Federal prosecutors yesterday urged a U.S. District judge to impose maximum criminal penalties on members of the Church of Scientology for their roles in a massive conspiracy to infiltrate and burglarize government offices.
In a 70-page, harshly worded memorandum, the prosecutors contend that the defendants "brazen and persistent" acts against the government were only a "mirror aspect" of wider activities that included smear campaigns, spying and theft directed at public and private individuals critical of the church.
"No building, office desk, or file was safe from their snooping and prying. No individual or organization was free from their despicable conspiratorial minds," the government said in the memorandum filed with the court.
"The tools of their trade were miniature transmitters, lock picks, secret codes, forged credentials and any other device they found necessary to carry out their conspiratorial schemes," the memorandum said.
Nine church members, including Mary Sue Hubbard, the wife of church founder L. Ron Hubbard, are scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by Judge Charles R. Richey.
Seven of the defendants, including Hubbard, were found guilty by Richey of conspiracy to obstruct justice and an eighth was found guilty of conspiring to steal government documents. Those defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in jail, a $10,000 fine or both.
The ninth defendant, found guilty of a minor theft count, could be sentenced to one year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both.
The nine were found guilty by Richey under an unusual agreement in which they stipulate to government evident, but reserve the right to appeal certain legal issues.
The church has maintained that any infiltration of government offices was taken in response to three decades of government harassment of the church, which they say began soon after it was founded.
Yesterday, however, the government contended in court papers that the church's own documents show that it's covert activities extended well beyond the government, to organizations, writers, law firms and private citizens critical of the church. Although that information was not specifically covered in the stipulation of evidence, the prosecutors nevertheless urged Richey to consider it at sentencing.
Those activities, disclosed in internal church documents seized in a 1977 FBI search in Los Angeles, and corroborated by some participants, establish "beyond question" that the defendants considered themselves "above the law," the government contended in the court papers filed yesterday.
Thousands of pages of documents, released by Richey last month, disclosed that church operatives infiltrated offices of the American Medical Association, the Council of Better Business Bureaus and various mental health organizations.
The government papers yesterday revealed that Michael Meisner, once a high-ranking church official, was the source dubbed by the press as "Sore Throat" who, in 1975, leaked internal AMA documents obtained by church agents at AMA offices in Washington and Chicago. Meisner is the government's key witness in the case.
According to the government's filings, in 1976 two scientologists entered the Washington law offices of Sidley & Austin, which represented the AMA, after working hours and after a 90-minute search located AMA files and copied them.
At least three burglaries -- ordered by one of the defendants -- occurred in 1976 at the Washington firm of Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, which represented a major Florida newspaper in a lawsuit brought against it by the church, the government said. Documents outlining the firm's defense strategy were taken each time, photocopied and returned, the government said.
The government's memorandum also contends that in 1975, a man identified as Charles Judge worked as a security guard at The Washington Post and provided the church's Washington office with research material from Post files. Judge's placement at the Post was "approved" by one of the defendants, the government said. Judge, who now works in the newspaper's advertising services department, could not be reached for comment late yesterday.
Phillip Hirschkop, an attorney who represents two of the defendants, said yesterday that defense lawyers will ask Richey to allow their clients to participate in court-ordered community service programs, in lieu of prison terms.
In addition to Mary Sue Hubbard, the eight other defendants are Henning Heldt, Duke Snider, Greg Willardson, Richard Weigand, Mitchell Hermann, Cindy Raymond, Gerald Bennett Wolfe and Sharon Thomas. All the defendants live in California, Hirschkop said.