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Scientology’s Trust Issues: A Possible Garcia Legal Strategy?

Guillaume_LesevreWe don’t know yet how Luis and Rocio Garcia will respond to Scientology’s attempt to have their fraud lawsuit against the church thrown out of court based on jurisdictional issues. But while we wait for their attorneys Ted Babbitt and Ron Weil to try and save the lawsuit, we asked our own attorney, Scott Pilutik, to look more deeply into the issues the Garcias face.

As Scott explained to us last week, Scientology claims in a new motion to dismiss that the Garcias chose an improper venue — federal court in Tampa, Florida — to bring their lawsuit which alleges that they were duped fraudulently into giving donations to the church totaling about $400,000. Citing a very basic legal concept of “diversity jurisdiction,” the church pointed out that three of its entities being sued by the Garcias are actually based in California, where the Garcias are — and that makes it a mistake to sue them in Florida.

Chief among those entities is the Church of Scientology Religious Trust (CSRT), which took in most of the Garcias’ donations. In a declaration by CSRT trustee Glen Stilo filed with the church’s motion, Stilo indicates that he lives in Clearwater, Florida and is one of CSRT’s trustees, but other trustees live in California…

CSRT has four trustees in addition to myself. David Petit has been a trustee since May 2010 and he is a resident and citizen of Los Angeles, California. Two of the other trustees are also residents and citizens of California. The fifth trustee is a resident and citizen of Clearwater, Florida. Each of these trustees has held his or her position as trustee since prior to the filing of this lawsuit.

We noticed that Stilo’s declaration is being shy about the names of two of the trustees who are in California — and they’re who really matter here. If it’s true that CSRT is a California trust, with California trustees, the Garcia lawsuit may be thrown out of court.

So who are the other trustees, and why doesn’t Scientology want to name them? Scott looked around online and found a 2008 document which lists all of CSRT’s trustees.

“The current Trustees of the Trust are Guillaume Lesevre, Catherine Rinder, Richard Fear, Mary Huber and Glen Stilo,” the 2008 document says.

Stilo indicated in his declaration that he lives in Clearwater. Lesevre, Scientology’s “Executive Director International” lives in California, and for much of the past nine years he’s been a prisoner in “The Hole,” according to several eyewitnesses. Richard Fear appears to be a California resident, but Catherine Rinder and Mary Salinas Huber appear to live in Florida.

But that was in 2008, Scott points out. Today, according to Stilo’s declaration, he is still in Clearwater and David Petit has become a trustee and is in California. He doesn’t say who the other trustees are, but he indicates that two of them are in California and one in Clearwater.

Who are the two in California? Is Lesevre still one of them? And could the Garcias depose him to learn how he performs his duties as a trustee while living in The Hole?

Scott tells that a search for official records regarding Glen Stilo turns up many documents relating to CSRT. “It’s quite a busy entity for a trust,” Scott says. “Lots of liens, deeds, and notices, all listing CSRT’s Clearwater address and almost always signed by only Glen Stilo as CSRT’s trustee. There is no other record of any other trustee beyond the 2008 document.”

Scott says that one plausible argument the Garcias could make is that CSRT is a trust, but other than Stilo its other trustees are sham directors with no role or power within CSRT whatsoever. Or, he says, the Garcias could argue that CSRT isn’t a trust at all but rather a corporation with its principal place in Clearwater because of its high volume of traffic there.

“That latter argument I’ve never seen made,” Scott says. “I’ve seen it made in the other direction, where a corporation was construed as a partnership.”

“Neither of the arguments are great but it’s probably important to point out to the court that CSRT is very active in Clearwater, FL; is managed solely by Glen Stilo of Clearwater, FL; and outside of the attached somewhat 2008-dated document, its remaining trustees are not possible to ascertain. David Petit, the California trustee named by Stilo, does not exist in an official Pinellas County, Florida database,” Scott adds.

And even if the jurisdiction argument does force the lawsuit to be dismissed, Scott says, the court might be willing to impose sanctions and fees. “There was no possible way to ascertain who CSRT’s trustees are without going through Scientology. Scientology had notice of the diversity issue in the complaint, remained silent, and caused tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to be spent and the court’s time to be wasted.”

Thanks, Scott, for that glimpse at what the Garcias might do to respond to the church’s motion. Now we’ll just have to see how the Garcias actually do take this on.

 
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Lori Hodgson’s Hospital Nightmare

One of Lori Hodgson’s most harrowing experiences being disconnected from her children occurred when her son was rushed to the hospital with a serious motorcycling injury. We wrote about that incident, and now Lori tells the story to Karen de la Carriere, J. Swift, and Angry Gay Pope…

 

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on October 28, 2013 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

If you’d like to help support The Underground Bunker, please e-mail our webmaster Scott Pilutik at BunkerFund@tonyortega.org

 

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