Clearwater City Council candidate Mark Bunker is a self-described critic and opponent of Scientology, and those who agree with him are buying into his message for city leadership, even if they are far from the reach of city government.

Bunker has raised more than $29,000 from individuals concerned about Scientology — not just in Clearwater, but from across the nation — according to an analysis of campaign finance reports by the Tampa Bay Times. The outlet reported that 80% of those contributions came from outside of Florida, and 93% came from outside the city, from individuals who will not be affected by the city’s government leadership.

Bunker defended the out-of-state interest in his campaign to the Times, noting that “people all around the country (are) concerned about how Scientology has affected this city” and that even though “none of these people can vote for me” they can “help me reach the people here in Clearwater who will vote.”

A lot of those individuals from elsewhere have learned of Bunker’s anti-Scientology City Council bid from Clearwater resident Aaron Smith-Levin, a former scientologist turned fierce critic who previously ran unsuccessfully for the Clearwater City Council.

Smith-Levin co-founded the Aftermath Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to help those wishing to leave Scientology and its affiliated Sea Org. He has developed a significant social media following, particularly on YouTube, where he frequently posts videos discussing Scientology.

But there is a dark side to Smith-Levin’s story, one rife with allegations of scandal.

First, he was removed from the Aftermath Foundation Board in late 2023, after months of back-and-forth over claims he had violated the organization’s code of ethics.

In a letter dated Nov. 22, 2023, and posted to Instagram, the Aftermath Foundation explained Smith-Levin’s removal. Its author wrote that “several board members” were alerted to misconduct by Smith-Levin on May 23, 2023.

“Over the next few days, the board discussed this matter and what to do, including reviewing his history of incidents of misconduct that had been brought to the attention of board members previously,” the letter reads. “Two of these included law enforcement involvement.”

After discussions between the parties, the Foundation explained in its letter that on June 3, 2023, Smith-Levin agreed to voluntarily resign, but in a compromise asked that the effective date not be until Sept. 3, 2023. But in a phone conversation with Board President Claire Headley, Smith-Levin “verbally stated that he had no intentions to resign.”

He sent an email on Aug. 29, 2023, acknowledging his “judgement and decision-making in my personal life has been quite careless over the past 5 years or so,” according to the Foundation letter. In the email, Smith-Levin promised to “not expose myself to such risk, or put myself in a similar position in the future.”

As a result of his email, the Foundation said board members voted to allow Smith-Levin to remain a board member. However, they also wrote that Smith-Levin “again violated the agreed-upon conduct of foundation board members” on Nov. 6.

The board voted on Nov. 12 to remove Smith-Levin from the board.

The letter did not specify Smith-Levin’s alleged ethics violations. But social media offers some insight.

Smith-Levin himself posted on what was then Twitter on May 23, 2023, that he had received a call from Clearwater police saying “they received an anonymous phone call from a woman in Los Angeles claiming that I keep my wife locked up in a bunker.” He added that “the caller also said that I cheat on my taxes.” In a follow-up tweet, Smith-Levin joked that “of course I told that office that was ridiculous. I would never cheat on my taxes!”

Three days prior, a tweet from user @abramxlutes claimed he learned that Smith-Levin “physically assaulted my good friend Jules in front of a CVS in LA.”

Smith-Levin posted a video after his removal from the Foundation offering his “final statement” on it, in which he mentioned an incident in Los Angeles, but didn’t go into specifics. He described “the most potentially dangerous situation I had ever put myself in” and that it was “utterly embarrassing and humiliating.”

Shortly after, he again addressed an incident in Los Angeles. In an interview on “Down the Rabbit Hole” he claimed the woman had assaulted him after he asked her to “stop talking.” He described the woman as very talkative and said that over the course of three separate nights spent together, he wasn’t able to sleep because she was so talkative.

Smith-Levin said the woman didn’t take his request for her to leave well and that she climbed on top of him and threatened his life. He said he didn’t call for help because he didn’t think anyone would believe that a large man was being assaulted by a petite woman and that he didn’t want to embarrass his wife.

Smith-Levin had been accused of cheating on his wife previously, a claim he also addressed in the video by describing their secret separation.

“About five years ago my wife and I sat down and basically said, this is insane. We are fucking miserable. … And we both know that if we did not have kids we would have been divorced five times already.” He said most of his wife’s family was unaware of the separation.

He further went on to claim that the Church of Scientology used his secret marital status against him and that they have used it to blackmail and harass him. It’s worth noting that in 2022, when Smith-Levin was running for Clearwater City Council, he sent mailers to voters with a photo of himself with his family — his wife, three kids and a dog.

But that incident wasn’t the first in which Smith-Levin was involved in a physical altercation. In January of 2022 he was accused of harassing a woman and calling her vulgar names.

Video of the incident obtained by Florida Politics at the time showed Smith-Levin explaining a physical altercation with another man to officers. The video shows him describing being punched in the face by a man he describes as the boyfriend of a woman he knew when he was a Scientologist.

He tells officers the woman called him a stalker, a claim he refuted but acknowledged that 18 months prior he had sent several Facebook messages to her because “I don’t know, she’s super hot, I’m sorry.” He said the boyfriend told him not to call her “crazy.”

But bartenders presented officers with a different version of events, saying he called the woman a “cunt” five times before the boyfriend interjected. Smith-Levin later told the Tampa Bay Times that his personal struggles were a result of leaving the church, noting that “everyone who goes through the hell of leaving Scientology knows just how far from fine it can get.”

Other allegations have been leveled against Smith-Levin, though Florida Politics is not mentioning those because they lack enough substantiation.

Back to Bunker — he’s running in a three-way race for Seat 2 against marketing executive Mike Mastruserio and Lealman Fire District Capt. Ryan Cotton. Bunker is leading both in fundraising, with Mastruserio closely trailing at more than $25,000 raised and Cotton far behind with just over $11,000 added.

While Bunker is courting anti-Scientology forces, Mastruserio is running with backing from members of the local business community. Cotton is collecting support from conservatives — he’s received political contributions from political committees supporting Pinellas County Commissioner Chris Latvala and Sen. Ed Hooper, both Republicans.

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