TAMPA, Florida --The Church of Scientology is under fire again. This time, the church is being named in a federal lawsuit filed by a longtime member, who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, Luis Garcia now claims he was defrauded.
Garcia says it is a huge betrayal, and that's why he filed the lawsuit in a Tampa federal court.
"I want to prevent innocent people from having to experience this kind of betrayal," he says.
According to the lawsuit, donations to the church are used to finance the lavish lifestyle of leader David Miscavige and fill the coffers of the church, instead of going to charitable projects.
Garcia's attorney, Ted Babbitt, says church members were misled. "The actions of the church constitute fraud and deception,for which we are entitled to an order stopping that.
A major allegation in the lawsuit involves the Super Power building in Downtown Clearwater.
Although the building received a certificate of occupancy in 2009, it still isn't open. According to the suit, that's because the building is used to fraudulently collect money from church members, although enough money has been raised to construct the building many times over.
"Our complaint actually says they have collected twice the amount necessary to open it and they have not opened it,"Babbitt says.
A church spokesperson says the organization has not seen the suit so it can't comment, but adds, "We can unequivocally state all funds solicited are used for the charitable and religious purposes for which they were donated."
But Garcia disagrees and points to a cross on the Super Power building. He saysfive church members came to his Ft. Harrison hotel room, pressuring him to pay for the cross.
While Garcia says he didn't want to spend any more money with the church after giving hundreds of thousands.
"We finally ended up caving in, and gave them the donation for $65,000 for the specific condition of contracting and building that cross," he says.
Although Garcia was told the cross had to go up immediately, it didn't happen forfive years. He says he learned that several other members were also pressured into paying for the same cross.
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According to Garcia, "That cross has to be the most expensive cross in the world."
In addition, the suit says the church won't honor a promise it made to the IRS and it's members: that they can always get a refund if they aren't happy with the way the church uses their donations.
"[If you ask for a refund]you're told you are no longer a member in good standing, you're not allowed to come into[the] building, you're not allowed to ask for anything,"Babbitt says.
Babbitt says it is a classic Catch-22.
Healso says the suit has nothing to do with the question of whether Scientology should or should not be a church, but instead revolves around the fact you can't run a fraudulent operation even if you are a church. Babbitt says he plans to file several suits for former members of the church who have similar claims.
UPDATE: The Church of Scientology has issued a new statement regarding the lawsuit. According to Pat Harney, the Public Affairs Director for the Church:
"The Church has not been served. However, we understand from the media that 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. To see the Church's world renowned humanitarian programs visit www.scientology.org.
"From what we do know this frivolous suit was generated by the same group of anti-Scientology apostates who recently lost another frivolous lawsuit and were ordered by a federal court to pay the Church more than $40,000. The statements to the media made about the Church and its ecclesiastical leader by these bitter individuals are blatantly false."