14 Mar 2011

Escapee from Scientology sues cult and parents for child labor, wage exploitation, educational and medical neglect

St. Petersburg Times - March 5, 2011

Lawsuit claims Church of Scientology violated child labor and wage laws

By Thomas C. Tobin and Joe Childs | Times Staff Writers

A runaway from the Church of Scientology's restrictive religious order, the Sea Org, alleges in two lawsuits filed Friday that the church violated California laws regulating child labor, wages and school attendance.

Daniel Montalvo, who turns 20 today, also contends his parents, who remain in the Sea Org, neglected him and breached their duty to protect him from harm by ceding his care to the church.

Church spokesman Tommy Davis said Friday night the church had not been served with the suits and could not comment on them. He noted Montalvo took Church of Scientology property — computer hard drives — when he left valued at tens of thousands of dollars. Then, with the help of church defectors Montalvo moved them across state lines.

Born in Ecuador, Montalvo moved with his parents to the church's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater when he was 5. He stayed there until age 15, when he was transferred to Los Angeles, where he worked at church facilities until leaving last September.

The lawsuits filed in state court in L.A. include allegations that Montalvo:

• Was permitted to attend school about one day a week because working for Sea Org took priority.

• Spent his childhood working at least 40 hours a week, and often more than 100 hours a week for pay that ranged from $35 to $50 a week.

• Had no work permits required of minors.

• Was made to work back-to-back 12-hour days in the fall of 2007, when the church was pushing its staff to produce and sell a new book release.

• From 2008 to 2010, was punished along with other workers for lack of production. He was made to run laps wearing a jacket and tie, clean grease traps and do push ups.

• Worked past midnight for two months in 2009 after rising at 6 a.m. each day, and was made to do push ups and dig ditches for lack of production.

• Suffered an accident at age 16 while cleaning a "notching" machine at the church's printing unit, Bridge Publications. Half of his right index finger was cut off and no ambulance was called, the lawsuit asserts. It says Montalvo was taken to the hospital but told by the Sea Org to tell doctors he was a volunteer. He was not to mention Scientology.

According to one of the two lawsuits, Montalvo's parents "effectively abandoned" him, and his caretakers in the church failed to adequately educate him or provide sufficient care, including medical treatment.

"Intentionally deprived of the basic skills needed to permit him to become a functioning adult member of society, Daniel now comes before the court a 19-year-old man with an eighth grade education, without assets, without a resume despite having labored for hundreds of hours per week over the last five years," the lawsuit states. "Every adult in Daniel's childhood failed him.''

Montalvo also has filed a wage and hour claim with the state's Division of Labor Standards seeking more than $150,000 in back wages for the three years — 2007 to 2010 — he worked for Bridge Publications. Davis called the claim "absurd.''

Other Sea Org members have taken the church to court in recent years, making similar claims. But Montalvo's case differs in that it invokes laws protecting children, said his lawyer, S. Christopher "Kit" Winter.

In one notable case, Claire and Marc Headley of California sued in federal court, contending they were victims of forced labor. Claire Headley's suit also alleged she was pressured to have two abortions to remain in good standing.

The church denied all claims and said Headley's abortions were her decision.

A federal judge dismissed the Headleys' suits last year, citing in part a "ministerial exception" that generally prevents courts from prying into the affairs of any church.

But Winter argued that Montalvo would not be considered a church minister because he never conducted Scientology's core religious practice of "auditing" and had little formal religious training in the church.

Even if he were to be deemed a minister, that "does not excuse you from having to attend school," Winter said. "There is nothing in the case law that says the ministerial exception overrides child labor laws and compulsory school attendance laws."

He also addressed remarks by the judge in the Headley case, who stated that the Headleys knew what they were getting into when they joined the Sea Org and could have left at any time.

Winter noted Montalvo was 5 when his parents entered the Sea Org with him in tow and he could not have been expected to leave the group on his own. The lawsuits seek unspecified damages.

The Headleys are appealing.

Their allegations and those of Montalvo echo the claims of former church members who recently disclosed that they have been interviewed at length by FBI agents specializing in human trafficking. The FBI has said it will not confirm or deny whether an investigation is taking place. Asked Friday whether Montalvo had been interviewed by the FBI, Winter would not comment.

Montalvo ran away from the Sea Org on Sept. 24, 2010, aided by former executives of the church whose accounts of abuse in the Sea Org were published by the St. Petersburg Times in 2009.

