Scientology Crime Syndicate

From the Clearwater Sun, Tuesday, January 24, 1984:

Prior sect try at judge reported
By George-Wayne Shelor
Sun staff writer

A current probe into a suspected 1982 extortion plot by the Church of Scientology to corrupt a Tampa federal judge might not be the first time law enforcement officials have investigated the sect's efforts to compromise a U.S. magistrate presiding over a Scientology trial.

In an article titled "Scientology's War Against Judges," which appeared in the December 1980 issue of The American Lawyer, author James B. Stewart Jr. details the sect's efforts to complicate, delay and quash the trial of 11 Scientology defendants charged with spying, wiretapping and breaking into government offices.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa currently is investigating a purported plot involving an attempt to lure U.S. District Judge Ben Krentzman aboard a boat off the Pinellas Suncoast where prostitutes and drugs were to be used to put the judge in a compromising position.

At that time, Krentzman, chief judge of Florida's 32-county Middle District, was presiding over the Tonja C. Burden vs. the Church of Scientology case in which Miss Burden was seeking $16 million from the sect, claiming mental abuse, brainwashing, imprisonment and fraud, according to public records. The trial is, to date, unresolved, and Judge Krentzman has retired.

Through several confidential sources, the Clearwater Sun has verified the current federal probe, although as of Monday, U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle would neither confirm nor deny it.

But four years ago in Washington, D.C., a U.S. District Court judge stepped down from a federal criminal conspiracy trial involving the controversial sect.

Stewart, presently a staff writer with the Wall Street Journal, was for three years a practicing attorney and, at the time he wrote the article about the trial, a senior editor at The American Lawyer.

In his report, Stewart described the intensive campaign by Scientology attorneys to discredit and cause to resign from the case three judges over the duration of the trial.

The trial of the 11 defendants began Aug. 15, 1978. The group of Scientologists was indicted on a number of federal charges, including obstruction of justice. The first two judges assigned to the case - D.C. District Court Judge George Hart Jr. and Judge Louis Oberdorfer - stepped down during the course of the protracted proceedings, bowing to defense motions for dismissal.

Shortly after Feb. 5, 1979, when Oberdorfer stepped down, the case fell to Judge Charles Richey, a jurist with a respected national reputation. The Scientologists initially were pleased with Richey's appointement, saying as much in in-house documents, according to Stewart.

But during the next two years - when the trial moved back and forth from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles to accommodate witness's testimony - they apparently became displeased with several of Richey's rulings, Stewart said, adding that at one point, attorneys for the sect filed a motion asking the judge to disqualify himself from the case. Richey dismissed the motion.

By June 1980, according to Stewart's report, defense counsel were reading with another dismissal motion, one which was damaging and threatening to Judge Richey. The groundwork for that motion, Stewart wrote, had been laid nearly a year before, after the hearings in Los Angeles.

According to Stewart's published report:

During the summer of 1979, a Scientology lawyer paid a private detective named Richard Bast $321,000 plus expenses to investigate Judge Richey's security precautions. One of the detective's first steps was to infiltrate Richey's inner circle at the courthouse.

Several of Bast's employees befriended Richey's court reporter and tape-recorded several conversations which were the basis of the most recent dismissal motion. Some Scientology lawyers, however, thought the strategy had "gone too far" and withdrew as counsel.

Although the motion noted a number of reasons defense lawyers believed Richey was prejudiced - including Richey suspecting the sect was spreading rumors about him as part of a "plot" to discredit him - it failed to detail the alleged rumor about the judge, citing "respect for the court as an institution."

Bast, the detective, had secured damning information about Richey's personal habits, and when it was not included as part of the motion, he gave it to political columnist Jack Anderson.

Bast showed to one of Anderson's reporters a video recording, during which the prostitute recalled "in titillating detail" her encounter with Judge Richey and his procurement of her services. Bast also provided a lie detector test indicating the prostitute was telling the truth, and a statement from a U.S. marshal who had guarded the judge claiming Richey said, "Let's go get a woman."

Also made available to Anderson's report was a tape recording of Richey's court reporter purportedly saying the judge "was always picking up girls."

After Anderson's syndicated column detailing Richey's alleged procurement of a prostitute was sent to newspapers July 11 (for July 18 publication) the court reporter denied the remarks attributed to him. The Sun was unable to contact the U.S. marshall involved.

On July 16, Richey issues his opinion on the case. Apparently referring to the upcoming column (which he knew about from reporters' calls), Richey called the dismissal motion "the latest effort in the escalating attack on the court" and said the motion was based on "hearsay, rumor and gossip."

Richey continued, admonishing the defendants and their counsel for their "groundless" attacks on his character, by saying that the proceedings had been turned "into a trial of this judge."

In a state of exhaustion and near-collapse, the 58-year-old judge withdrew from the case. On July 18, Anderson's column appeared in newspapers nationwide and five days later, Judge Richey was hospitalized for treatment of two pulmonary embolisms.

His ordeal may not be over, Stewart's report states. Scientology attorneys said the prostitute affair "is only the tip of the iceberg," and if necessary, would expose additional damaging testimony.

Ultimately, all of the defendants, including Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue, were convicted of the federal charges.

Stewart, contacted at his New York office, said he developed his story from "court records ... and my own interviews.

"I spoke with the prosecutors (of the case) and I did a lot of legwork" ont he story, which he says is completely factual.

Judge Richey has recovered and is still on the bench of the Washington, D.C., district. Contacted at his chambers, the judge declined to comment for the record on the allegations, the Jack Anderson column or the substance of the story.

*Clearwater Sun Managing Editor Sam Fenton contributed to this report.*

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