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Lawyer Says Scientologists Took Him for $200K

LOS ANGELES (CN) - An attorney sued the Church of Scientology, claiming it cajoled him into paying nearly $200,000 for counseling services he never used.

Vance Woodward sued the Church of Scientology and half a dozen affiliates and dbas, in Superior Court, alleging conversion and breach of contract.

Woodward, filing pro se, claims that when he was a church member he handed over all his savings and used all his available credit for church services, fearing physical threats or expulsion.

Woodward says he joined the church in Winnipeg, Canada in 1989, when he was 14.

In late 2007, he says, he sought psychological and spiritual services from the church in San Francisco and was offered one-on-one counseling in the form of "auditing," and courses based on the books of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

He claims that the Church of Scientology took thousands of dollars from him and other members in part by claiming that its practices bestow superhuman powers on its members.

Woodward claims the auditing exacerbated his already fragile state, and that the church made him believe that Scientology was the only thing that could save him.

Scientology "staff encouraged Vance to pay for and receive hundreds of hours of Scientology auditing, which either did nothing, provided only limited temporary relief or harmed Vance," his complaint states.

"Whenever auditing results were positive, SF [San Francisco] church staff would give credit to Hubbard and his alter ego, Scientology. Whenever auditing results were poor or damaging, SF church staff blamed Vance and accused him of failing to honestly participate."

If auditing made him feel more vulnerable or psychologically harmed, the church told Woodward to undergo more auditing "all at his own very great expense," the attorney says in the lawsuit.

Woodward says the church treats any member who questions the religion as a criminal. He claims the church encouraged him to disassociate himself from friends critical of the religion.

He claims he handed over all his money and maxed out his credit to pay for the services. Other members of the church withdrew from 401(k)s and retirement funds to pay for the services, he adds.

"Scientology staff repeatedly told Woodward that only Scientology could help the world and that, if Vance failed to immediately act, the entire Earth was at risk of destroying itself," the lawsuit states.

"(O)n multiple occasions, Vance was physically and psychologically manipulated into remaining in a small room with Scientology fund raisers including representatives of defendants SF Church, who hounded him for hundreds of thousands of dollars for more than six hours at a stretch, each time on a tandem and tag-team basis, each time until after 4:00 a.m.," Woodward says in the complaint.

Of the $600,000 he gave to the Church of Scientology and its corporations, Woodward says, $200,000 went to church causes, and $200,000 on courses that "were shoddy, and either did nothing or harmed" him.

Another $200,000 was advance payments for counseling services he never received, Woodward says.

He claims that when he handed over the money he was under the "nefarious psychological manipulation and abuse" of Scientology fund raisers, and "was under the deluded belief that Scientology provides the only path to spiritual or psychological betterment."

He claims the church has ignored multiple written requests for his $200,000 back.

Named as defendants are Church of Scientology International; Church of Scientology Western United States dba American Saint Hill Organization and dba Advanced Organization Los Angeles; Church of Scientology of San Francisco; and Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization dba Church of Scientology Flag Ship Service Organization.

Woodward seeks restitution, punitive damages and costs. He declined to comment for this story.

Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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