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Millionaire's bizarre feud with Scientology escalates

Each side is consumed with painting the other as evil in a battle that recently came to gunfire at a 200-acre estate.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 3, 1998


SANDOWN, N.H. -- So is Boston financier Robert S. Minton an arch-enemy of the Church of Scientology or a prospective member?

The multimillionaire, who has infuriated the church with his financial support of its enemies, says top Scientologists recently tried to recruit him as a member.

Scientology leaders deny offering membership but acknowledge they made overtures to help Minton because they say he has an "emotional problem." Minton -- whose projects include bankrolling a lawsuit filed on behalf of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died in Clearwater under mysterious circumstances -- told the Scientologists to keep their help to themselves.

Scientology leaders now say he is a hopeless liar and criminal.

What's clear in this bizarre battle is that each side is consumed with painting the other as evil and their warring continues to escalate.

Last week, Scientologists picketed Minton's estate in the New Hampshire backwoods. When a few allegedly trespassed, Minton took out a shotgun and fired in the air. The police are none too pleased with either side.

* * *

Minton says he fired the shots just two weeks after Scientology officials tried to offer him membership.

The offer, Minton said, came in the last of meetings he requested in hopes of persuading Scientology to change how it treats some members. The sessions began before NBC-TV broadcast a Dateline report June 16 on Minton's support of Scientology's enemies. They ended with a five-hour session July 13 in Los Angeles.

In that final meeting, Minton said Mike Rinder, head of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs, and Marty Rathbun, another top Scientology official, told him he could become a Scientologist despite his past criticism. They later pulled out an agreement that would have required him to drop all financial support of Scientology opponents and stop saying anything bad in public about Scientology. In return Scientology promised not to sue Minton.

"I read the whole thing and looked at Marty and said, "This is a joke? Right?' " Minton recalled.

The two Scientologists responded by crossing out some of the provisions of the six-page agreement and offering it as a "compromise," Minton said.

"I said I have a verbal commitment to all of these people and there is no way I would give up my right to speak out against the Church of Scientology or any other group that wants to restrain my free speech," Minton said.

When he refused to sign, Minton said Rinder and Rathbun warned him they have "friends in high places" and suggested he may get caught up in FBI and IRS investigations of Scientology critics.

Rinder denies making the threat. He says they merely warned Minton he was involved in criminal activities.

Nor was the agreement an offer of membership, Rinder said. It was merely a means of promising Minton that Scientology would not sue him if he stopped what he has been doing.

In a written response to questions Friday, Rinder said they offered support for Minton's "emotional problem" but do not want "the criminal he is" in Scientology.

* * *

It was a devotion to free speech and a lifetime membership in the American Civil Liberties Union that drew Minton into the fight against Scientology, he says. Until January 1996, Minton said he knew nothing about Scientology except that some members were celebrities, such as John Travolta.

Then he read a report that Scientology was trying to shut down an Internet news group, alt.religion.scientology. That news sent Minton to the Internet to learn more about lawsuits Scientology was filing against those who posted the organization's scriptures on the Internet and raids to seize their computers. Now he posts frequent messages on the anti-Scientology newsgroup and has joined pickets outside Scientology buildings several times.

"The only other time I ever picketed was against the war in Vietnam," Minton says. "I don't have a history as an activist, but this was as outrageous as the Vietnam War."

In March 1996 Minton offered a $360,000 reward on the Internet for anyone who would defect from Scientology with enough information to cause the organization to lose its federal tax exemption. He got no takers. The amount of money was based on the amount of money critics say Scientology charges for courses.

Scientology has been recognized for tax purposes as a religion since the IRS granted its tax exemption in 1993 after years of courtroom warfare.

Minton said he was first contacted by Scientology lawyer Elliot Abelson in September 1997 and questioned about his financial support of several people suing Scientology. Two months later, after he spent $260,000 to buy a house for a cat sanctuary for former Scientologists Vaughn and Stacy Young, Minton got a letter from Abelson questioning his continuing help of Scientology opponents.

A month later, his wife found a dead cat lying neatly on the doorstep at their New Hampshire home.

"It was clearly a message to me," Minton said.

Sandown police say the cat had no visible signs of injury and was apparently not missing from other homes in the neighborhood.

Rinder said Scientology had nothing to do with the dead cat and doubts there ever was one.

* * *

Recently the 200-acre New Hampshire estate was the scene of an even more bizarre event.

Minton said four Scientology pickets came onto his property July 25 while he was in a backyard swimming pool with Stacy Young, a former Scientologist that Minton and his wife have taken under their wing.

Minton says he was angry because the intruders falsely accused him of having an affair with Young. He expressed that anger with a shotgun.

He says he fired shots toward a vacant field, as a warning to the Scientologists to leave.

Scientology officials say Minton fired at their members and deny they were trespassing. Rinder says Minton called him after the incident and told him he fired at the Scientologists. Rinder said he tape recorded the call and has sent a transcript to police. Rinder says his lawyers advised him to tape all calls from Minton because of "extortionate threats." California, where Rinder taped the call, is one of many states that makes it illegal under most circumstances to record telephone calls without the consent of all parties.

Police in Sandown are still investigating the incident, but say the Scientologists knew they were not welcome at Minton's home and trespassed on his property. At the same time, police say Minton should not have fired a weapon, but criminal charges are doubtful. Reports on the incident are being reviewed by a local prosecutor.

But still, Scientologists say they wanted to help Minton.

A day later, Minton says Scientologists hand-delivered a letter to his wife, Therese, in a small village outside of London where she was visiting her father. The letter advised Mrs. Minton that her husband was having an affair with Young.

Rinder admits sending the letter.

"He has involved their family in extremely unsavory activities, and I wanted to talk to her to provide her with that information and see if we could help get her husband back on the straight and narrow," Rinder explained.

Minton said some of his friends think he is nuts to take on Scientology, but he has no regrets and no plan to back away from supporting his new friends. He said the Scientology pickets and private investigators who have been digging into his background and interviewing his relatives don't frighten him.

"Nothing I have ever done in my life has been more personally rewarding," Minton said.

Rinder says Minton is merely seeking publicity.


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