The Church of Scientology has launched a federal lawsuit in what it hopes will be a hammer blow to a decade-long battle with a former member who has accused it of forcing her to have an abortion, working conditions tantamount to slave labor, and practices so inhumane she faked a suicide attempt to escape.
Laura DeCrescenzo, who signed her billion-year contract with the church’s administrative ‘clergy’ the Sea Org at the age of 12, first filed her complaint in 2009.
Now the Church has taken drastic action to end the 39-year-old’s David and Goliath legal fight once and for all.
In newly filed papers seen by DailyMailTV attorneys for the church have called for DeCrescenzo’s case to be thrown out.
Her original case was moved from state to federal court when DeCrescenzo introduced the charge of human trafficking.
But that charge was dismissed eight years ago on the grounds that the four-year statute of limitations had expired and the case returned to state court.
Laura DeCrescenzo, 39, was a member of the Sea Org from 1991 to 2004. She became a ‘effectively a full-time employee’ from age 10 and at 12 she signed her ‘Contract of Employment’ and left her school, home, and family to work for the Church of Scientology International (CSI). (Pictured right in her Sea Org uniform)
But now, Church attorneys have gone back to the federal court to argue that the entire case should have been thrown out when that federal charge was dropped.
DeCrescenzo was a member of the Sea Org from 1991 to 2004. Her parents were Scientologists and she had attended Scientology schools prior to signing up with the elite cadre.
Her lawsuit, littered with harrowing allegations, states: ‘There are two very different versions of Scientology. There is the Scientology as presented to the outside world and there is a different Scientology in which Plaintiff lived and worked for approximately 13 years.’
In that version it continues: ‘Twelve-year-old children are taken from their homes, asked to sign employment contracts and put to work. Pregnant women are coerced to have abortions. Employees work 100-hour weeks in the business ventures of Scientology at far less than minimum wage.’
According to DeCrescenzo, ‘personal freedoms are restricted and severe punishments are used to keep employees in line. Passports are taken from foreign workers and the infirm are discarded if they cannot perform.’
DeCrescenzo’s parents were both Scientologists and she began working for the organization in her hometown in New Mexico at the age of 9.
According to her suit she obtained a work permit and became ‘effectively a full-time employee’ from age 10. At 12 she signed her ‘Contract of Employment’ and left her school, home, and family to work for the Church of Scientology International (CSI).
The former Scientologist said she became pregnant at 17 and was ‘coerced by CSI (Church of Scientology International) to have an abortion’ (Pictured in 1996)
She moved from New Mexico to California and married a fellow Sea Org member at the age of just 16. When she became pregnant at 17 she was ‘coerced by CSI to have an abortion.’
DeCrescenzo asserts that she knows of other women who were ‘ordered to have an abortion’ in this fashion.
She worked ‘under illegal conditions’ alongside others who were, ‘ignorant of their rights, under the misapprehension that they had no rights or surrendered them in various documents they were required to sign,’ or simply too afraid to ‘challenge the dark side of Scientology.’
During her 13 years in the Sea Org, DeCrescenzo’s challenging of that ‘dark side’ saw her spend time in the Rehabilitation Project Force, designed to ‘control, coerce, punish, inflict emotional distress, and break the will of the victim.’
She claims that she was ‘blackmailed’ by the CSI and its agents who stored information on her and ‘interrogated [her] on a primitive lie detector known as an e-meter’ to keep her from leaving her staff position.
This practice of ‘security checking’ was followed up, her suit claims, with the threat that she would be ‘declared a suppressive person and an enemy of the church’ should she leave. She was also told she would be forced to ‘disconnect’ – cease all contact – from family and friends should she leave.
Laura, who is now married, said she was forced to work under ‘illegal conditions’ and had to spend time in the Rehabilitation Project Force, designed to ‘control, coerce, punish, inflict emotional distress, and break the will of the victim’
DeCrescenzo fled the church in 2004 but says she did not file a suit because she believed the documents she signed, which included a promise not to sue, were legally binding. Above is the CSI building in LA where she worked
In 2004, at the age of 25, DeCrescenzo did decide to leave but knew that she ‘needed a plan.’
