Man spent millions fighting Scientology
By DEBORAH O'NEIL, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- Scientology critic Robert Minton has funneled $10-million into a global anti-Scientology crusade, financing lawsuits against the church and supporting some of Scientology's most strident opponents.
The staggering total of Minton's largesse over the past seven years was revealed for the first time in court Friday as Minton, 55, testified in a hearing on whether a civil wrongful death lawsuit against the church should be dismissed.
No one has ever orchestrated such a campaign against the church, said Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw.
"He obviously had something in mind and he went out to accomplish it," Shaw said. "He was trying to destroy the church."
The bulk of Minton's anti-Scientology money was spent locally.
He dumped more than $2-million into a now defunct anti-Scientology organization in downtown Clearwater called the Lisa McPherson Trust, named for a Scientologist who died in 1995 under the care of fellow Scientologists.
Minton testified that he put up nearly $2.5-million for the movie The Profit, made in the Tampa Bay area by two Scientology critics.
His cash went into the bank accounts of Scientology critics and their lawyers around the country. Minton said he gave $700,000 to Lawrence Wollersheim, a former Scientologist who recently collected an $8.6-million settlement from Scientology, ending one of the longest-running lawsuits in California history.
And he funded lawsuits against Scientology in places as distant as Germany and France.
But the focus of his anti-Scientology efforts was the Pinellas County wrongful death lawsuit that blames the church for Lisa McPherson's death. Minton gave $2-million to fund the litigation.
"This was like the banner of the whole anti-Scientology movement," Minton said of the McPherson lawsuit. "Here was a chance to really nail Scientology."
Circuit Court Judge Susan Schaeffer is taking testimony on a motion by the Church of Scientology to have the lawsuit dismissed. In what remains an astonishing reversal, Minton is testifying on behalf of the church in the hearing, which began May 2 and is expected to last at least another week.
Minton is accusing Tampa attorney Ken Dandar, who represents the McPherson estate in the lawsuit, of serious misconduct in the case.
Dandar has said Minton is lying and being extorted by the Church of Scientology in an attempt to derail the lawsuit, set for trial in June. Minton clearly has posed a threat to the church, Dandar said, "and now they're squashing that threat."
"Here's a man who put in six years and $10-million and all of a sudden, he's having an about-face?" Dandar said. "All you have to do is apply common sense."
Unlike many Scientology critics, Minton never belonged to the church, which has its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater. A retired investment banker from New England, Minton surfaced with venomous anti-Scientology rhetoric and became a nationally known Scientology critic, featured on Dateline NBC and in the New York Times.
In downtown Clearwater, he set up the Lisa McPherson Trust and staffed it with Scientology opponents. He took to the streets, picketing the church with other critics in protests that became so disruptive that a judge ordered an injunction to separate the two sides.
Minton, by his own admission, was known as Scientology's "Public Enemy No. 1," which makes his recent alliance with Scientology all the more surreal. It's a flip that has outraged the anti-Scientology camp, prompting much speculation that Scientology must have found some skeleton in Minton's closet.
But Minton has said his recent testimony came about from tremendous legal strain in the McPherson case. He was facing contempt of court charges and feared going to jail for perjury he said he committed at Dandar's urging. Minton said he decided it was time to clear the record.
His St. Petersburg attorney, Bruce Howie, says Minton wants nothing more to do with funding anti-Scientology litigation. His close friend Stacy Brooks, a former Scientologist and critic who also has done a surprising turn, said Minton got caught up in the anti-Scientology movement.
"I think he was swept up in the idea he was really fighting evil," Brooks said. "Neither he nor I feel that way anymore."
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