a person claiming to be the Oscar-winning actor and activist via Twitter, shortly after she joined the social media platform in 2018.
‘Denise’ – as the article referred to her to protect her anonymity – is an English-born freelance writer who works for trade publications and writes corporate manuals, in addition to working on a memoir and a graphic novel.
She had also recently lost her husband, who had built up over $1million in savings with his construction business, and had two grown daughters who no longer lived with her.
It was in that state that she received a direct message on the social media giant from whom she believed was DiCaprio, from an account she followed on Twitter.
A Texas woman says she’s lost over $800,000 to scammers attempting to extract money from her to ‘save’ actor Leonardo DiCaprio from the Church of Scientology
‘Denise’ eventually learned of a greater difficulty plaguing ‘Leo’: that he was enslaved by the Church of Scientology
‘He learned that I loved to cook. We were texting one night when I was making homemade ravioli, and he said that Camila needed to learn how,’ she says, meaning DiCaprio’s girlfriend, Camila Morrone
‘Leo’ told her that David Miscavige was known as ‘his Holiness’ and that he had a mark that proved his place within the church
After initially scoffing at the idea that she was messaging with DiCaprio, the things he described himself as doing seemed to both predict and match up with what she read about the Titanic star in the news.
‘He was working with Quentin Tarantino at the time, but he was polite and never disclosed too much. I did, however, know about his filming schedule and a New York and European trip,’ Denise said. ‘I learned of these trips well before the information hit the internet.’
She slowly began to open up to the person she thought to be DiCaprio, learning private ‘details’ about the actor.
‘He learned that I loved to cook. We were texting one night when I was making homemade ravioli, and he said that Camila needed to learn how,’ she says, meaning DiCaprio’s girlfriend, Camila Morrone.
‘We developed a terrific friendship within a couple months and he always insisted that I call him ‘Leo,’ Denise added.
After initially scoffing at the idea that she was messaging with DiCaprio, the things he described himself as doing seemed to both predict and match up with what she read about the Titanic star in the news
The messages then started to turn into Gmail hangouts, emails, and phone calls, which she said were ‘difficult for him’ because Morrone would ‘try to listen in.’
Eventually, a month into their trading of messages, ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’ told ‘Denise’ he loved him.
‘I jokingly called him a ‘pedophile’ because of the children he dates. But he quickly corrected me,’ she said. ‘Leo’ told her he had actually had one of his most meaningful relationships with an older woman.
However, ‘Denise’ eventually learned of a greater difficulty plaguing ‘Leo’: that he was enslaved by the Church of Scientology.
He showed her a letter that he claimed was from the church demanding he pay $750,000 and claiming that his entire personal fortune was controlled by Scientology and he couldn’t access it without payment.
The person claiming to be DiCaprio told ‘Denise’ that he needed her help and asked if she could assist him with getting a loan.
‘He couldn’t do anything without their approval, including traveling or making any major purchases,’ she said. ‘They organized and paid for his existence. He admitted then that his relationship with Camila Morrone was arranged by the church.’
She adds that the person on the other end would tell her that the ‘CSI’ (Church of Scientology International) held his cash in a secret vault in California and that it had committed human trafficking offenses, in addition to ‘slavery, rape and every financial crime under the sun.’
‘Leo’ told her that David Miscavige was known as ‘his Holiness’ and that he had a mark that proved his place within the church.
She was stunned by what ‘DiCaprio’ told her about the extent of his bondage to the church, which he referred to in messages as ‘the CSI,’ for Church of Scientology International.
‘Denise’ said that the things ‘Leo’ claimed the CSI did made her worry for her own safety in addition to his, adding that she purchased a gun for the first time in her life.
Karen Hollander was an executive at the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre
She said that she would see photos of DiCaprio appearing brooding at Art Basel in Miami and it would convince her that she had to help
In September, ‘Denise’ finally gave in and wired $6,000 to a man named Kenneth in Georgia whom ‘Leo’ claimed was a ‘trusted aid.’
She continued to wire money to six different ‘trusted aids’ throughout 2018, totaling $256,000.
‘Denise’ would often worry that she was being taken for a ride but truly believed ‘Leo’ was a victim who need to be freed.
She said that she would see photos of DiCaprio appearing brooding at Art Basel in Miami and it would convince her that she had to help.
‘I couldn’t imagine anyone being so tormented,’ she says.
DiCaprio, however, is not a Scientologist, though he is somewhat close with actor Ethan Suplee, a member of the church and a member of DiCaprio’s infamous ‘P***y Posse’ in the 1990s.
