Flint, Michigan

5 Scientologists sent to prison by federal judge

December 7, 1979

WASHINGTON (AP) - Five Church of Scientology leaders are heading for prison for conspiring to steal government documents, infiltrate federal agencies and kidnap a church official who decided to help expose the crimes.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey sentenced the church leaders to either four or five-year prison terms and fined each $10,000 Thursday. He said the punishment should be "a deterrent to others."

Four other church leaders and operatives were scheduled for sentencing today.

All were named in a 28-count indictment that was trimmed to a single count against each defendant under a plea agreement.

All the defendants sentenced Thursday - including Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of church founder L. Ron Hubbard - said they were sorry for their crimes. One, Henning Heldt, said the church leaders were reacting to government attempts to "destroy their religion and make a mockery of their beliefs."

Each expression of remorse was countered by an angry denunciation of church officials by Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Banoun, who has worked on the case for 2 1/2 years.

When a defendant asked for a reduced jail term and the opportunity to do community service work instead, Banoun noted that a blackjack, lock-picking equipment and bugging devices were found in the Scientologist's office.

"What is the example that Mr. (Gregory) Willardson can set for young people he wants to help?" the prosecutor asked.

Banoun told Richey the Scientologists' crimes went further than the conspiracy against the government and the temporary kidnapping of Michael Meisner, who became the government's chief witness.

"It was not only the government they were after. It was anyone that was critical of them," Banoun said.

The conspiracy included stealing documents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Attorney's office; bugging an IRS meeting about the church's tax-exempt status and planting spies at the IRS and the Justice Department.

Church documents released by the court show that Scientology leaders also plotted to infiltrate law firms, newspapers and medical organizations that were critical of the church.

Richey told the defendants who asked him for public service work that prison terms were needed in the "interest of society and justice." he told one defendant that "the court is not fully convinced" of his remorse and said to another: "You're too intelligent to have not known better. Your conduct cannot be condoned and to do otherwise would be to make a mockery of our system of justice."

Sentenced to four years in prison and $10,000 fines were Heldt, Willardson, Duke Snider and Richard Weigand. Richey ordered each of them to begin serving their terms immediately, refusing their requests for bail pending appeals of the convictions.

He gave Mrs. Hubbard a five-year term and a $10,000 fine, but also told prison officials to interview her and report back in three months with their recommendations for length of sentence. The judge held out the possibility that the sentence would be reduced after the report is completed.

Richey also gave Mrs. Hubbard 10 days to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals to release her on bail while she appeals the guilty verdict.