Scientology critic sues over movie
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- Church of Scientology critic Robert S. Minton put up $2.44-million to produce a film called The Profit, a thinly disguised movie about Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
But after the movie's limited release to one Pinellas theater in 2001, Minton went from being Scientology's archenemy to a cooperating witness who wanted out of an expensive fight against the church.
Now Minton wants a look at the movie's financial books.
Minton filed a lawsuit Nov. 1 against the movie's writer and director, Peter Alexander, demanding a financial accounting of the $2.44-million Minton said he invested in The Profit.
Minton's investment in the movie, and the company formed to shepherd it into production, provided the project's entire budget, save $100 invested by Alexander, according to the suit.
The lawsuit, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, says a contract between Minton and Alexander allows each partner in the movie to demand such an accounting. So far, Alexander will not allow Minton to see the books, said Minton's attorney, Tom McGowan.
"We want to know where the money went," said McGowan. "We don't think it all went to make the movie."
Minton, reached at his New Hampshire home, declined to comment.
Alexander's attorney, Luke Lirot, said his client did not misappropriate the money. He accused Minton of doing the church's bidding by attacking Alexander and a movie that could be interpreted as being critical of Scientology.
"Mr. Minton has never been interested in anything to do with this movie before now," said Lirot, who said his client would not comment. "He didn't even bother to go see it."
Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw denied that the church has played any part in Minton's lawsuit.
"The church has no involvement in this matter whatsoever," Shaw said. "This is between Mr. Minton and Mr. Alexander. Period."
Lirot said Scientology lawyers have been barred by a Pinellas judge from seeking information about the film. The judge's order is part of a wrongful death suit against Scientology by a lawyer for the estate of Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 after 17 days in the care of Scientology staffers in Clearwater.
Through that protective order, Minton also would be prohibited from seeking a financial accounting of a film, even if he funded its production.
He can get the accounting, Lirot said, when the wrongful death case goes to trial, perhaps by next year.
But McGowan said the order doesn't apply to Minton.
"This is a whole different issue," McGowan said.
McGowan said his client began considering legal action after Courage Productions, the company Minton formed with Alexander to make The Profit, sued to stop Minton and the Lisa McPherson Trust from showing film clips on a Web site.
The lawsuit was dismissed, and the case never went to trial.
"Minton suddenly found himself sued by his own company and his own lawyer," McGowan said. "That triggered all of this. One of the things we want to know is who paid for that lawsuit."
He said Minton wants to see whether any of his money was misappropriated or remains in the bank after production of the movie. If any of the cash remains, Minton wants it back, McGowan said.
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