Lawsuit alleges abuses at Golden Era

Scientology official denies conditions at compound described in the suit.

The Valley Chronicle, California/December 18, 2009

A lawsuit seeking unspecified back wages describes the Scientology compound outside San Jacinto as a virtual prison camp in which workers are forced to put in long hours in exchange for little pay, to give up their children to a boarding school where they are taught only about Scientology, and to give up their right to communicate with those on the outside.

Scientology spokeswoman Catherine Fraser declined an interview to discuss the allegations and asked for a list of questions in writing. She declined to answer questions about the lawsuit, saying she would answer only general questions about living conditions at Golden Era Productions.

Fraser said Scientology officials could not answer the other questions because they had not been served with the suit.

Nonetheless, she said in a written response: "With regards to your other outrageous questions about our staff, they are categorically denied."

Barry Van Sickle, a Roseville attorney representing John Lindstein, acknowledged notice has not been served on officials at Gold Base, as the San Jacinto Scientology compound is known in some circles, but he has spoken repeatedly with officials and their attorneys.

Van Sickle said he has told the Scientology lawyers he plans to turn the complaint into a class action to represent not only Lindstein, but other former workers at the compound.

In a complaint filed with the California Superior Court in Los Angeles, Van Sickle accuses Scientology officials of human trafficking, violations of wage and hour laws, and illegal business practices primarily regarding labor issues.

In the suit, Lindstein alleges that he was separated from his parents when he was 8 years old and sent to a boarding school, where he was denied a general education and given books by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to read.

Fraser said the school was closed 10 years ago when there were no more children of Scientologists to educate.

She said her own son attended the school and she knows he was doing well "because I saw him and he looked great."

He is now grown and working overseas, she said.

"The children who attended this school performed physical chores like most other children, but were never forced to engage in any manual labor that was either unsafe or prohibited by law," said Fraser in her written response.

Lindstein alleges that, as a minor, he was put to work at physical labor, including construction jobs, for long hours, sometimes so long that he was deprived of sleep.

When he was older, he was assigned to the movie production studio the Scientologists operate there and forced to work long days, sometimes 24 hours at a time, transferring L. Ron Hubbard material from film to digital disks, according to the lawsuit.

"This was tedious frame-by-frame work that would normally cost more than $400,000 per movie to accomplish at industry rates," says the court complaint. "Plaintiff and his crew of five did this for only $50 per week, thus saving defendants thousands of dollars."

"Golden Era Productions does not use child labor and complies with all labor laws," Fraser said in her written response. "The youngest Sea Org member currently is 26 years old."

The Sea Org, short for Sea Organization, is the Church of Scientology’s religious order.

Lindstein contends in his lawsuit that he was virtually imprisoned at the San Jacinto compound, unable to leave without permission.

His mail was censored, he contends.

Fraser denied anyone is held at the compound against their will. Another Scientology representative, Muriel Dufresne, said those living at the compound are not denied contact with the outside world.

On the other hand, said Dufresne, she would not allow a reporter from The Valley Chronicle access to the compound or allow a reporter to talk with the people living and working there without interference.

"Golden Era does not permit unsupervised tours of its facilities," said Fraser in her written response to questions about the lawsuit. "I don’t know of any religious order that would permit non members, let alone a reporter, to wander the property unsupervised. I would be happy to provide a tour at a mutually convenient time."

Both Dufresne and Fraser conceded that the compound is enclosed by fences, parts of which have sharp metal prongs that appeared to be intended to wound anyone trying to get over the fences.

Fraser said the brand name of the devices is Ultra Barrier.

They are not installed on all the fences.

Fraser said they are mostly on the back portion of the 500 acres to prevent people and animals from intruding.

A location accessible by public roads has the Ultra Barrier mounted on the inside of the fence, however.

The compound’s perimeter is also monitored by cameras, lights, and what appear to be motion or sound detectors mounted on the fence posts.

Though Fraser would not discuss the possible presence of motion or sound detectors, Lindstein’s lawsuit said the sensors are intended to detect attempts to leave the compound without permission.

Anyone caught trying to leave, says the suit, is subjected to emotional and physical harassment, including corporal punishment.

Fraser conceded Scientologists use cameras to monitor the perimeter, as well as the public property of Gilman Springs Road, which bisects the compound and connects Highway 60 and Lamb Canyon with State Street just north of San Jacinto.

"If you had visited any of the major (movie) studios in Los Angeles, you would have seen that they resemble fortresses, with thick high walls and massive gates," Fraser wrote. "This look would not integrate well with the rest of the valley. We do, however have the same security concerns as do those studios ..."

Scientologists, citing safety concerns, are trying to get Gilman Springs Road closed so they can end public use.

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