Two defectors picked him up in a car near a church headquarters building on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. He flew to Florida and moved in to the Palm Harbor home of former Sea Org executive Tom DeVocht, whom Montalvo had known as a child when his father worked for DeVocht at church facilities in Clearwater.

The plan was for Montalvo to work for DeVocht. But Montalvo's parents intervened by phone from California, DeVocht said, as did an aunt, who lives in Clearwater and also is a Scientologist.

After conversations with church lawyer Kendrick Moxson, Montalvo agreed to return to L.A. A church staffer met Montalvo at the airport, his suit says, and took him to church attorneys who questioned him about five missing church hard drives. He then was taken to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Montalvo was arrested on grand theft charges in connection with the hard drives, which Winter says were returned within days, and briefly jailed until bailed out by former church members. He has not been charged. One of the lawsuits filed Friday accuses Moxon of false imprisonment for luring Montalvo back to L.A. with deceptive statements.

Montalvo has been living since then on a secluded, 12-acre estate in Malibu owned by actor Jason Beghe, a former Scientologist who told the Times on Friday: "I thought that he would need to have a little space and have a safe environment.''

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  1. Scientology Forced Labor Claims Hit the 9th Circuit

    By MATT REYNOLDS, Courthouse News Service February 13, 2012

    PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - Two former Scientology ministers want the 9th Circuit to let them sue the church for forced labor, rejecting application of the First Amendment's ministerial exception.

    Husband and wife Claire and Marc Headley each filed complaints against the Church of Scientology under the Trafficking Victims Act after leaving the Sea Organization, an order of Scientology in which members work long hours and perform hard labor without pay.

    The Headleys worked at the church from the early 1990s until 2005. Claire Headley claimed that the church prohibited her from having children and was coerced into having two abortions. She also alleged that members who tried to leave the church were followed, brought back, and deprived of food and sleep, among other punishments.

    In his complaint, Marc Headley said ministers at the church physically abused him. He also claimed that he was told that he would be excommunicated from his family if he left the church without first going through a "routing out" process that requires members to continue their duties for free and perform hard labor.
    Marc Headley has published a book about his experiences at the church, "Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology."

    In 2010, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer threw out the Headleys' complaints because he found their claims failed under the First Amendment's ministerial exception. On Thursday, a three-judge appeals panel heard arguments to revive the case

    "The simple fact is that where a religious organization does not have a religious justification for the conduct at issue it cannot avail itself of the protection of the First Amendment," the Headleys' counsel, Kathryn Saldana of Kendall Brill Klieger, told the panel.

    Asked whether the court could consider the claims without first reading the doctrine of the church to determine psychological compulsion, Saldana said the Scientology church had been "subversive of good order" and had violated fundamental constitutional rights.

    The church's attorney, Eric Lieberman, countered that the Headleys' claims related only to their "participation in the religion."

    A forced labor claim is barred, "based upon psychological factors which relate to the beliefs: the religious upbringing, the religious training, the religious practices, the religious lifestyle restraints, religious order, and the rules and customs and discipline of a church," Lieberman said.

    In her five-minute rebuttal Saldana continued tying the case to constitutional rights, rather than religious doctrine. "This country was created on the basis of freedom," Saldana said. "The 13th Amendment was enacted to ban involuntary servitude and slavery, and Congress in enacting the forced labor statute recognized that the definition they've given for forced labor is a crime of involuntary servitude," she added.

    Judges Dorothy Nelson, Diarmuid O'Scannlain and Norman Smith presided over the hearing.


  2. Australia's child labour camp

    Bryan Seymour, Today Tonight February 14, 2012

    In the middle of suburban Australia is a secret compound that's labelled 'degrading' and 'inhumane', with allegations of keeping children prisoner.

    Right in the middle of a quiet suburb is a place where children are separated from their parents, and forced to work full time for no pay, and live in squalid conditions.

    Those who've survived this place say they were brainwashed into believing they could not leave, and that they deserved the shocking treatment dished out.

    A young man who escaped the place with the help of his father, Shane Kelsey says “I lived in that garage for about a year and a half, maybe two years.”

    Shane is now 21-years-old. Until just over a year ago he had never used the internet, watched television or followed the media.

    “You're not allowed to read any books other than scientology books, you can't read newspapers, no radio, no movies, nothing,” Shane said.

