Calif. couple sues over donations to Scientology

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2013 at 8:32 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Two former members of the Church of Scientology claimed in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that the church and its affiliates deceived members into donating millions of dollars to misrepresented causes.

Luis and Maria Garcia of Irvine, Calif., filed the complaint in federal court in Tampa, near the church's national headquarters in Clearwater. The couple claims they were duped into giving more than $420,000 for a building campaign, disaster relief efforts and other Scientology causes, only to find the bulk of the money went to inflate the church coffers and line the pockets of its leader, David Miscavige.

"The church, under the leadership of David Miscavige, has strayed from its founding principles," the lawsuit claims, "and morphed into a secular enterprise whose primary purpose is taking people's money."

In an emailed statement, Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney said the church had not yet been served with the lawsuit, but challenged any contention that money was misappropriated.

"We understand from media inquiries this has something to do with fundraising and we can unequivocally state all funds solicited are used for the charitable and religious purposes for which they were donated," Harney said.

The Garcias were 28-year members of the church, rising to upper levels of Scientology. They left in November 2010 over their disenchantment with its direction under Miscavige, who has led the church since founder L. Ron Hubbard's death in 1986.

The lawsuit names various trusts and nonprofits linked to Scientology as defendants and says they collectively engage in fraud, unfair and deceptive trade practices and breach of contract in their fundraising.

Attorney Theodore Babbitt of West Palm Beach, who is among those handling the suit, said it would be followed by other similar claims from former Scientologists. He said the Garcias still believe in the precepts of Scientology and that the litigation is not a commentary on whether it is a true religion, a question that has dogged it across the world since it was founded in the 1950s. Babbitt said, ultimately, that question is irrelevant when considering its members' donations.

"Whether you're a church or not a church, you can't defraud people," he said.

Harney called the lawsuit "frivolous."

"The statements to the media made today about the church and its ecclesiastical leader by these bitter individuals are blatantly false," she said.