Scientology foes bitterly split

St. Petersburg Times/April 20, 2002
By Deborah O'Neil

St. Petersburg, Fla -- For nearly five years, New England millionaire Robert Minton has bankrolled a civil lawsuit that blames the Church of Scientology for the death of Lisa McPherson.

Check after check, as much as $2-million, has gone to Ken Dandar, the Tampa lawyer representing McPherson's estate in the wrongful death lawsuit.

On Friday, Minton, one of Scientology's most vocal critics, sat in court and testified for the church in its effort to remove Dandar from a case tied to the wrongful death lawsuit.

Hitting his fist on the witness box, Minton said: "Mr. Dandar is a liar and a thief."

With Dandar seated just feet away, in the uncomfortable position of being the accused rather than the counsel, Minton said, "I am now of the belief Mr. Dandar is only in this for the money."

The jaw-dropping testimony amounted to a meltdown of Scientology's opposition front. Should the church succeed, it could seriously damage the biggest remaining legal challenge from McPherson's death in the care of fellow Scientologists in 1995.

Outside the courtroom a group of Scientology critics, some of whom Minton once supported financially and counted as allies, was ready to be called to the witness stand to counter Minton's accusations and support Dandar.

In his testimony, Minton said his one-time friend, former Scientologist Jesse Prince, had threatened him and told him: "You have become a Scientologist."

The irony was not lost on anyone, even lawyers for the church.

"In 32 years of law practice I have never seen anything like this," said Clearwater attorney Wally Pope, who represents the church.

Tampa attorney Luke Lirot, representing Dandar, said the entire proceeding was another effort by Scientology to derail the wrongful death lawsuit, set to go to trial in June. He described the church's case against Dandar as "much ado about nothing."

In testimony, Dandar said he has never asked anyone to lie, nor has he done anything inappropriate with the money Minton gave him, as was insinuated during Friday's hearing. Later, Dandar said in an interview that Minton's testimony felt like "your father killing you."

"This man I adore, he was a saint," Dandar said. "It's like stabbing me in the heart. I'm just sitting there going, 'What did they do to you?' "

That question was foremost on many minds Friday: What prompted Minton to come forward with his statements?

In his testimony, Minton said he'd just had enough of the lies and under the advice of his attorney wanted to recant his false statements. Dandar, he said, had asked him to find a way to donate money to the case that could not be traced back to Minton's accounts.

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