A California couple has filed a lawsuit against the Church of Scientology alleging fraud, deception and the mishandling of hundreds of thousands -- possibly millions -- of dollars in donations secured by the controversial organization.
Luis and Rocio Garcia of Irvine, Calif., filed the 35-page complaint on Wednesday in a Tampa, Fla., federal court. The couple named five church entities in the suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
The Garcias allege that, over the years, the church redirected hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations the couple had earmarked specifically for the construction of a massive "Super Power" building in downtown Clearwater, Fla. The building is still under construction, though the church broke ground on the project 14 years ago, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
West Palm Beach attorney Theodore Babbitt, the lawyer for the Garcias, said that his clients "seek to highlight the secular commercial nature of the fraudulent activities and inappropriate business dealings which give rise to this complaint," according to the Tampa Tribune.
Babbitt said that when the couple asked the church for their money back, they were excommunicated.
Tony Ortega, former Village Voice editor and blogger for The Huffington Post, notes that while the church may have tax-exempt status (granted by the IRS in 1993), the organization is still required to give refunds to members who ask for them.
The lawsuit brought by Luis and Rocio Garcia suggests that the church is not abiding by its obligation to refund members.
The lawsuit also claim that the church has been using the Super Power building as a cash cow. "It's a money-making machine for the church," Luis Garcia told The Tribune.
The Village Voice got its hands on renderings of the "Super Power" building earlier in January and described the purpose for its construction thus:
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard devised the "Super Power Rundown" in 1978. He envisioned it as a series of counseling routines, some of which would be used to enhance the human senses with the use of elaborate and futuristic platforms and machines.
The Tampa lawsuit alleges that David Miscavige, the mysterious leader of Scientology, lies about where the church's money is going, refuses to give out refunds and may also be profiting through the organization's massive fundraising arm, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The OC Weekly reported in 2011 that Luis and Rocio Garcia gave more than $1 million to Scientology between 1982 and 2010, when the couple left the church.
Church of Scientology Flag Service Organiztion spokesperson Pat Harney told Clearwater Patch that the church had no comment on the lawsuit. "However, we understand from media inquiries this has something to do with fundraising and we can unequivocally state all funds solicited are used for the charitable and religious purposes for which they were donated," Harney said in an email statement.
Babbitt and his co-counsel, Ronald P. Weil of Miami, said the Garcia complaint is just the first in what they anticipate will be a long line of similar lawsuits, according to The Tribune.
The lawsuit and ensuing press conference certainly come at an inopportune time for the Church of Scientology, still reeling from the fallout over Lawrence Wright's tell-all book, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief," praised last weekend in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misidentified HuffPost blogger Tony Ortega.
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