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Scientology hit with another federal lawsuit over refunds — but with a twist

John_DettmerA new federal lawsuit was filed this week by former members of the Church of Scientology who are asking the organization to return money that they had put on account. John A. (pictured) and Mary Lou Dettmer of Avon, Indiana are suing Scientology’s Illinois branch after it refused to return $77,810 that the Dettmers had paid years ago for courses that they now have no use for.

The lawsuit is so new, Scientology doesn’t even know it’s coming yet, says Fred Pfenninger, the Indianapolis attorney for the Dettmers, who spoke with us yesterday. “They don’t even know, to my knowledge, that it’s been filed. We have not sent the summonses out,” he said.

We told Pfenninger that we found numerous things about the lawsuit unusual, and we’ve asked him to put us in touch with the Dettmers. In the meantime, the complaint explains that in 2013, the Dettmers requested, and received, large refunds from two Scientology entities — the Flag Service Organization (FSO) returned $95,216.56 on August 19, and the Flag Ship Service Organization (FSSO) returned $11,687.25 on August 25. But the Church of Scientology of Illinois refused to turn over the $77,810 that are on account for the Dettmers, and so they filed suit.

We found the timing of those refunds very interesting. We’ve heard from many ex-Scientologists who say they have been given the runaround about refunds, and some have sued. In January 2013, Luis and Rocio Garcia sued the FSO, FSSO, and other entities for fraud, alleging that they had turned over about $440,000 after being deceived about why the money was needed and what it would be used for. The Garcias alleged that Scientology’s paperwork and policies made it virtually impossible to get one’s money back after leaving the church. (The Garcias have filed a motion to reconsider after a federal judge granted Scientology’s motion to compel the Garcias to take their grievances to the church’s internal arbitration scheme.)

Because Scientology’s courses are so expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars for auditing, members are encouraged to bank huge amounts for future levels of processing. Paying for several courses at one time can get a member a discount, and it also encourages them to complete the courses on their way up the “Bridge to Total Freedom.” But when a member leaves, those courses no longer matter, and some people have turned to the courts to try and get that money back.

We have run into other examples where, after the Garcias filed suit at the beginning of 2013, it suddenly became somewhat easier for ex-members to obtain refunds. The Dettmers managed to get money back from FSO — the organization that runs Scientology’s “spiritual mecca,” the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida — and from FSSO, the organization that operates Scientology’s private cruise ship in the Caribbean, the Freewinds, where courses are also delivered.


But for some reason, the Dettmers were stymied by their home “org,” the church in Chicago, which has refused to give them back their money. The Chicago org does appear to have some cash flow problems — it has been unable to raise enough money to renovate a building on Printer’s Row that it purchased in 2007 for its new “Ideal Org,” and has sat rotting so badly the city has taken legal action.

Another important difference between the Dettmers and the Garcias is that the Garcias had been “declared suppressive persons” — excommunicated by the church — and Luis had become an outspoken critic.

Pfenninger tells us that the Dettmers “haven’t spoken ill of the church,” and according to public records, news accounts, and Scientology’s own publications, the Dettmers have an interesting history with the organization.

According to their complaint and its exhibits, it was in 1993 and 1994 that the Dettmers banked large amounts with Scientology, suggesting that they were somewhat new at the time and were caught up in their excitement. John Dettmer is a chiropractor, and Scientology has a front group, the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE) that targets chiropractors, dentists, and veterinarians by convincing them that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard came up with administrative ideas that will help their businesses grow. When a business professional bites, they are then encouraged to make huge investments in Scientology to make all parts of their lives improve. Dettmer’s records suggest that this may have been the case as he banked large amounts in 1994.

In 1996, however, Dettmer was indicted for Medicaid fraud, had his license suspended, and was sentenced to 13 months in prison and three years of supervised release. (His license was restored from probation in 2007.)

In 2003, John and Mary Lou Dettmer were listed among other debtors in a bankruptcy filing regarding the collapsed pyramid scheme of Scientologist Reed Slatkin, one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history until it was eclipsed by the crimes of Bernie Madoff.

In 2009, a former employee at Dettmer’s clinic, Heather Kimbrough, filed a complaint to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission that she had been terminated for “religious” reasons. She withdrew the complaint after Dettmer settled with her. (We’ve written previously about cases involving dentists and chiropractors who face state or federal investigations for pushing Scientology on their employees and terminating them when they don’t comply.)

Also in 2009, John A. and Mary Lou Dettmer showed up on a Super Power Cornerstone donors list for a contribution of $35,000 which they had made at some point in Scientology’s aggressive fundraising for its giant “Flag Building” in Clearwater, which opened in November 2013.

Despite that donation, at some point the Dettmers became disillusioned about Scientology and now want their money back. We’ll be very interested to see if they face the kind of high-octane litigation tactics that the Garcias faced in Florida, or Monique Rathbun has dealt with in Texas.

Here’s the complaint…


Dettmer v. Scientology Illinois: Complaint


Clay models can help you learn to drive! Honest!

Here’s a heartwarming tale about L. Ron Hubbard helping people in New Zealand get their drivers licenses. It’s a classic of Scientology outreach, which gives the impression that Hubbard’s “Study Tech” has something miraculous about it that is allowing people to get their licenses who otherwise couldn’t.

What the writer doesn’t go into at all are the actual concepts of Study Tech, which Claire Headley helped us understand are actually part and parcel to the beginning levels of Scientology training itself, and are intended to begin the indoctrination that only Hubbard and Scientology have the answers for everything in life.

And we find it interesting that the goofy reliance on clay modeling isn’t spelled out in the story. Can’t you just imagine how fun it would be to render right-of-way problems in clay?


Posted by Tony Ortega on April 18, 2015 at 07:00

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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward

UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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