    Shane says he was held captive and groomed to see all of us on the outside as pathetic, useless and stupid.

    “So I lived in a garage until that got flooded by a storm, and my mum got really pissed off and said 'what the hell' and so I got moved into a closet. It is a closet under the stairs - maybe two metres long and a metre wide,” Shane said.

    The true Australian headquarters of the Church of Scientology are located in the Sydney suburb of Dundas. The RPF base - which stands for Rehabilitation Project Force - is where Scientologists are sent for punishment and training, for crimes that most of us would regard as trivial.

    More than 50 requests for interviews on camera with representatives from the Church of Scientology have been flatly refused.

    The bottom line is they don't want people to know what's going on inside the centre, and those who've lived in there, like Shane, say it's like a gulag, or a prison. Yet it's in the middle of a suburb, which could be any suburb in Australia.

    People would he horrified to know what has been going on in there for so many years, and continues to this day.

    Shane Kelsey's mother and father were dedicated Scientologists in Sydney, so they put their son Shane into its highest core at the age of six - little Shane moved into a tiny room with eleven other children.

    By the age of seven Shane says “we'd go down the streets and there'd be eight of us, ten of us, young as, and we'd go down and pledge people up to ‘drug free lives’.

    “I signed my contract when I was eight-years-old. It was a billion-year contract, which means you're volunteering or servicing the Church for the next billion years,” Shane said.

    “We used to do marching, close order drilling, things like that. Just because it was a form of discipline,” he said.

    Shane saw his parents once a week. His mother and father would soon separate, and his dad Adrian moved overseas, and then left Scientology.

    Meanwhile, the work schedule for children was fulltime, hard and without reward.

    Working 35 hours a week when he was eight-years-old, by the time he was fourteen, the work changed to kitchen duty.

    A military muster every morning required marching and saluting to the cause of saving mankind from the intergalactic ravages, described by the Church’s science fiction founder L Ron Hubbard.

    The kids wore all black uniforms, and were always required to run, never walk.

    So-called home schooling was provided in fits and starts, taking a back seat to hard labour and brainwashing.

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    “As soon as you turn fifteen, anyone, you're straight out of school. It doesn't matter what grade you're in, what level of maths, what level of anything, you're straight out," Shane said.

    The mess hall served food priced at 30 cents per meal, mostly beans and rice. The adults ate first.

    “They would all come in and eat whatever they wanted, and then we went after them to take what's there - sometimes there wouldn't be much, so you'd get little bits of food, and it wasn't really sufficient,” Shane said.

    Those who dared question the brutality of this place were dealt with swiftly and severely.

    “They used to live under our squash courts - it's a mud, dirt floor,” Shane recalled.

    “We put people in there and they live in there, when they're on the RPF they'd sleep down there, and they'd study down there.”

    Why would you put people in a dank, mouldy, sinking foundation underneath a squash court?

    According to Shane it’s “because you're a bad person, you have to be segregated from everyone.”

    By the age of fifteen Shane was living a nightmare even he now struggles to believe.

    “As soon as I turned fifteen I was working seven days a week, fourteen hour days.”

    That's 100 hours a week spent in a commercial kitchen. Shane and other children slaved away - cooking meals all day, every day, studying and snatching what little sleep they could.

    “We'd get anywhere between $4 pay to $35 a week,” Shane said.

    Among those who needed to be fed was billionaire James Packer. For several years beginning in 2002, Packer came to the Church of Scientology in the early mornings to receive auditing and instruction.

    There is no suggestion Packer had any idea who was preparing his meals, or their work conditions.

    Packer left scientology around 2008. It would be more than two years until Shane made his break for freedom.

    In late 2010, Adrian Kelsey decided to rescue his son.

    He invited us to document his attempt, and informed police of his plans to go to the compound and demand his son's release. He had protest signs ready if they refused to let him come out. When Shane came out to meet his father it was the first time they’d seen each other in four years.

    Shane and Adrian were followed by Scientology ‘enforcers’, so Shane reluctantly returned to the compound to avoid trouble. One week later he was sent to work near the compound's boundary, and made a break for it.

    “Scientology have no right to mess with family,” said Adrian Kelsey.

    It took Shane fourteen months to shake off Scientology, discover the truth, learn about the real world and tell his story.

    “One thing that would be good is if they actually just stood up and said ‘sorry, it wasn't right, we're going to change it’, but that is just not going to happen,” Adrian said.

