Sunday, 6 March 2011

18 Daniel Montalvo's Lawsuits


A former Sea Org member is suing Scientology: recruited as a minor, deprived of a proper education and exploited as child labour, he also lost part of a finger in a workplace accident.

Another former Scientologist is suing the movement, saying he was abandoned into their care as a five-year-old, worked minimum 40-hour weeks from age 12 – and at 16 lost part of his right index finger in a workplace accident.

Ecuador-born Daniel Montalvo is also suing his Scientologist parents for having left him in Scientology’s care, thus depriving him of a proper education and allowing him to be exploited as cheap labour while still a minor.

Two lawsuits have been filed on Montalvo’s behalf by Christopher “Kit” Winter of the Dykema Gossett law firm.

“Intentionally deprived of the basic life skills needed to permit him to become a functioning adult member of society, Daniel now comes before this Court a nineteen year old man with a functioning eighth grade education, without assets, without a resumé despite having labored for hundreds of hours per week over the past five years…” says the complaint.

An eighth-grade education is equivalent to that of a 13-year-old.

“Every adult in Daniel’s childhood failed him…,” says Winter, alleging negligence and false imprisonment.

The second lawsuit, filed against Scientology’s Bridge Publications, alleges negligence over the accident that cost Montalvo part of his finger.

And among the defendants named in the lawsuit is long-term Scientologist Kendrick Moxon, one of the movement’s own lawyers, who dealt with Montalvo after he quit the movement.

Moxon is accused of false imprisonment for having allegedly lured Montalvo back to Los Angeles under false pretences only for the police to arrest him on theft charges.

Signing up at six years old

In 1996 or thereabouts, Montalvo’s parents joined the Sea Organization, Scientology’s elite cadre, says the first complaint.

“Sea Org members adopt a paramilitary lifestyle in which they wear navy-style uniforms and hold ranks such as captain, lieutenant and ensign.”

Because of a Sea Org policy prohibiting members from raising children, they handed their five-years-old son over to the Cadet Org, the children’s equivalent of the Sea Org, the lawsuit adds.

From that point on, Montalvo was either in the care of the Sea Org, Canyon Oaks – a Scientology school in California – or the Church of Scientology International (CSI). CSI and Canyons are defendants in the case.

Montalvo was only six years old when he was first made to sign the billion-year contract, in which Scientologists swear to serve the Sea Org for this lifetime and countless future lives.

Aged 12, he graduated from the Cadet Org to the Sea Org, signing another billion-year contract, living in the SO’s “communal barracks-style housing” and eating in “mess halls”, under the group’s constant control and supervision.

“While Daniel was in the Sea Org, except under extremely limited circumstances, he was specifically prohibited from accessing news media, Internet, non-Scientology bookstores, and other sources of information not controlled by the Sea Org,” says the lawsuit.

California law, where the cases were filed, requires children to receive a full-time education until 18, when they become adults.

Yet from the time he entered the Sea Org – at age 12 – to when he left in September 2010, age 19, Montalvo was required to work 40 hours or more a week, “often working in excess of 100 hours per week, at a pay rate ranging from $35.00 to $50.00 per week.”[1]

And once in the Sea Org, he only attended school one day a week, his work schedule permitting “and if he chose to do so rather than having precious ‘free’ (i.e. not working) time.

“To the extent that Daniel’s teachers attempted to enforce school attendance requirements, they were generally overruled by Daniel’s Sea Org superiors.” And his parents were fully aware of the situation, the complaint adds.

Accident and cover-up

In May 2006, he moved from Clearwater, Florida to Los Angeles, California, where he remained as part of the Sea Org until September 2010.

From the age of 15 he was involved in construction work, operating heavy equipment such as scissor lifts and sometimes working for days without sleep. During this period he was paid just $25.00 a week.

Later in 2006, he was “permitted, but not required” to attend the Canyon Oaks Scientology school for seven hours a week. But by now he was working a minimum 40-hour week, (now for $35).

It was while working for the Scientology’s Bridge Publications in Commerce, California, that Montalvo lost his finger, in the autumn of 2007.

