The real story behind the public façade
When Aaron Smith-Levin was featured in press reports in 2022 for incidents of drunk and disorderly conduct and harassment without provocation, readers got a glimpse of the individual behind the façade of family man and community advocate.
At Fusion Cigar Lounge in Clearwater, Florida, Smith-Levin approached a woman he had stalked online a year earlier and called her a “c—” five times before her boyfriend punched him in the face.
Smith-Levin complained to the police, who told him that “no state attorney will ever prosecute, because of the words you said to [the man’s] girlfriend.”
When Smith-Levin, a married man, was asked about the woman’s claim that he had stalked her on social media, he replied: “Like, what do you want me to say? I don’t know. She’s super hot. I’m sorry.”
One year earlier, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office responded to an incident at The Rusty Lyon bar in Dunedin, Florida, where Smith-Levin catcalled two women, tried to taunt their boyfriends into a fight, threw Mardi Gras beads at the group, “began calling them names without provocation,” and refused to leave. Smith-Levin was issued a trespass warning, after which he finally left the premises.
At the time press exposed Smith-Levin’s abusive and misogynistic incidents in 2022, he was campaigning (unsuccessfully) for a seat on the local city council, curating his image and promoting himself as a family man.
It was not Smith-Levin’s only family deceit. He had also been cheating on his wife.
In August 2020, a woman on Twitter going by “Elle Vee” posted a series of tweets tagging the Church of Scientology “@Scientology” Twitter account along with Smith-Levin’s “@GrowingupinSCN” account. The tweets contained intimate selfies of the woman with the married Smith-Levin. The final in the series contained a single message that Aaron Smith-Levin “has affairs outside of his marriage.”
Elle Vee underscored her message by adding kiss effects with a digital filter to one of the photographs.
The tweets were quickly deleted, followed by the disappearance of Elle Vee’s Twitter account altogether.
It is but one facet of Smith-Levin’s well-established pattern of deception.
Smith-Levin deceived and spied on Scientologists for personal gain
After Aaron Smith-Levin was dismissed from the Church’s religious order, he ostensibly carried on as a lay Scientologist and obtained jobs with Scientologist employers. In 2009, he sought a career position with an investment advisor and prominent Church parishioner who took Smith-Levin under his wing, in no small part to help him, believing he was a fellow Scientologist. For the next four years, Smith-Levin’s employer taught him everything he knew about the investment research business.
But Smith-Levin was, in fact, putting on an act as a “Scientologist” and was using his position to spy on others. Under an alias, Smith-Levin fed information about Church members and Church activities to two ousted, former Scientologists engaged in a campaign of harassment against the Church: Mark “Marty” Rathbun, then the leader of a cadre of hostile Church antagonists; and Rathbun’s acolyte at the time, Mike Rinder, who had been expelled from the Church for criminal conduct.
Rathbun later confirmed in a video he posted online that Smith-Levin was “acting as a mole and a spy” for him and Rinder for years, pretending to be a Scientologist so he could continue to profit from his job while garnering and sending them information.
Only after the Church expelled Smith-Levin did he admit his duplicity and dishonesty, telling an internet radio interviewer: “I was putting forth a public appearance of still being a Scientologist….[I] pretended that I wasn’t in touch with Mike and Marty so that I could maintain the status quo of my life at the time,” he said. “It really came to the point where they [the Church] just weren’t willing to put up with my bullshit anymore. They’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re not telling us the truth, so we’re done with you.’”
Smith-Levin left his job and set up a rival investment research business. His former employer said Smith-Levin stole proprietary and client information. Yet it wasn’t the only thing Smith-Levin stole: His former employer also found a cache of internal Church documents Smith-Levin had made off with when he was dismissed from the Church’s religious order.
Caught up in a federal investigation and local complaints
In his new investment research company, OTG (On The Ground) Research Group, Smith-Levin began working for hedge fund manager William Ackman. In 2015, Ackman came under investigation for potential market manipulation of Herbalife shares. The Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors and the FBI were “investigating whether people, including some hired by Mr. Ackman, made false statements about Herbalife’s business model to regulators and others in order to spur investigations into the company and lower its stock price.”
