How Scientology got to Bob Minton

St. Petersburg Times/November 1, 2009

By Thomas C. Tobin and Joe Childs

Robert S. Minton seemed to surface out of nowhere in late 1997. • A retired investment banker and millionaire from New England, he began to show up at anti-Scientology demonstrations in Boston and Clearwater. He gave millions to groups critical of the church. • He became the money man behind a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Lisa McPherson, whose unexplained death at Scientology's Clearwater mecca threw the church into crisis. • Minton quickly became the Church of Scientology's No. 1 nemesis. • "I felt that the little guys needed some help," he once said. "I'm putting my money where my mouth is."

Much of the church's response to Minton has been documented — the legal onslaught, the skirmishes that sought to bait him, get him in trouble and torpedo his credibility.

Twice he was arrested and charged after minor scuffles with Scientologists while picketing church properties. Once, he fired a shotgun into the air after Scientologists appeared at his New Hampshire farm.

Early on, the church dispatched private investigators to talk to his son, his brother, his wife's family in England, his elderly mother in Florida.

Still, Minton wouldn't go away.

Now former church officials Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder reveal the other tactics they used.

Shortly after Minton burst onto the scene, the pair arranged two meetings with the million­aire to introduce themselves and glean his motives. Both times they brought a tool worthy of James Bond. They set it on the table.

"It was a black briefcase with a small pinhole camera hole and a small mic hole," Rathbun said. "And so we recorded the entire thing without the guy's knowledge."

This and other accounts illustrate how far Scientology was willing to go to stop Minton, who, in a stunning reversal five years later, ended up testifying in court on the church's behalf.

That part of the story begins with David Lubow, the same private investigator the church used just a few years earlier to infiltrate a group of Scientologists in Las Vegas.

Rathbun and Rinder said they turned to Lubow in the late 1990s to look into Minton's financial affairs overseas. Lubow deployed to the capitals of Europe, dropping aliases and recruiting helpers to make Minton think he was being investigated by multiple agents, Rathbun said.

"He was very elaborate," Rathbun said of Lubow. "He's actually very good at what he does.''

Rinder said the operation fit with the directives of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote that if a person accuses you of something, they themselves are guilty of those crimes.

"Minton was accusing the church of having bought off the IRS and gained false tax-exempt status," Rinder said. "So, the focus was: Find his financial crimes.''

In 2001, Lubow returned from overseas with loads of information, including details on an alleged money-laundering scheme involving Minton and a Nigerian dictator that was never proved. Lubow wanted direction.

He said he had been dealing with personnel at OSA, the Office of Special Affairs, headed at the time by Rinder. The office served as the church's legal, intelligence and public affairs arm, but the people under Rinder didn't have the authority to give Lubow the freedom he needed.

Rinder and Rathbun corrected that problem, bringing Lubow to Clearwater for a meeting. They said they went to the parking lot of a bank on Cleveland Street, not wanting to risk someone spotting him entering a Scientology building. The three convened for hours in a car.

"We got the guy focused like a laser beam," Rathbun said.

Rinder said he told Lubow not to take orders from anyone else at OSA and to report only to Rathbun and him.

"Here is your order," Rinder said he told the PI. "Get the goods on Minton to shut him the f--- up."

By the spring of 2002, Scientology had painted Minton into a corner.

On the legal front, the church pulled Minton into its efforts to have the lawsuit by McPherson's family dismissed.

During a memorable court hearing on April 19, 2002, Minton took the stand and made the jaw-dropping statement that the plaintiff's attorney, Ken Dandar, was a "lying thief" who was "only in this for money."

Dandar had considered Minton a strong ally for years. He couldn't believe it.

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

Also, the millionaire now had a legal problem. He previously testified under oath that he had given $1 million or $1.3 million to the McPherson family's legal effort. Now he said in an affidavit it was $2 million.

The judge in the case, Susan Schaeffer, made noises about perjury and wondered aloud if someone should read Minton his rights.

What had gone on behind the scenes to change Minton's stripes?

Rathbun and Rinder told how it was done.

In the weeks before Minton's public turnaround, they say the church met with him some 20 times to discuss dropping the McPherson case and compensating Scientology. Church officials said Minton had caused them to spend $28 million to defend against his efforts.

At one of the meetings, Rinder said, he presented Minton with what Lubow had found about the millionaire's finances.

"There were things that, really, he was worried about and had caused problems for him in the investigation that we had done," Rinder said, declining to give more detail. "I'm just going to leave it at that."

Dandar said he can't talk about the case, citing the terms of the 2004 settlement agreement.

But he said in 2002 that Minton called him in a panic after one of his meetings with the church. Minton begged him to drop the lawsuit, Dandar said at the time.

At one of the private meetings, Rinder issued an ultimatum, saying the church knew he had lied under oath. He demanded that Minton come clean.

"If you are not willing to tell the truth, we are wasting our time and we'll just keep going after you," Rinder said he told Minton.

"And what we were going after him on was where he got and had earned his money.''

Later, in Schaeffer's courtroom, Minton said he lied, at Dandar's direction. In a subsequent interview, he said he feared being sent to jail for perjury.

Dandar has denied Minton's accusation and charged that the perjury scare was a charade. The church had something serious on Minton, he said at the time.

"Here's a man who put in six years and $10 million and all of a sudden he's having an about-face? All you have to do is apply common sense."

Minton could not be reached for comment.

He had become an anti-Scientology crusader in the mid 1990s after learning about the church's efforts to keep its materials from being publicized on the Internet. The more he read, he said in interviews, the more he became concerned about Scientology practices that, to him, seemed to violate its members' civil and human rights.

But after years spent on anti-Scientology causes, he left the public stage as quickly as he had arrived, thoroughly subdued.

When you fought Scientology, Minton once said, "It was like the Terminator was after you."

Rinder, who once described Minton's actions as "despicable and disgusting," said he now considers him a friend.

Asked to comment about the church's use of Lubow to investigate Minton, Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis did not address the case specifically but talked about the church's use of private investigators in general. He said in a statement that the church doesn't hire PIs, its lawyers do, and they operate within legal and ethical bounds.

If Rinder and Rathbun abused anyone, "they are the ones to blame," Davis wrote. "Other church officials were not involved in their duties."

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