During this period, he was working 12-hour days and riding fork-lift trucks and using dangerous equipment unsupervised including a “notching” machine with a guillotine blade.

“On Sunday, January 20, 2008 at about 7:00 p.m., Daniel tried to clear a paper jam in the machine and accidentally pushed the foot pedal, which brought the blade down, cutting off his right index finger between the top and middle knuckle.”

His superiors did not call an ambulance but drove him to a clinic and from there to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. A Sea Org agent told him to tell the doctor he had been working at Bridge as a volunteer. He told specifically him not to mention any connection with Scientology.

Two days after his finger was amputed, Montalvo was ordered back to work.

He received no information regarding worker’s compensation and so far as he is aware no accident report was filed, says the complaint. He was paid no compensation and so far as he knows Bridge Publications never paid his hospital bills.

Montalvo was 16 years old at the time of the accident: yet federal labour laws prohibit minors from operating machines such as the one that cost him his finger, says the complaint.

Punishment drills

Montalvo continued to work for Bridge Publications and by February 2008 had been posted to a sales job there.

He was still only allowed to go to school just a few times a week for a few hours only: but most of his time was spent working at Bridge, sometimes for as much as 100 hours a week. Often, he was working every day of the week, says the complaint.

And he and his fellow workers were forbidden to leave work until they had met specific targets.

If they did not come up to scratch, they would be ordered to do push-ups or run laps around the building while wearing jackets and ties in the Los Angeles summer. Another punishments was being sent to clean the grease traps in the cafeteria.

“For approximately a two-month period in 2009, Daneil and his team were required to work past midnight daily, then awakened at 6:00 a.m. and ordered to do push ups, dig ditches, and do close-order drilling and call-and-response routines for hours before work.

“Sometimes Daniel and his team would work essentially around the clock for days or weeks at a time, being permitted a few hours to sleep,” the complaint adds.

In September 2010, when he was 19, Montalvo decided to quit Scientology.

He took just a single satchel of possessions when he left, including information stored on five hard drives that he believed he needed to protect himself from the movement – to support his claims against Scientology. He returned the hard drives shortly after he left.

He went to Clearwater, Florida, where he still had family.

False imprisonment

The following month he tried to contact his mother at the Church of Scientology International but was put through to Scientologist and lawyer Kendrick Moxon.

Moxon made it clear to Montalvo that he could only deal with him. He urged him to return to Los Angeles to discuss the hard drives he had taken.

Moxon promised him a hotel room, support from CSI or the Sea Org “and that they would ‘work it all out’ or words to that effect,” says the complaint.

Although his grandmother and aunt initially planned to accompany Montalvo back to LA to look out for him, CSI told them not to come, assuring them that they would take care of him.

When he did travel back, a CSI representative – part of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) – met him at the airport and took him to the offices of their lawyers, where he was questioned regarding the hard drives before being delivered him to a local sheriff’s office.

Then the sheriff’s deputy asked him where he would be staying.

“Daniel asked the OSA agent for the name of his hotel, whereupon the OSA agent told him he was ‘on his own’,” says the complaint.

Because Daniel could not provide a local address he was arrested and charged with felony grand theft based on what Scientology officials had told the sheriff’s office about the hard drives.

It is on the basis of this incident that the complaint accuses Moxon of false imprisonment.

The lawsuit further alleges that during his time in the Sea Org, Montalvo did not receive regular medical or dental check-ups or proper treatment for a serious back condition.

When he left the movement, says the complaint, his lack of education had left him ignorant of even simplest details of how the United States and its system of government worked.

His isolation from the outside world had been so complete that when he did emerge from Scientology he lacked basic life skills, such as how credit cards worked.

Corroborating accounts

This lawsuit appears to have been structured so as to render irrelevant any debate over Scientology’s religious status – and any exemptions that that status might imply.

Lawsuits filed by California attorney Barry Van Sickle on behalf of former Sea Org members Marc and Claire Headley and others, have so far fallen foul of Scientology’s religious defence.

