CLEARWATER (FOX 13) - The Church Of Scientology is not happy the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) sold a piece of property it desperately wanted to the city of Clearwater.
The church is now aggressively campaigning against the aquarium questioning their status as a non-profit organization.
CMA sold the parking lot to the city for $4.25 million, but the church offered $15 million. CMA rejected that offer because it already made a deal with the city. The city had the option to back out of the deal, but city council voted to move forward.
Now the church seems to have launched a campaign to block the aquarium from public funds, saying the organization must not need the money or it would have taken the deal.
"We don't break our word. We gave a written offer to the city and we are not going to go back and break our word with the city. We don't do that," explained CMA’s CEO, David Yates.
The church sent a box of letters and binders full of opposition research targeting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was sent to Pinellas County commissioners, state lawmakers, and State Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office.
The church claims the aquarium does not act as a nonprofit like it claims. It says the aquarium shouldn't receive $26 million in bed tax money from the county, especially after it turned down millions in private funds from the church.
"There's a real issue here over the use of taxpayer funds," the church’s attorney, Monique Yingling told FOX 13 News.
Yingling said the accusation that the church is retaliating for the loss of the land isn’t true.
"We feel like they are absolutely trying to bully us, without a doubt,” Yates said. “We are not their enemy. The fact is we simply sold the property to the city because they're a partner and they asked to buy it."
The church also questions Yates’ salary, which comes to $1.8 million over the last five years. Yates says that's in line with similar nonprofit aquariums.
We asked Yingling if the church would publicly disclose how much the church’s leader, David Miscavage makes.
“Well, I can tell you he doesn't make a fraction of what David Yates is paid, and the church is probably a hundred times bigger than the Clearwater Marine Aquarium," Yingling said.
Charity watchdog group, CharityNavigator.org ranks the aquarium in the top 4-percent of charitable organizations.
The church had planned to work with the city on several downtown development projects, but that has been put on hold after what the church calls 'interference.'
The mayor of Clearwater, meanwhile, stands with the aquarium.
"This is probably a low point in our relationship with the church," Mayor George Cretekos said.