Her lawsuit notes that, ‘CSI was somewhat paranoid about workers dying or committing suicide at one of Scientology’s main bases.’
And so her plan was to exhibit suicidal tendencies and be ‘dubbed a security risk.’
She swallowed bleach, making sure that her actions were witnessed.
She had found a way out – but even then it had to be on the Church’s terms as she claims she was compelled to sign away ‘exit’ papers ‘under extreme duress.’
She claims she did not fully understand them, was not given copies of them, and ‘just wanted to get out without having to undergo hours or days of emotional abuse.’
‘There was’ her suit notes, ‘No negotiation over her escape papers.’
DeCrescenzo didn’t sue until five years after leaving the Sea Org in 2009 because she had blindly believed that these documents, which included a promise not to sue, were legally binding.
When she did file, the statute of limitations on the charges had expired – a point that initially saw the Church make a successful case to have her suit dismissed out of hand.
But that ruling was overturned on appeal in 2011 in a hugely significant decision that ruled, ‘because of her isolation from a young age, limited education and restrictions on her personal freedoms’ she simply could not know or suspect that she was ‘injured by [CSI] wrongdoing.’
In fact DeCrescenzo had remained a member of the church – under duress and fear of reprisal and disconnecting from family members who remained within CSI facilities – until 2008 when she completely severed her ties.
As a result the Appeals court effectively negated any exit papers promises and the clock on the statute of limitations only started ticking when she left Scientology completely.
In an ironic twist, DeCrescenzo once picketed LA’s Superior Court when, as a child, she joined fellow church members to prove that the institution would ‘go to every length to bring down people who filed lawsuits.’
Certainly her experience of attempting to hold the Church accountable for the abuses she alleges she suffered has born this out.
DeCrescenzo has already won a significant victory as she successfully fought to have her Pre-Clear files – the transcripts of all her auditing sessions and security checks – released to her.
A source close to the case explained: ‘Scientology has fought for years on the grounds of Priest/Penitent Privilege with the priest having all the privilege yet on the other hand, has used information in these files in litigation against members.
‘When Laura succeeded in having them hand these over they were forced to disclose that hundreds of people had had access to these “confidential” files which in and of itself is outrageous.’
The federal suit, filed by the Church last month, is not the first time its management has tried to have DeCrescenzo’s case dismissed.
A spokesperson for the Church of Scientology told DailyMailTV: ‘The Church regards the claims as meritless, has defended and will continue to defend against them with vigor and expects to prevail. Also as set forth in the new federal case the Church has already prevailed in finding that the basis for the claims is without merit.’
In April 2016 a judge denied church attorneys’ motion to dismiss on grounds that the lawsuit wrongly involved the courts with the affairs of a religious organization.
Speaking for the Church, attorney Bert Deixler asserted, ‘We do not have civil courts investigate religious practices’ and described the matters under consideration as ‘a question of faith, not force.’
But DeCrescenzo’s lawyers successfully argued that she was effectively ‘brainwashed’ by the church because she was not allowed to hear outside opinions about the religion’s practices.
Two years earlier, in 2014, DeCrescenzo’s lawyers convinced the judge originally assigned to the case – Judge Richard Rico – to recuse himself on the grounds of his social relationship with Superior Court Judge Leslie Swain whose husband, Bert Deixler, is an attorney for the church.
The church reportedly asked the court for a psychiatric evaluation in 2013, according to TonyOrtega.com.
A court date for DeCrescenzo’s case has been set for August.
And according to one close to DeCrescenzo who asked not to be named, after all these years and litigation, she wants her day in court.
The source said: ‘Laura is gentle and unassuming and polite and pleasant and just the sweetest woman and yet, she has a backbone of cold chrome steel.
‘She has a valid grievance and yet she’s been treated as if she’s a liar who deserves no voice, a peon who doesn’t qualify for attention.
‘In a way the church has turned her into a crusader with its actions.
‘If they turned round and offered her a billion dollars to settle I think she might actually say, “No. I want my day in court.”‘
They added: ‘What she’s doing is remarkable. Here is a woman, standing by herself against a massive, well-funded organization intent on squashing her and she’s still standing after ten years.
‘Not only that, she’s still fighting.’