The Church of Scientology has strayed from principle and devolved into a cash-hungry enterprise that misuses parishioner donations to protect itself from questions and to intimidate its own members, a California couple charged Wednesday.
The couple said in a federal lawsuit that the church had misused about $400,000 of their money, including donations meant for construction projects and for relief from natural disasters.
They also said that church donations had been used to finance a high-priced lifestyle for its leader, David Miscavige.
The lawsuit, filed in Tampa, Fla., by Luis and Rocio Garcia of Irvine, Calif., accuses the church of fraud and breach of contract.
The church said in a statement that it had not been served and could not comment on the lawsuit.
It added: “We can unequivocally state all funds solicited are used for the charitable and religious purposes for which they were donated.”
The Garcias were members of the church for 28 years before leaving in 2010, their lawyer Theodore Babbitt told NBC News.
The church uses “large, high-pressure fundraising drives” as a main source of revenue and has morphed into an organization “whose primary purpose is taking people’s money,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges that the church has used contributions to “stifle inquiries into the Church’s activities and finances, to intimidate members and ex-members” and “to finance the lavish lifestyle of Miscavige.”