Scientology accuses foe in lawsuit of fraud

The church alleges the aunt of a woman who died while in church staffers' care forged a key document used in setting up an estate.

 

By THOMAS C. TOBIN

St. Petersburg Times, published November 10, 1999

CLEARWATER -- The Church of Scientology contends in a court filing that fraudulent paperwork preceded a 1997 wrongful death lawsuit against the church.

In a petition filed this week, Scientology asks a Pinellas probate judge to remove a Texas woman, Dell Liebreich, as the personal representative of Lisa McPherson's estate.

McPherson, a Scientologist, died in 1995 at 36 after 17 days in the care of Scientology staffers. Liebreich is McPherson's aunt.

Under Leibreich's direction, McPherson's estate filed a lawsuit in 1997 alleging Scientology caused McPherson's death.

But the church is alleging, among other things, that Liebreich forged a key document used in setting up the estate. The charge is based on the findings of an expert, Gus R. Lesnevich, who once examined handwriting for the Army and the Secret Service.

Liebreich's attorney, Ken Dandar of Tampa, called the church's petition slanderous, saying, "They're making some very outrageous and serious allegations."

The wrongful death case continues to drag on in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. A trial is scheduled in June, but the church is trying to stop it before it gets that far.

Scientology contends Liebreich improperly used the estate to file the lawsuit and further her bias against Scientology. It says the lawsuit has, in turn, been improperly used by New England millionaire Robert S. Minton to further his two-year-old campaign against Scientology.

The church says it all began when Leibreich and Dandar exploited Lisa McPherson's mother, Fannie McPherson of Dallas.

According to Scientology, Fannie McPherson never blamed the church for her daughter's death in 1995. But two years later, when Fannie McPherson was close to death herself, Leibreich took advantage of her sister's fragile health by filing documents without her consent, the church alleges.

In those documents, Fannie McPherson's right to represent her daughter's estate was transferred to Leibreich.

The church alleges that the dates of the filings coupled with handwriting samples from Fannie McPherson point to fraud and forgery.

Church official Mike Rinder said the personal representative of an estate should administer it objectively, but that Liebreich had allowed it to be "hijacked" by anti-Scientology forces.

Dandar said Fannie McPherson and Dell Liebreich were close, and Liebreich has simply carried out her sister's dying wish that Scientology be exposed for causing Lisa McPherson's death.

Fannie McPherson placed all her assets in a trust in 1994, Dandar said. Liebreich was appointed a "successor" to that trust in the event Fannie died or became incompetent, he said.

On Jan. 31, 1997, Dandar filed a waiver in Pinellas probate court in which Fannie McPherson gave Liebreich the right to be personal representative of the Lisa McPherson estate. Two days later, Fannie McPherson died of cancer at home in Dallas.

The church's handwriting expert contends Fannie McPherson's signature on the waiver is a forgery because the smooth strokes do not match the shaky strokes she used on other documents just weeks earlier.

Dandar said the signing was witnessed by Liebreich, a hospice worker and a notary public. He also said the church has no legal basis to contest Liebreich's standing in the estate.