Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ex-Scientologists sue for fraud in Tampa

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 5:10 PM

Luis Garcia (3rd from right) in Tampa today
  • Luis Garcia (3rd from right) in Tampa today
There have been several lawsuits filed over the decades against the Church of Scientology, but none has ever been successful in putting the church's controversial leader, David Miscavige, on the witness stand.

West Palm Beach attorney Theodore Babbitt says this time it will be different.

A federal lawsuit filed by Luis Garcia and his wife Maria in Tampa today alleges that the Church of Scientology lied to them when it said they would be given refunds for any financial contributions they made to the Church's "Super Power" Project in Clearwater over the course of several years. Scientology began fundraising for the the "Super Power" project in 1995. Seventeen years later, it remains unopened.

"We intend to prove that David Miscavige was the chief architect of these fraudulent claims, and we intend to put Mr. Micavige on as our first deponent in this case. We believe these lawsuits will put an end to this practice," Babbitt said.

Garcia and his wife contributed a total of $340,000 to the church, according to the lawsuit, where they were members for 28 years (1982-2010).

The suit alleges that the Church of Scientology (COS) never intended to open up the "Super Power" building, instead using it as a "shill" to collect donations from naive church members. Babbitt claims that the church has already acquired more than double the amount needed to open the facility.

This is not the first time that the Garcias have told their story to the public. The Tampa Bay Times reported on them in November of 2011, when they said that they had given a total of $1.3 million overall to the church. They live in Southern California and retired as millionaires from his work as owner of a commercial printing operation.

From December of 1998 to January of 2004, the suit states, the Garcias made 12 separate financial contributions toward the Clearwater building.

When asked why it took him until 2010 to suspect the intentions of COS leaders, Luis Garcia said that the negative series of press reports in the Times, CNN, and other media outlets depicting Miscavige as a violent thug persuaded them to finally leave.

"I realized I wasn't the only one observing some things that bothered me," he responded, adding that he was "flabbergasted" to read the reports about church leaders engaging in violent behavior to punish wayward members.

The lawsuit alleges that in March of 2005, just two months after the tragic tsunami in Southeast Asia that killed over 230,000 people, Luis Garcia was ordered to watch a video about the church's major campaign to help the victims. But the suit claims that the funds that were being requested for tsunami aid were never intended to help out any victims.

The lawsuit also alleges that in August of 2005, Garcia was shown a video featuring Tom Cruise promoting the responsibilities of Scientologists, specifically in this case to help eradicate child pornography (he was told at the time that there were over 100,000 such illegal sites on the Internet).

It was pointed out that previous lawsuits against the church have failed to come to fruition, but Babbitt said that wouldn't be the case this time around. "The corporations I've sued have been some of the wealthiest in the U.S....I'm not worried about taking on this church."

And Babbitt says this will not be the last lawsuit he will file against the church.

"I've personally been contacted by dozens and dozens of people. and I understand that there are hundreds of people in similar situations like Mr. Garcia and have been waiting for a lawsuit like this. So it's my anticipation that we will probably not file hundreds of lawsuits. We will represent hundreds of people. And file enough lawsuits so that every one of their causes of action will be represented."

Later in the day, Pat Harney with the COS responded to our inquiry for comment:

"The Church has not been served and has no comment.
"However, 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."

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