The article went on to state that “one area of focus” of the criminal investigation “is the work of a consultant, Aaron Smith-Levin, who…was commissioned by Mr. Ackman and his fund to scrutinize Herbalife’s business in China.”
An attorney for Herbalife, Barry Goldsmith of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, wrote to Smith-Levin, putting him on notice. Goldsmith called his actions “extremely troubling” and cited a “‘research’ project” Smith-Levin conducted on behalf of Ackman that “reached erroneous conclusions and was premised upon false and fabricated information.”
Smith-Levin concurrently started drawing legal attention for another of his ventures, a house-flipping business for which he used ex-convicts and Mike Rinder to do the work. Multiple client complaints spoke of “shoddy” and “unsafe” renovations that left homebuyers with house defects, ranging from hazardous electrical wiring to damaged structural supports in danger of collapse. A retired U.S. Army veteran, who filed a complaint with the local building department after being “scammed” by Smith-Levin, summed him up as a “shady business person…totally without integrity.”
Police investigation: Aaron Smith-Levin admits computer hacking conspiracy
In 2017, Aaron Smith-Levin was involved in starting the Aftermath Foundation, a purported nonprofit set up to help Mike Rinder and Rinder’s boss, Leah Remini, in production of their anti-Scientology TV show on A&E, Scientology and the Aftermath, which was later cancelled in 2019. Smith-Levin installed himself as vice president of the so-called Foundation, which he used as a front to try to recruit show participants and content through cash and in-kind payments.
In 2018, Smith-Levin conspired to hack Church of Scientology computers to steal information he intended to get used on the show. He recruited 19-year-old Cinjin Nichols, who described in sworn testimony how Smith-Levin coached him to take a USB drive loaded with a virus into the Church, “and when no one was looking, insert the flash drive into a computer, which would then automatically upload the virus” that would enable them to siphon off information.
“Smith-Levin made it clear to me that he realized this infiltration of the Church’s computers was illegal,” Nichols wrote. The young man decided not to go through with the plot and, along with friend Morgan Bradham, who was a witness to the scheme, gave testimony to the police.
In February 2019, a detective interviewed Smith-Levin during the police investigation into the plot. While trying to deflect attention to others, Smith-Levin inadvertently admitted the conspiracy: He divulged that he spoke to “someone,” whom he refused to identify, about the technology required to access the computer through a USB drive “because I thought this sounds like something that could actually work.” The police account confirmed Smith-Levin’s admission.
The concluding police report on Aaron Smith-Levin’s hacking plot stated: “Although they never accessed a church computer they did conspire to commit the offense during their conversation in violation of F.S.S. 777.04(3),” concerning criminal conspiracy.
Smith-Levin intimidates witnesses in police investigation
One week after Smith-Levin’s police interview on his hacking conspiracy, he posted a video about the ongoing police investigation, publicly naming witnesses Nichols and Bradham as “working against” him. Smith-Levin also spitefully named their mothers, and Nichols’ grandmother, targeting them for harassment. Smith-Levin put out a call on Twitter to “please help me spread this info far and wide.”
Leah Remini obliged him. She not only retweeted Smith-Levin’s plea, she gratuitously added the Twitter handle for a restaurant owned by Bradham’s mother as hate bait. The effect was rapid: A salvo of messages on social media urged “as many bad reviews on as many food critic sites as possible” to hurt the mother’s restaurant, encouraged confrontations with diners, and unleashed straight-up hate including “go f—k yourself” and a call to “play dirty” against the woman. One response contained a thinly veiled death threat.
Aaron Smith-Levin orchestrates false police reports for Aftermath show
On behalf of the Aftermath Foundation, Aaron Smith-Levin turned up multiple times at the police department in 2018 and 2019 with discreditable recruits for the Aftermath show.
