Religion in Society

Daniel Montalvo Sues Scientology; Parents Gave Church Custody

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LOS ANGELES -- A 19-year-old man claims his Scientologist parents "ceded custody" of him at the age of 5 to the controversial church, which then entered into a "billion year contract" with him as a minor, forced him to work hundreds of hours a week at a Scientology school for as little $35, denied him an education, and forced him back to work just two days after he lost a finger in a work accident.

The first of Daniel Montalvo's two complaints in Superior Court names as defendants: the Church of Scientology International, the Scientology leadership group Sea Organization to which his parents allegedly belong, the Church of Scientology Western United States dba Canyon Oaks Ranch School, Montalvo's parents and three other people.

Montalvo's second complaint is against Bridge Publications, an L.A.-based bookbinder that manufactured the machine that cut off his right index finger as he worked.

Montalvo was born in Ecuador and given to "'the Cadet Org,' a children's corps of the Sea Org," when he was 5, according to the complaint. Sea Org, he claims, prohibits members from raising their own children.

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"At the age of six, Daniel was first made to sign a purported 'billion year contract' binding him to the Sea Org," the complaint states. "At the age of 12, Daniel joined the Sea Org, signing a second purported billion year contract."

While working for Sea Org, Montalvo says he lived in the group's "communal barracks-style housing."

He was denied access to news, to the Internet and to non-Scientology bookstores, and was "required to work 40 or more hours per week, often working in excess of 100 hours per week, at a pay rate ranging from $35 to $50 per week," he claims.

While working him to the bone, Sea Org kept him out the classroom with its school attendance policy, which permitted him to attend school only "for approximately one day a week, if he chose to," he says.

Montalvo says Sea Org gave him dangerous jobs using heavy equipment and machinery for which he was not qualified. 

"Daniel, then 15 years old, operated scissor lifts and other heavy equipment, and at times was required to work continuously for days without sleep," he says.

Montalvo says he was forced to work for the American Saint Hill Organization, an alter ego of Sea Org, which assigned him to work for Bridge Publications. Bridge publishes Scientology hero L. Ron Hubbard's "nonfiction" works. 

While working on the Bridge Publications assignment, Montalvo says, he was required to use a "notching" machine, which uses a "guillotine blade" to cut notches into the sides of books. 

He was trying to clear a paper jam when he "accidentally pushed the foot pedal, which brought the blade down, cutting off his right index finger between the top and middle knuckle."

He claims a Sea Org agent drove him to the hospital, where he was instructed to say that he was "working as a volunteer at a publishing facility" and to make no mention of his connection to Scientology. 

"Two days after the amputation of his finger, Daniel was ordered to report back to work by his Sea Org Officer. Daniel did not receive any information regarding Worker's Compensation, and to the best of his knowledge no accident report was filed. Daniel was not given any compensation for the loss of his finger and, on information and belief, Bridge never paid the hospital bills," his complaint states.

Daniel says he was later moved to a sales position and was forced to do push-ups and dig ditches while wearing a jacket and tie in the summer.

 Montalvo left the organization when he turned 18, with only an eighth-grade education, no assets and no way to support himself, he says. He says he had been denied regular medical check-ups and dental exams. 

Montalvo says the Church summoned him back to Los Angeles to face allegations that he had taken computer hard drives from the Church. It promised to put him up in a hotel, but reneges and had him arrested, he says. 

"[B]ased on the accusations of Bridge and the Church [he was] charged with felony grand theft in connection with the five hard drives, which were in fact valued at far less than the minimum required to support a charge of felony grand theft," he says in his complaint.

Defendants in the complaint against the church include Canyon Oaks School Headmaster Jesse Reiss, Canyon Oaks teacher Shannon Barnes, Sea Org "agent" Kendrick Moxon, and his own parents Luis Montalvo and Veronica Biggs, both of Los Angeles. 

He seeks punitive damages for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, false imprisonment and violations of child labor laws. He is represented by Christopher Winter with Dykema Gossett.

From Courthouse News