A Republican candidate for lieutenant governor included Scientology-themed videos and language in training material for employees of his Las Vegas bottled water company and forced a top executive to attend treatment centers sponsored by the controversial church that allegedly tried to “brainwash” him.
Brent Jones, a firebrand conservative former assemblyman who announced his bid for lieutenant governor earlier this year, has long touted his business success heading the company which produces Real Water, an “alkalized” bottled water that purports to be the only water on the market with a “stable negative ionization” (Medical experts have questioned the underlying science.)
But Jones and the parent company of Real Water, Affinitylifestyles.com, have been targeted in several discrimination lawsuits by former employees, including one centered on claims that the former lawmaker required her and other new employees to watch videos with Scientology undertones that promoted the controversial system of religious beliefs founded by writer L. Ron Hubbard.
Although a District Court judge ruled in Jones’ favor and ordered the cases to be remanded to arbitration in late 2017, court documents including depositions of Jones, his son and wife and a former top employee paint a picture of a workplace that appears to blur the lines between promotion of Scientology as a religion and various secular management techniques created by Hubbard and taught by groups close to the church.
Although Jones dismissed many of the allegations in the lawsuit during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal in March, court documents indicate that he has closely integrated many aspects of Scientology into his Las Vegas business, which employs between 40 to 60 people at any given time.
Although Jones did not respond to an emailed request for comment, his campaign website devotes a significant section to one of the lawsuits, which he claimed was “verifiably false.” It pans Republican state senator and fellow lieutenant governor candidate Michael Roberson as “The King of Dirty Politics,” and accuses him of conspiring to file “false legal charges against his opponent.”
“It is becoming more evident that the suit is frivolous,” he wrote. “It is also a sensational campaign ad for the opposition to create a political campaign attack.”
Jones said on his website, which includes a transcription from a deposition taken by one of the former employees who sued his company for religious discrimination, that he was expecting political attacks alleging that he is “a member of a cult or an alien from outer space.”
He defended his company’s use of Hubbard-developed management techniques and declined to comment on the many scandals facing the church.
“Like you I have seen and heard many negative stories about Scientology,” he wrote. “However, I have no first-hand knowledge if any of these stories are true.”
Campaign manager, chief of staff and distribution manager — Jeramy Edgel held all of those roles and more for Jones, becoming closely integrated with the former lawmaker’s personal and professional life during his 2014 run for office and during the 2015 legislative session. He told attorneys during a February 2017 deposition that Jones had hired him on with his bottled water business after the legislative session with the expressed goal of expanding the bottled water company’s distribution into other states.
But Edgel said their relationship eventually soured — he and Jones “just weren’t vibing anymore” — after Jones required him to attend several Scientology-based facilities including “Narconon,” a Florida-based rehab facility that Edgel called “Scientology boot camp.”
Edgel said that while aspects of Scientology gently permeated many aspects of Real Water’s business — such as requiring new hires to watch “The Way to Happiness,” a “non-religious personal moral code of ethics” based off a 1980 booklet written by Hubbard and closely linked to Scientology — Jones essentially required those closest to him to embrace his religious beliefs.
“I did it to make my life easier,” Edgel said. “I mean, I didn't have a choice. But I knew that when I did the courses, and I could speak in the vocabulary that they use, it's something that he identified with, and I could get what I wanted more often.”
Edgel also said that Real Water’s corporate office in Las Vegas had a sauna on site as part of a detoxification method developed by Hubbard called the Purification Rundown, or “Purif.” He said the process — which has been panned by medical experts as ineffective and at times dangerous — was a “first step of Scientology,” though it was optional for Real Water employees.
He told attorneys that Jones told him in June that “I needed to go do my Purif if I wanted to continue with the company.”
Although Jones didn’t directly threaten to fire him at that moment, Edgel said his intention was clear.
“I mean, with Brent, you really — you can't really express your opinion,” he said. “You don't have a choice. When you're dealing with people that are this bold, the only way that you survive is by agreeing.”
“And I was absolutely forced to do Scientology,” he added. “That was a part of my job.”
The “Purif” meant Edgel moved to Southern California for three summer months of 2016, going to a Scientology “Mission” in Orange County during nights and continuing to work for the company during the day. During his time there, Edgel said he completed various Scientology-themed courses provided through ABLE, another offshoot of the church that stands for Association of Better Living and Education.
But Edgel said that wasn’t enough, and the combination of his frustration at being “micromanaged” by Jones’ wife, Aimee, coupled with Edgel not working on Jones’ re-election campaign and Edgel drinking three nights a week led to Jones requiring him to attend a Scientology-linked rehab center — Narconon.
