Scientology makes first payment in suit of former member

from, reporting from articles in newspapers Washington Post of May 10, 2002, Los Angeles Times of May 11, 2002 and news agencies Associated Press and Rueters of May 11, 2002

After many years delay, on May 10, 2002, Scientology submitted to the decision of the court and paid its former member Lawrence Wollersheim 8,674,843 dollars. The court decision in this case was arrived at in 1986

Until May 9, when the cult wrote a check, thus concluding one of the longest legal proceedings in the history of California, the "Scientology Church" did not pay a cent. "They stalled it and stalled it and stalled it," said 53-year-old Wollersheim, who now lives in Nevada. He said his victory was a landmark for many former members of the cult, which is well-known for aggressive litigiousness. "I'm smiling," he said. "It's like being the first plaintiff to get a victory against the cigarette companies."

Wollersheim was owner of a small phot business when he was recruited into Scientology, in 1969. Before long he himself was enlisted into the elite "Sea Organization," Scientology's internal organ, where he signed a contract for one billion years (!). But Wollersheim soon entered Scientology's "rehabilitation system." Over the course of long months he was locked up in the hold of a ship cruising off the coast of California. He was fed once a day, and not allowed more than five hours sleep a day. The ship was sailing as part of a Scientology fleet from which cult founder L. Ron Hubbard ran the Scientology empire. As stated in the decision of the California court of appeals in 1989, ""Wollersheim's mental condition worsened to the point he actively contemplated suicide," and "The church's conduct was manifestly outrageous."

Wollersheim said that Scientology's method of brainwashing caused him bipolar disorder. As is the practice in Scientology, he was forbidden to seek medical assistance. Scientology's method of mind control is "designed to either break you or make you a slave," said Wollersheim, "I was on the edge of insanity." After having paid the cult more than 150,000 dollars and not receiving the promise state of improvement, he left the cult in 1980 and took them to court. The court's decision was handed down in 1986. Scientology had to pay Wollersheim 5 million dollars and another 25 million in punitive damages for deliberately and maliciously provoking emotional disorder. The cult appealed and the sum was reduced to 2.5 million dollars. However, the leaders of Scientology vowed they would not give even one dime to Wollersheim. This phrase became a slogan that cult members chanted at court hearings.

Scientology posed one legal obstacle after another in the hope of wearing Wollersheim down and forcing his case to fail. This tactic is a legacy of Hubbard, who wrote repeatedly that court proceedings needed to be used for the eradication of enemies. In Wollersheim's case this lasted 22 years. Scientology brought the case up to the Supreme Court, which upheld the decision in 1994. Over this period of time, the sum of 2.5 million dollars was accumulating 10 percent interest, so that in May 2002, the total approached 9 million. Wollersheim published on his web page ( the statement that the totalitarian "cult that vowed it would never pay me one thin dime has now paid over 86 million thin dimes."

Arnie Lerma, another former Scientologist who maintains one of the most comprehensive anti-Scientology web sites, says that this is a groundbreaking decision. In his opinion, it could inspire other former members to file their own lawsuits.

Russian Scientology News