Scientology decries funds behind lawsuit
By Thomas C. Tobin
December 5, 1997
CLEARWATER -- The Church of Scientology is crying foul over a disclosure Thursday that a New England man is financing a lawsuit accusing the church of causing the 1995 death of its parishioner Lisa McPherson.
The man, Robert S. Minton Jr., is a 51-year-old retired investment banker who says he has given $1.25-million in aid to selected church critics during the last 15 months.
He also is one of several people who have traveled to Clearwater for two weekend demonstrations at the church's spiritual headquarters in downtown. The protest will mark the two-year anniversary Friday of McPherson's death while in the care of fellow Scientologists.
Also Thursday, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit alleged in court that Scientology is harassing and intimidating him and Minton.
Kennan G. Dandar told Hillsborough County Circuit Judge James S. Moody that a private investigator has crudely pumped his former clients and fellow lawyers for "dirt" on him. He also said Minton's children had been followed.
Scientology lawyer Lee Fugate said, "There's nobody out there intimidating people or harassing people." He said the church always has been thorough and aggressive in defending itself and said investigations were an appropriate and necessary part of that process.
Dandar told the judge the identity and motives of anyone financing the lawsuit are not the church's business and have nothing to do with McPherson's death.
But church lawyers argued they had a right to know whether Minton's donations are having any influence on the case. They said it could affect the credibility of witnesses who testify against the church.
Moody agreed and ordered Dandar to turn over information on Minton and anyone else who had given more than $500 to finance the lawsuit.
Dandar, who plans to appeal, said he feared the ruling could lead to more harassment by the church.
"It is a record that they have for the last 30 years," Dandar said of the church's practice of using lawyers and private investigators to aggressively pursue detractors. "This is just their effort to intimidate . . . anyone who dare fight the Church of Scientology."
Moody suggested the private investigator who had been probing Dandar's background could be brought before him for questioning. The judge also offered to protect Minton if necessary. If the allegations can be proven, Moody said, "I'll try to put a stop to it."
Fugate and another church lawyer, Laura Vaughan, said Thursday they had no knowledge of the private investigator Dandar named.
Minton received a letter two weeks ago from Scientology's top lawyer in Los Angeles, Elliot Abelson.
Abelson alleged in the letter that Minton also was financing the efforts of church critics with violent pasts, and that the church would hold him legally responsible for his "tortious officious intermeddling in church litigation."
Abelson demanded Minton stop his financial support of church critics and warned he had "crossed the threshold of legality."
"The church will not tolerate such conduct," Abelson wrote.
Fugate said Dandar's attempts to keep Minton's involvement under wraps could indicate there is something improper about the arrangement.
Vaughan said the involvement of a third-party in a lawsuit is pertinent information that any lawyer would want. She said it would be like Ford Motor Co. secretly funding litigation against Chrysler.
"People want to know the motives behind a lawsuit," Vaughan said. "We think it's extremely significant."
Minton said Scientology got his attention when it tried to prevent information about the church from being published on the Internet.
He said he has no problem with the teachings of the church.
"But after I started finding out more about Scientology and what it was and how it conducted itself, the more disturbing they were as a group," Minton said. "I am opposed to the way they continually deprive their own members of civil and human rights, and how they try to do the same thing to people who have the audacity to sue them."
Scientology officials have, over the years, repeatedly dismissed such characterizations as the work of religious bigots who know nothing about the church.
Minton, who retired five years ago, has homes in Boston and New Hampshire.
He said a Scientology official in Boston called him recently to question why he was donating to church critics. The official threatened to look into his tax status and attack him through his family, former business partners and his ex-wife, he said.
The following two mornings, Minton said, two different men followed and stared at his school-age daughters on Boston's Beacon Hill as the girls walked to a friend's home before going to school. He said he believes the men were sent by the church.
Fugate, the church lawyer, said he doubted the claim because no police report had been filed.
Minton said he gives money on a "case-by-case basis" to people involved in litigation with Scientology or who say they've been harassed by the church.
"I felt that the little guys needed some help," he said. "I'm putting my money where my mouth is."
�Copyright 1997 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.