“I didn't want to go to Narconon. I didn't have a choice,” he said.
Narconon, which was founded in 1966 and is closely connected with Hubbard and Scientology, is a drug and substance abuse treatment facility with dozens of branches across the U.S. and Europe. It’s faced scrutiny over its drug rehabilitation program, and a facility in Quebec was shut down in 2011 due to a possible health risk.
Edgel said he spent more than a month at a Narconon facility in Florida, and while he credited the detoxification process for helping him stop drinking, he said the courses at the facility quickly turned bizarre.
“So you'll spend eight hours a day in a room this size where a person will tell you to stand up, thank you, and then sit down, thank you, and then stand up, thank you, sit down, thank you. And the next day will be putting your nose in a corner. Then the next day will be touching a table. Don't touch a table. Thank you. Now touch a table. Don't touch a table. Thank you. Then the next day will be touching a wall. Then don't touch the wall. Then touch the wall. Then don't touch the wall,” he said. “The purpose of it is — I don't really know — but it seemed like a whole bunch of brainwashing to me, and I couldn't vibe with it anymore. I couldn't do it.”
Edgel said he had several heated conversations with Jones while in Florida and decided to return home before completing the 90-day course. He said members of the rehabilitation center constantly tried to talk him out of leaving, and at one point locked him in a room for an hour to try and convince him to stay.
Once he arrived back in Las Vegas, Edgel said he sent a list of grievances to the company’s human resources department, and ultimately signed a separation agreement.
Edgel told attorneys that he ultimately decided to leave because of conflicts with Jones’ wife, Aimee, who was placed in a supervisory role over him, and that part of the reason for the company’s high turnover rate was because of Jones’ abrasive management style.
“If Brent is mad at somebody, he's not communicating with you in a civil manner. He's screaming at you. Screaming at you to where the blood vessels are popping out of your head, to where — I've seen him scream at his son, Blain, to where the blood vessels are popping out of his head, to where Blain gets so frustrated, he literally knocks everything off of Brent's desk while there are other juniors, meaning employees, in the office,” he said. “That's just how the guy operates. Either you agree with him or you don't agree with him. If you don't agree with him, you don't work there anymore. It's his way or the highway.”
Arbitration and Discrimination
Edgel’s deposition came as part of a series of lawsuits filed in 2016 against Jones and Real Water accusing the company of religious discrimination.
The most prominent of the suits was brought in May 2016 by Grecia Echevarria-Hernandez, a former company employee who alleged she was forced to watch videos with “religious undertones,” and that employee pay increases were tied to completing Scientology-themed coursework.
Echevarria-Hernandez alleged that she was never eligible for a promotion or raise after telling a supervisor that she was Catholic and was fired just a few months after hiring her in May 2015. In a deposition, she said she was taken aback by reference to Hubbard, but was never forced to attend or read literature about the church itself.
Another case, filed in November 2016 by the same attorney representing Echevarria-Hernandez, alleged that the company had engaged in religious and age discrimination against its former human resources director, Lisa Marie Bailey. She alleged that her decision to not become a Scientologist lead to her co-workers to “interact differently” with her, and that the “workplace environment became extremely unpleasant and unbearable.”
Marie-Bailey’s complaint stated she suffered from chronic depression, anxiety
and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and that her “extreme discomfort at having to promote and disseminate Scientology-related teachings” led to her condition deteriorating until she could no longer leave her apartment, talk to other people or get out of bed.
She alleged that she asked to take time off in June 2016 to book a medical appointment, but that a supervisor required her to obtain a doctor’s note every three days until she came back to work. She was subsequently given a warning for lack of attendance and then fired later that month.
A response filed by an attorney for Real Water denied requiring a doctor’s note every three days, but did state the company “offered raises for employees who participated in optional training courses, some of which were authored or based on works by L. Ron Hubbard, but Defendant denies that any of the optional courses contained Scientology-related messages or undertones.”
Ultimately, both cases were decided in favor of Real Water, with judges in both cases ordering the grievances be settled through arbitration. An appeal on Echevarria-Hernandez’s case was denied in February 2018.
Edgel dismissed the videos required for new employees to watch as “fluff,” saying that no employees he supervised ever complained about the videos themselves, but that all employees eventually came to be frustrated with the integration of Scientology into their jobs.
“Everybody complained about Scientology in the workplace,” Edgel said. “I don't recall her (Echevarria-Hernandez) as being more or less than anybody else.”
