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Judge Whittemore grants Luis Garcia discovery of Scientology’s murky trusts in fraud lawsuit

Luis_Rocio_GarciaIf you’ve been following our coverage of Luis and Rocio Garcia’s federal fraud lawsuit against the Church of Scientology, you know the suit recently hit a strange snag.

Ten months after the lawsuit was filed in January, Scientology suddenly announced that the Garcias had chosen the wrong venue for their complaint, because several of the defendants — Scientology entities which are trusts — have their trustees in California, where the Garcias live. Under a basic legal concept known as “diversity jurisdiction,” those California trustees make a Florida federal court the wrong place for the Garcias to file.

But the Garcias complained that Scientology had sand-bagged them by waiting so long to bring this problem up, and they also complained that Scientology’s information about the trusts and trustees was incomplete and confusing. And now, Judge Whittemore has agreed, and is giving the Garcias the right to gather information about Scientology’s secretive entities.

We asked attorney Scott Pilutik to give us his read of Judge Whittemore’s order.

I was hoping the scope of discovery would be a little broader; and I was hoping Whittemore would be a bit more angry; if he is he’s disguising it well. He denied the leave to amend the complaint without prejudice because the time isn’t ripe to do that since he’s allowing discovery, the result of which will dictate what could or couldn’t happen to the complaint. He denied the sanctions request for basically the same reason, but I do think that the decision on sanctions could have been determined, if not an amount, prior to discovery. In any case, he didn’t close the door on sanctions.

As for the main discussion, he agreed with Scientology (and me, for what it’s worth) that the residency of a trust is determined by the residency of its individual members. Which means that if Scientology is able to demonstrate that its USIMT & CSRT trustees were, at the time of the filing of the lawsuit, California residents, then it’s probably game over for them as defendants in this particular case — but remember, none of this would prevent the Garcias from filing in state (either FL or CA) court.

So the fight over the next 90 days will be over scope, or as I put it previously, the size of the shovel Whittemore is handing Babbitt. Whittemore has defined it somewhat narrowly on the presumption that CSRT and USIMT are indeed trusts. But he’s left a little wiggle room for Babbitt to work in an argument that perhaps CSRT and USIMT are only nominally trusts but should be construed as some other entity (of which I won’t bother speculating). He writes:

“Accordingly, the parties are granted leave to conduct discovery limited to the issues of diversity jurisdiction, including but not limited to the citizenship of the ‘members’ of CSRT and USIMT at the time this case was filed and the principle place of business of IASA.” [boldface emphasis mine]

My guess is that Scientology is going to be able to prove that CSRT’s and USIMT’s trustees were California residents at the time of the filing, simply because we know that they would have been able to show as much a few years back. At the very least, I’m happy that we’re about to learn more about the mysterious CSRT than we’ve ever before learned, presuming Scientology’s cooperation anyway, which perhaps I shouldn’t bet on.

We’ll let you know when we can find out what kind of information the Garcias manage to pry out of CSRT and the other Scientology entities in coming months.

Meanwhile, action gets started again tomorrow morning in Monique Rathbun’s harassment lawsuit against Scientology leader David Miscavige at the Comal County courthouse in New Braunfels, Texas. Once again Mike Bennitt will be our man on the scene as the two sides continue to fight over the possibility of subjecting Miscavige to a deposition. (And here’s Mike’s full video from yesterday’s proceedings.)

 
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Marc Headley on the BBC as the UK goes nuts about Scientology marriage

As we mentioned yesterday, a lawsuit about Scientology marriage in England that we’ve been watching ended up with a decision we’d been expecting. Overturning archaic (and stupid) English marriage laws, a pair of 25-year-olds will be able to get married at a Scientology org.

We got a call yesterday from a BBC producer who seemed to know almost nothing about Scientology, and we tried to explain what we’ve written before, that this was mostly a clever ploy by very canny members of prominent Scientology families that were taking advantage of a weak and outdated law to garner Scientology some good publicity. Was it something we said? They never got back to us. Fortunately, they did invite Marc Headley to be on their show, and he was great…

 

 
It’s a shame the BBC reporter was so clueless here. (Not the anchor, who did a good job.) No, dimwit, the OT III materials do not say that the human race started 75 million years ago. Sigh. No wonder Alessandro Calcioli and Louisa Hodkin fended off that question so easily.

And it’s really no wonder that “Ale” handled it skillfully. His grandfather, David Gaiman, was once the top Scientologist in the UK, and literally wrote the book on how to fool reporters when he designed policy for church public relations. Good old grandad was also an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest infiltration of the US federal government in this country’s history — the Snow White Project of 1973-1977, which resulted in the largest FBI raid that had ever occurred to that point, and the prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment of eleven top Scientology officials.

David Gaiman passed away in 2009, but his widow is still giving huge donations to the church, Alessandro’s mother has gone on television to defend Scientology’s policies, his aunt is a Sea Org worker in Los Angeles, and his uncle, Neil Gaiman, is a world famous science fiction and fantasy author who says that he has given up Scientology. (And we tend to believe him on that score, as we’ve written before.)

Ale’s bride-to-be, Louisa, is the daughter of an attorney and Scientology donor, and this couple knew exactly what they were doing when they challenged this law.

Now we’re seeing a lot of breathless reports from websites in the UK that assume the church will next get tax breaks, and what does it all mean? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

What it means is that a tiny, dwindling, schism-wracked organization with only about 2,000 members in all of England may be able to save a few thousand quid as it continues to face oblivion.

And in the meantime Ale and Louisa can have a wedding.

If anyone over there wants to tell the real story about this publicity stunt, give us a call.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on December 12, 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.

 

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