Last August, a federal judge threw out the cases brought by the Headleys alleging labour law violations, human trafficking and forced abortions.

The court accepted Scientology’s defence that as a recognised religion they were exempt from this kind of employment law attack. But those cases are on appeal.

Like the previous lawsuits, Montalvo’s experience finds echoes in the accounts of other former Sea Org members.

Montalvo’s lack of access to outside news media, the Internet and other non-Scientology sources of information is an explicit part of Sea Org policy known as “external influences”.

Here is how former Sea Org member Mike Henderson explains it.

There is a course you do when entering the Sea Org called “External Influences” which explains to you:
  • that you will not need your former friends any longer, that the Sea Org shipmates will be your friends now;
  • that personal cell phone ownership is forbidden;
  • that internet use is forbidden;
  • that TV ownership is only allowed if it is locked up in a security guard closet, to be checked out to you for DVD watching if you have approved time off as a reward for your up production (maybe 2 hrs a week, if you're lucky);
You are not allowed to fraternize with public Scientologists, or visit them at their houses, or go shopping with them. You cannot accept a ride in their cars…

It’s a bleak life, believe me.[2]

Former Sea Org members who grew up in Scientology have also spoken at length about the lack of a proper education and the long hours worked.

A lawsuit filed November 2009 by John Lindstein alleges that he was doing manual labour from the age of eight, was working 15-hour days at the age of 10 and from the age of 12 received no formal education. It targets Scientology’s current leader David Miscavige.[3]

Maureen Bolstad had recounted how she was recruited at just 16, her brother at the age of 14 to the Sea Org. She says Scientology reneged on a promise to let her finish her high school education.

And like Montalvo, Bolstad and others have talked about the punitive use of running laps.[4]

Jeff Hawkins remembers having been forced to run two miles in the blazing California heat, in street shoes. His feet were so badly blistered they became infected and he was laid up for a week with blood poisoning.

Another Sea Org veteran recalls seeing people running in the summer heat at the Int Base, Hemet, California. “One person was even being pushed around the pole in a wheelchair. They were all in uniform and that was in the middle of July, in the middle of the afternoon when it was the hottest.”[5]

Bolstad, Marc Headley, Lindstein, Hawkins and others also tell of working long hours and the sleep deprivation they suffered while in the Sea Org.[6]

Bolstad says that being driven to extremes of fatigue contributed to her own workplace accident in which a cable went into her left eye.

Despite a high temperature, a splitting headache and having to wear an eye patch, she was put back to work the following day, she said. She subsequently lost the 20/20 vision she had had in that eye.[7]

And Aaron Saxton’s letter to Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, submitted as evidence to a Senate inquiry, details the contempt for health and safety in the Sea Org, the lack of proper medical cover – and other workplace accidents.[8]
Both the Montalvo lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles, California on Friday, March 4 – a day before Montalvo turned 20.

Marty Rathbun, a former senior Scientology executive turned critic of the Miscavige regime, has posted both complaints at his website.

He says he and Mike Rinder, another former senior Scientology executive, have briefed Winter, Montalvo’s attorney, on what he can expect from Scientology.

Before he fell foul of Miscavige, Rinder ran Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) – essentially the movement’s dirty tricks department – for years.

So Winter should be in no doubt as to what he is up against.
For a legal analysis of elements of the complaints, see lawyer Scott Pilutik's posting to the Why We Protest message board here.

[1] Separately, Montalvo is pursuing a claim for back pay and regarding the hours worked with California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, says the lawsuit.
[2] Henderson’s correspondence with author. See also External Influences, Jeff Hawkins’ recent post on the subject at his blog, Leaving Scientology.
[3] See John Lindstein’s lawsuit, elsewhere on this site.
[4] See Maureen Bolstad’s Story: Life at Flag elsewhere on this site.
[5] See Abuse in the Sea Org elsewhere on this site.
[7] See Maureen Bolstad’s Story: Disconnection, elsewhere on this site.
[8] See Aaron Saxton’s Letter: Parts I and II, elsewhere on this site.