‘Everyone knew it,’ a source told The Daily Beast. ‘Ethan was in the posse and Leo was around a lot of Scientologists, but we all knew that the rule was, he didn’t want to hear anything about it.’
Suplee was even asked by then-Celebrity Centre president Karen Hollander to recruit DiCaprio.
‘Ethan said no fucking way,’ another source said.
DiCaprio, despite a friendship with a member, appears to have no legitimate connection to the religion.
DiCaprio, however, is not a Scientologist, though he is somewhat close with actor Ethan Suplee, a member of the church and a member of DiCaprio’s infamous ‘P***y Posse’ in the 1990s
However, ‘Denise’ would send ‘Leo’ money in multiples of $5,000 or $50,000, which she had convinced herself was legit because she had found out the lifetime memberships to CSI cost $5,000 and patron-level memberships cost $50,000.
‘I accused ‘Leo’ a few times of paying church fees for members that he had recruited, but he neither denied nor confirmed my accusations.’
She was further convinced that DiCaprio was in financial trouble when she saw him flying commercial in January 2019. The real DiCaprio said it was because of environmental concerns.
In March 2019, she was making bigger payments than ever, sending two checks to a company of New Jersey that ‘Leo’ said was run by a friend for $71,500.
Things got stranger, however, when ‘Leo’ said he didn’t get the cash. ‘Denise’ confirmed with her bank that payment had been delivered.
She eventually rationalized their arguments by believing the Church of Scientology was taking the money before he could get it.
She eventually contacted the FBI in an attempt to clarify why ‘Leo’ wasn’t getting the money.
With that, she told ‘Leo’ she was done sending him money ever again, but he responded with a long message:
‘To the woman who owns my heart. I started flirting with you because you were the hottest girl I had ever laid my eyes on despite seeing millions and thousands around my profession and my environ [sic] the #HOLLYWOOD.
‘Now I have fallen in love with you because you have the most beautiful heart I have ever felt.
‘I love you. If I could be anything I would be your tear, so I could be born in your eye, live down your cheek and die on your lips. My thoughts are free to go anywhere, but it’s surprising how often they head in your direction.
‘Your love is the only armor I need to fight all of this life’s battles. Before I was in a relationship with you, I was suffering from commitment phobia.
‘After being in a relationship with you, I am suffering from an addiction call [sic] love.’
Both Suplee and actor Tobey Maguire were notoriously friends with DiCaprio throughout the 90s
She then spent $6,000 on Apple products and attempted to mail them to Georgia to be certain the church wasn’t stealing from ‘Leo.’
Throughout 2019, she continued to have her doubts about his identity but she continued to send him money, having totaled $620,455 by the end of 2019.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, having started to suspect that ‘Leo’ was multiple people, ‘Denise’ slowed down the donations, giving less but still giving.
In response, ‘Leo’ and his aides became much more intense and an agent with the church, ‘Merlinda Guzman’ was ‘downright abusive’ toward her.
‘Merlinda’ threatened ‘Denise,’ saying if she didn’t send more money, she would never get it back.
Attempting to do damage control, ‘Leo’ sent ‘Denise’ an email he’d written to Miscavige.
However, by March, she discovered that both ‘Leo’ and ‘Merlinda’ were emailing her from outside the United States.
His response: ‘You have no idea what the brotherhood is truly capable of,’ referring to Scientology.
Eventually, she started receiving emails from a man named ‘Derek’ who claimed to work for DiCaprio and said he was trying to send Denise all of her money back in a box of cash.
After consulting with an FBI agent who said this was a bad idea, she told them to cancel the delivery.
At this point, the writer with the Daily Beast began to explain to her that Scientologists did not speak that way and that many of the men ‘Denise’ gave money to had Nigerian last names around a time when the United States’ Department of Justice arrested 24 mostly Nigerian scammers for running internet grifts.
Despite having given ‘Leo’ $813,000, she claimed finally confirming this wasn’t really Leonardo DiCaprio was relieving after nearly four years.
‘Denise’ has lost a lot of her life savings and will likely never recover the money but says she still has some money and a car that has resale value – she also won’t lose her house – but will be less able to financially help her children.
The author contacted ‘Leo’, ‘Merlinda’ and ‘Derek’, never hearing back.
‘This has been a nightmare that I desperately needed to wake up from,’ Denise said.
Representatives for DiCaprio did not respond to a request for comment.