Other links to Scientology are more apparent. Even the name of the parent company of Real Water — AffinityLifestyles.com — is connected to Scientology, as “affinity” is one of the three parts of the so-called “ARC” triangle concept maps used significantly by the church.
Jones, in his deposition, denied the connection between the church and the name of his business.
“The term is used in Scientology,” he said, referring to the word “affinity.” “But as any term, it's a regular term which is in a standard dictionary, just like ‘the’ or ‘a.’”
In a deposition, Jones said that he required new employees to watch four videos as part of their orientation, including the Scientology-influenced “Way to Happiness” and another called “Message to Garcia” produced by an organization called WISE — the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises.
Jones said that his company paid around $600 a month to use business management tools created by WISE, which disseminates “administrative technology” developed by Hubbard and which Jones said has nothing to do with the Scientology belief system.
“I've been told that it's secular,” he said in the deposition. “And that's the purpose for the group, is to keep things secular so that they're not religious.”
But many experts and authors who have studied Scientology say that the organizational structure behind the religion is closely intertwined with WISE.
“Indeed, there is almost no practical difference between the technology licensed to WISE for business and that which is licensed to individual churches of Scientology to promote religion,” author Janet Reitman wrote in her book Inside Scientology. “It would be unthinkable for a Scientologist to not use Hubbard’s technology in business, just as it would be unthinkable for WISE businesses to not employ fellow Scientologists, for a key function of any WISE company is to make money: for itself and also, through donations, for the church.”
Tony Ortega, a journalist who chronicles the religion on his blog The Underground Bunker, said the “administrative technology” offered by the group tends to be used as another pathway to Scientology.
“WISE tends to target dentists, chiropractors, and veterinarians, but it will infiltrate any business that gives it a chance,” Ortega wrote in a December 2015 blog post. “The process is to target the company’s principal, telling him or her that they can make much more money if they just allow a WISE consultant (often coming via a name like Sterling Management, which doesn’t appear to have a connection to Scientology) to come in and handle all of the boring administrative and personnel issues that a professional like a dentist or chiropractor hates dealing with. The target is then encouraged to take expensive courses and subject employees to them as well. Eventually, the scheme gets more brazen as employees will be told to begin taking courses down at the local Scientology church itself.”
The company also requires new employees to sign an agreement that in part states they recognize the company uses Hubbard’s “Management Technology,” and that it is “quite separate and distinct from the religious aspects of Scientology.”
The standard agreement, which was submitted by the company as part of a lawsuit against its former Human Resources director last year, also requires employees to initial a “Freedom of Religion” section stating they agree the management methods “developed by Mr. Hubbard are purely secular and intended for the smooth expansion of its business, and are not to be used by its staff or executives in an effort to convert persons to any religion.”
Jones filed to run for lieutenant governor on March 15, and will face off against Roberson, Eugene Hoover and Scott LaFata in the Republican primary. He’s aimed much of his fire at Roberson, and his campaign website says he supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, “banning” Common Core, expanding gun rights and repealing taxes.
The then-assemblyman ruffled feathers with more moderate Republicans during the 2015 legislative session, vocally opposing an ultimately successful effort by Gov. Brian Sandoval to raise business taxes to boost K-12 spending. His former aide in the Legislature launched a website attacking fellow Assembly Republicans for their lack of conservative bonafides on tax and education policies in the middle of the 2015 session, and Jones himself recruited a slate of candidates — including his son, Blain — to challenge Republicans who voted for the tax in the 2016 primary election.
Jones himself fended off a primary challenger — the similarly named Tiffany Jones — tied to more establishment Republicans, but lost re-election to Democrat Justin Watkins in 2016 by 54 to 46 percent.
Outside of his family, Jones also has ties to other Republicans on the ballot in 2018. Assemblyman Jim Marchant was the Real Chamber’s “legislative advocate” for a brief period during the 2017 legislative session, and former U.S. Senate candidate-turned-congressional hopeful Danny Tarkanian is listed at the group’s “Taxes and Regulations Committee Chairman.” Real Water’s former attorney, David Gardner, is a well-known former assemblyman who was running for a seat on the Clark County School Board until he announced he would take a job with the attorney general’s office.
Additionally, Aimee Jones — his wife — is running in Assembly District 35, and will face off against David Schoen in a Republican primary.
Jones also introduced President Donald Trump at a January 2016 rally in Las Vegas and was one of the earliest of elected Nevada Republicans to endorse the future president.