    Peta Obrien, who lived at the RPF base between 1997 and 2000 confirms Shane's account of the appalling conditions.

    “You do two hours of work, then you go and study for two and a half hours in the RPF. It was five hours, and then you go to work again - hard labour, picking with a rock pick, chipping away at rocks till they erode,” O’Brien said.

    Now a successful architectural designer, O’Brien believes Scientology has nothing of value to offer the community.

    “Close it down, doors shut and all the staff members going back to their families, and living their lives,” O’Brien said.

    “I was there for ten years all up in the Church of Scientology as a staff member, and how could I inflict that on my children? Which I'll forever feel like I have to make up,” she said.

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    Perth-based lawyer Grainne O'Donovan has devoted her time and expertise to helping survivors of the cult seeking justice.

    “There's not a law in New South Wales that makes it illegal to work a child for those hours. That's extraordinary, but that's the case,” O’Donovan said.

    O’Donovan has also campaigned with the internet-based activist group Anonymous that has raised awareness about Scientology.

    “This is degrading and inhumane treatment,’ O'Donovan said.

    “At some level they (Scientologists) have become convinced, I suppose, that it's appropriate, and that the group is more important than the individual,” she said.

    RPF bases like the Sydney compound exist in other countries. Those who've escaped from them tell similar stories – of having fingers broken on the orders of the leader of Scientology, screamed at, and slapped for twenty hours straight, whilst having cold water poured over their head, and much more.

    Independent Federal Senator Nick Xenophon has championed a campaign to shed light on the darkness at the heart of this group.

    “Shane's story is one of shocking abuse, child abuse, it's one of a child being enslaved,” Senator Xenophon said.

    “The authorities need to investigate this urgently. This is something that requires police investigation,” he said.

    “What makes this worse is that this organisation is being subsidised by Australian taxpayers because it doesn't pay any tax.”

    Meanwhile Shane has his father back, yet his mother Lesley remains inside Scientology.

    “I hope she hears word of this and sums up the courage to actually find it and watch it,” Shane said.

    “She will have to escape. They won't let her go. Leaving's not an option, so she will have to escape,” Shane said.

    The Church of Scientology refused to be interviewed for this story. In a written response scientology denied any mistreatment of its members.

    The response also declared that anyone on the program is there because they want to be there, and that they are completely free to withdraw at any time during induction or later.

    “When Shane left the church in late 2010, he simply got his bag and walked out the door,” said the statement.

    The celebrities used to advertise Scientology likely have little idea that people like Shane Kelsey even exist, but now they do.

    Adrian and Shane hope they do something about it for the sake of other families.

    Senator Xenophon says he's taking this story to Bill Shorten, the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations.

    If you have any information we should know about Scientology, let us know.


  5. Scientology did not violate forced labor law, appeals court rules

    Los Angeles Times July 24, 2012

    Scientology did not violate a labor law by failing to pay for the work of two former members of the church’s Sea Organization -- a wing that restricts participants’ outside communications, marriage and children, censors mail and monitors phone calls -- a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

    A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Marc and Claire Headley, who sued the church, knew that joining the group, known as Sea Org, required largely unpaid labor and failed to take many opportunities to leave.

    The Headleys sued the church under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law primarily intended to prohibit the forced labor of immigrants. A district court ruled for Scientology, and the Headleys appealed.

    The former Sea Org members grew up in Scientology and joined the elite religious order while in their teens, Marc in 1989 and Claire in 1991. They married in 1992 and remained with the group until 2005.

    “In keeping with church disciplinary policy, the church censored the Headleys’ mail, monitored their phone calls, and required them to obtain permission to access the Internet,” Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, an appointee of former President Reagan, wrote for the court.
    Marc and hundreds of others had to hand clean human excrement from an aeration pond in 2004, and Claire had to subsist on protein bars and water for six to eight months in 2002, O’Scannlain wrote. But the court said the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the Headleys voluntarily worked for the Sea Org “because they believed that it was the right thing to do” and “enjoyed it.”

    Although the couple faced the risk of being declared “suppressive persons” and possibly losing contact with family and friends if they left, that potential did not qualify as “serious harm” under the human trafficking law, the court concluded.

    The panel suggested that the Headleys might have fared better had they sued on different grounds.

    “They did not bring claims for assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or any of a number of other theories that might have better fit the evidence,” O’Scannlain wrote.