A couple has sued the Church of Scientology for deceiving them to donate monies to the church.
The couple who are former members of the church claimed in a lawsuit that the church and its affiliates deceived members into donating millions of dollars to misrepresented causes.
Luis and Maria Garcia of Irvine, Calif., filed the complaint in federal court in Tampa, near the church's national headquarters in Clearwater.
The couple claims they were duped into giving more than $420,000 for a building campaign, disaster relief efforts and other Scientology causes, only to find the bulk of the money went to inflate the church coffers and line the pockets of its leader, David Miscavige.
"The church, under the leadership of David Miscavige, has strayed from its founding principles," the lawsuit claims, "and morphed into a secular enterprise whose primary purpose is taking people's money."
In an emailed statement, Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney said the church had not yet been served with the lawsuit, but challenged any contention that money was misappropriated.
"We understand from media inquiries this has something to do with fundraising and we can unequivocally state all funds solicited are used for the charitable and religious purposes for which they were donated," Harney said.
The Garcias were 28-year members of the church, rising to upper levels of Scientology. They left in November 2010 over their disenchantment with its direction under Miscavige, who has led the church since founder, L. Ron Hubbard's death in 1986.
The lawsuit names various trusts and nonprofits linked to Scientology as defendants and says they collectively engage in fraud, unfair and deceptive trade practices and breach of contract in their fundraising.
Attorney Theodore Babbitt of West Palm Beach, who is among those handling the suit, said it would be followed by other similar claims from former Scientologists.
Among the accusations made in the lawsuit is that the Garcias and others were repeatedly approached with urgent requests for funding of Scientology work around the globe, such as disaster relief or campaigns for causes such as ending child pornography.