The police files would reveal that these individuals were induced to file their false and outlandish police reports about the Church as a requirement to appear on the TV show. The reason was transparent: the reports would lend credence to lies and give Leah Remini, Mike Rinder and A&E immunity from defamation claims.
At least 10 false reports were filed with law enforcement during Aftermath. Every report was thoroughly investigated and ultimately closed, with no evidence found to support the allegations.
One example reveals how the fraudulent, harassing Aftermath operation worked: In 2018, Smith-Levin paid out $8,000 from the Foundation to a local young woman who had a history of being mentally unstable, and who then came up with a “story” to share with Mike Rinder for Aftermath.
Smith-Levin escorted the woman to both the sheriff’s office and police department, where the duo filed fabricated claims of “suspicious” activity by certain Church staff toward the woman. Named staff had never even heard of the woman, and the fantastical complaints went nowhere.
A few weeks later, Smith-Levin returned to the police with the same woman to make a new report—this one suddenly involving outrageous and highly defamatory allegations of a criminal sexual nature. The police record revealed: “[The woman] stated…she is appearing on the A&E Network with the ‘Aftermath Foundation’ against the Church of Scientology and was required to bring forward the following information before the show is aired.”
The show never did air, as the network was informed that Smith-Levin’s recruit had earlier been found guilty and served probation for lying to police. Smith-Levin himself would admit to an officer: “She’s been proven to be a liar…she has a history of lying.”
These facts did not deter the Aftermath team. Mike Rinder and Leah Remini manipulated the woman further, hooking her up with attorneys they had enlisted to drum up harassing litigation. In 2019, the woman filed a civil suit against the Church with the same salacious and defamatory allegations she and Smith-Levin told police, ensuring maximum sensational press.
Police meanwhile continued their investigation of the woman’s report. By May 2020, all available leads had been exhausted, no evidence could be found to substantiate her allegations, and she was unable to credibly identify any suspect or corroborating witnesses. In fact, each person she claimed would corroborate her story did the opposite. When police informed the woman that they had reached a dead end, she threw in the towel and declined to cooperate in any further investigation.
Police closed the case. The woman voluntarily dismissed her orchestrated, fraudulent lawsuit.
Smith-Levin affiliates with an extremist and a domestic terrorist
Aaron Smith-Levin conducts a campaign of bigotry and harassment of the Church of Scientology and Scientologists, for which he draws support from extremist and criminal elements.
In October 2021, Smith-Levin took part in the “TruNews” podcast with Rick Wiles, a notorious antisemitic, Islamophobic, racist and homophobic extremist. When media exposed Smith-Levin’s blatant hate affiliation, he attempted to plead ignorance of Wiles. Yet Smith-Levin’s own research company claims to be devoted to due diligence research and investigations. Wiles’ nature is patently obvious through only a cursory Google search.
Smith-Levin has welcomed affiliation and support from one Nathanial Plotner, aka “Nasty Nathanial.” In 2002, Plotner was convicted by a California court on multiple felony counts of terrorist threats, stalking and attempted extortion, after leaving a series of four letters for police demanding $1 million or he would start killing people, beginning with a named officer. Plotner, who had a prior arrest and pled guilty in 1998 for threatening a peace officer, was sentenced to four years in prison.
Plotner has a long record of invasive and harassing incidents against Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Scientologists, as well as multiple law enforcement offices, consulates and hospitals.
Aaron Smith-Levin tore the family apart: in-laws speak out
In light of Aaron Smith-Levin’s public demonstrations of hate and dishonesty, his in-laws were compelled to speak out on how Smith-Levin and his wife, Heather, severed their family relationships.
Heather’s mother, Anne Tozser, described how her son-in-law prevented her and her late husband from seeing their grandchildren. “We have three beautiful grandchildren that are absolutely beautiful children,” Anne said, stating that Smith-Levin’s actions have “just torn the family apart, and it’s unforgivable to me to do this to a family.”
Anne witnessed Smith-Levin’s anger up close, frightening her. “I’ve seen instances where he would snap,” she said, recalling a time she saw him explode at his young children. “Something was happening with them, and he picked the older daughter up and flipped her over…and spanked her with as much force as he could.”
