A California couple has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Church of Scientology claiming the church engages in fraudulent fundraising practices.
Luis and Rocio Garcia, both of Irvine, California, said they were duped out of hundreds of thousands of dollars because their donations never went to the projects the church promised, according to the court filing. In particular, the Garcias gave money to help construct the church's Clearwater headquarters.
Mr. Garcia has been a Scientology member since 1982 and is at the top of the spiritual ladder, achieving level VIII “Operating Thetan”. He said he has donated $1.3 million dollars over the last 29 years. After urgent requests for money to build the church’s headquarters, followed by donations, he became suspicious when the project that started in 1998 remains incomplete today.
"It's a very hard thing to confront the idea that they might be lying to you, that you've been a subject of a con, a victim," Garcia said.
Garcia’s lawyer, Theodore Babbitt, said David Miscagive, the head of the church, has misspent funds and used phony pretenses to raise money from the church’s members. "What was told to the people who gave the money simply wasn't true," Babbitt said. "We're alleging fraud."
Babbitt expects this lawsuit to be one of many. Preparing for the case, Babbitt interviewed a Scientology member who was part of a production team that produced a video about the church's charity work with starving kids that was used to raise money. Babbitt said there was just one problem: The video wasn't real.
"It involved hiring children, hiring actors, to be part of this film which is then used to show the people like Mr. Garcia to obtain donations," Babbitt alleged.
Babbitt said high-ranking former Scientologists would testify that the church knowingly rerouted urgent requests for donations for other spending, including financing a "lavish lifestyle" for Miscavige, stifling inquiries into church activities and finances, and intimidating members and ex-members.
"It's really become a business, an enterprise. A money-making machine, really," a disillusioned Luis Garcia said.