Church Tied to Theft of Federal Documents[reprint from Daytona Beach Morning Journal image]
infiltrate the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service and to steal hundreds of confidential government documents.
The FBI, acting on a search warrant and an affidavit detailing the allegations, raided church offices in Washington DC and Los Angeles to recover the allegedly stolen documents and to obtain any other evidence of the alleged conspiracy.
The US attorney's office in Washington DC is considering whether to bring criminal charges against church officials, a department source said.
A federal magistrate issued a search warrant on the strength of an FBI agent's sworn affidavit describing evidence primarily obtained from Michael Meisner, a former high-ranking church official who allegedly supervised covert operations until he was arrested and decided to cooperate with federal investigators.
The affidavit said Meisner is being held in protective custody at his request because he and federal officials fear for his safety.
Scientology doctrine "requires the church attack and destroy it's enemies ... and those like Meisner who leave the church," the affidavit said.
On June 20, Meisner called the US attorney's office in Washington DC to say he had escaped from church officials and wished to return to face criminal charges and "cooperate in the on-going investigation," the affidavit continued.
Based on Meisner's statements and other evidence, the government said "there is probable cause to believe that from 1974 through 1976, officials of the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles and Washington DC conspired to steal documents from the government" by burglarizing federal offices.
In addition, the church planted one of its members as a clerk in the Internal Revenue Service and another as a secretary in the office of a Justice Department lawyer, the affidavit said.
Those two alleged undercover agents for the church stole scores of documents from government files, duplicated them, kept the copies in church offices, the affidavit said.
The Church of Scientology, founded in the 1950s by L.Ron Hubbard who continues as its highest officer, has become controversial for its tactics in recruiting members through what some consider hard-sell techniques.
Some former members have said the church goes to extreme lengths to prevent its disciples from renouncing the church.
|IRS Building Washington DC|
The church has brought a half-dozen lawsuits against the IRS, the FBI and other goverment agencies alleging that church officials were the victims of improper government surveillance and harassment.
Some of the suits concern the church's efforts to obtain government documents dealing with Scientology under the Freedom of Information Act. Thousands of documents have been turned over to the church to comply with the act.
But the affidavit by FBI agent Robert Tittle said the lawsuits were part of a strategy directed first against the IRS and later against the Justice Department.
In early 1974, Jane Kember, a church official known as the "Guardian World Wide," ordered "an all-out attack on the Internal Revenue Service which was to include the filing of lawsuits, a public relations assault as well as the actual infiltration of the IRS by agents of the church," the affidavit said.
As Guardian World Wide, Kember is based in East Grinstead, Sussex, England.