Anne recalls the angry text message Smith-Levin sent her after she and her husband raised concerns about Smith-Levin’s explosive temper toward one child. Smith-Levin wrote: “We will not be bringing the children over to see you. You will not be seeing the kids again.”
Both of Smith-Levin’s sisters-in-law, Erika and Katarina, have repeatedly been eyewitness to his violent outbursts. As Erika tells it: “I’ve seen Aaron snap at Heather. He just kind of would explode hostilely towards her. I’ve seen Aaron snap at his kids.”
Katarina served as the children’s nanny for several years. “He would curse at them, tell them to ‘Get the f—k out of the room,’ ‘Shut the f—k up.’…He was quick to hand out spankings and yelling. So, obviously there was fear there.”
Katarina further recounted an incident in her parents’ house where Smith-Levin threatened her father and her: “He [Smith-Levin] was living there rent-free….He would just leave dishes in the sink, mess around the house and my dad got upset because he was 70, working, supporting everybody. And Aaron went and started cursing and screaming and yelling at my dad, backed him up into a wall—screaming inches from his face. And I went over, and I was, like, ‘Don’t talk to my dad like that!’ And he then got in my face and tried to back me up into a wall.”
A history of hostilities with his brother
According to family accounts, Smith-Levin had a history of hostilities with his late brother, Collin, who tragically died as a passenger in a car accident in 2003.
Sarah Ehrlich, who knew the brothers since their teens and has a son by Collin, said Aaron and Collin fought violently and were estranged for years. She recounted that Collin moved out of the family home and into an apartment with friends to protect himself from Aaron: “Their relationship was finished at 15 years old when Collin moved out because of Aaron constantly beating him up….Collin would definitely fight back but had enough, and he moved out.”
Ehrlich said Aaron profited off his brother’s death and went so far as to drain the money that Collin’s and her son was to have received from a settlement when he turned 18. Instead, Aaron Smith-Levin “wiped the account clean,” she said, after promising he would invest it for the young man.
Record of violence: Smith-Levin’s abuse of colleagues leads to his dismissal
Aaron Smith-Levin’s aggressive and violent behavior became a nightmare when he was in the Church’s religious order, where he was given multiple opportunities to fulfill his promises to treat others with decency and change his relationships for the better. He was finally kicked out after four years.
“He had volatility of emotions and could go from selling you on what he was doing and his production and all these different attributes, and instantly become the evil villain. And it was dramatic. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” said Jon, one of Smith-Levin’s superiors. “He had no fuse whatsoever. Like his fuse was nonexistent. And if you did something that upset him or did something that he reacted to, he could be quite brutal in terms of his handling of staff.”
Co-workers and subordinates learned that lesson firsthand.
Smith-Levin admitted that over just a two-year period, “I lost my temper and engaged in disputes on many occasions….In all, there were at least 100 instances.” To make matters worse, women and older co-workers were often the targets of his outbursts.
Years later, after being expelled from the Church, Smith-Levin appeared in YouTube videos where he bragged about how he treated his former Church subordinates and colleagues.
“I’m kind of a big guy and I could be intimidating,” he said in one. “So I’m not trying to back away for a second from the idea that I screamed at a lot of people.”
Ever dogged by his record, Smith-Levin could not refute the more violent facts. “I had a reputation for being a hothead and getting into physical altercations.”
After repeated rounds of discipline and ecclesiastical justice, and breaking pleas and promises of reform, Smith-Levin was on the verge of being kicked out several times. Repeated efforts were made to help him straighten up and treat others with decency and respect, to no avail. He was shown the door.
“We tried to give Aaron Smith-Levin so many opportunities for him to become a better person,” said Genci, a former colleague. “We felt we could help him. He just refused any of that.”
“He felt that he was above our Church policy, any laws,” said another former colleague, Juliana. “He didn’t care.”
As time has shown, Smith-Levin never did change.