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Bankrupt Anti-Cult Group Gets Reprieve

THE WASHINGTON POST

The man whose lawsuit has pushed the Cult Awareness Network into bankruptcy has done an about-face and is no longer moving toward putting the group out of business.

He has abruptly dismissed his lawyer, a prominent member of the Church of Scientology, the anti-cult group’s nemesis, and hired an attorney who has battled the church in the past.

The sudden shift by Jason Scott, 24, has raised the possibility that the Cult Awareness Network will be able to emerge from bankruptcy and resume its work. The group is a once-influential clearinghouse that for two decades has counseled families and others to beware of new and unconventional religions.

CAN declared bankruptcy after Scott won a $1.8-million lawsuit against the group. His previous attorney, Kendrick Moxon, often represents the Church of Scientology. By contrast, Scott’s new lawyer, Graham Berry, has assisted CAN members in the past. Berry said he will seek a cash settlement that will let CAN keep its files and return to its original mission.

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The CAN name, logo and telephone number were sold in bankruptcy court last month to a member of the Church of Scientology, whose members are also trying to buy the files that CAN kept on Scientology and other groups.

CAN’s hotline in Chicago, dormant for six months, is operating again. The people answering say CAN has been “taken over” by “a new corporation,” but “we would be happy to help you with information about religious groups you have an interest in,” said Steven L. Hayes, the Los Angeles attorney and Scientologist who bought the rights to use CAN’s phone number. CAN has filed an appeal objecting to the sale of its name and phone.

Scott, of Bellevue, Wash., was 18 when he was kidnapped and held for five days in 1991 by a “deprogrammer” and two assistants in an attempt to persuade him to renounce his loyalty to the United Pentecostal Church International.

“Jason Scott has no interest in being part of Scientology’s campaign against the Cult Awareness Network,” said Berry. “His only concern is to be compensated for what happened to him.”

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Moxon has filed motions in two states alleging that Scott has been coerced by CAN supporters to switch attorneys and settle for far less than he won in court.

The legal battle began when Scott successfully sued the deprogrammers and CAN in Seattle. Scott’s mother had hired the deprogrammer, Rick Ross, after a referral by a CAN volunteer.

A jury awarded Scott more than $5 million in October 1995; CAN owed Scott as much as $1.8 million; Ross owed him as much as $3.4 million. The attorney who represented Scott in the lawsuit was Moxon, a longtime Scientologist prominent in the church. For many years the Church of Scientology has denounced CAN and the activities of deprogrammers.

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Scott later left the Pentecostal church of his own accord. He has been unemployed lately, and Moxon said Scott “hasn’t collected anything” because both CAN and Ross declared bankruptcy.

Scott has decided to reconcile with his mother and settle with Ross, according to the confidential settlement agreement.

Berry said he wants to negotiate a settlement in which CAN would provide Scott with “some immediate money and further installments over a period of time” and allow CAN to continue operating in order to “generate” funds to pay Scott.


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