Anti-Cult Group Must Pay Award -- `Deprogramming' Case Upheld By Court; Sale Of Group's Name Creates Complication


Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling upholding a more than $1 million award against a national anti-cult group would seem a straightforward victory for a onetime local man.

Jason Scott was 18 in 1991 when he was taken from his mother's Bellevue home to an isolated beach house on the Washington coast for five days of religious "deprogramming." He sued the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), and the Supreme Court has now agreed that it must pay up.

But in the case of Cult Awareness Network vs. Scott, Jason Scott is no longer involved. CAN no longer owns its name, and most of the interested parties have nothing to do with Bellevue's Life Tabernacle Church, where it all began.

Scott's mother had belonged to the church, which is affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church, and had quit. She wanted her son to do the same, and when he didn't, she called a local CAN volunteer, who referred her to Arizona deprogrammer Rick Ross.

Ross and others were arrested and charged with unlawfully imprisoning Scott. He was tried and acquitted in 1994, and Scott then sued him, three other men and CAN. Scott hired lawyer Kendrick Moxon, who had litigated several cases against the anti-cult group and often represented the Church of Scientology. For years, the Scientologists had denounced CAN as an anti-religious hate group.

After a jury awarded Scott more than $5 million in October 1995, including the more than $1 million from CAN, the group declared bankruptcy. Ross, who was to pay much of that money, signed a settlement with Scott in 1996, entitling Scott to $5,000 and 200 hours of Ross' time as an intervention specialist. Ross said he and Scott are friends now, and Scott often visits him at home.

The people involved in the Supreme Court case still say they are in a group called CAN, but a Scientologist has bought legal rights to the name. The group that sprung from that purchase "espouses the exact opposite views of what the old CAN used to espouse," said Paul Lawrence, appellate attorney for the old group.

Many Scientologists belong to the new Cult Awareness Network, which issued a statement after yesterday's decision that the old network's "reign of terror is long over."

After Scott won his case against CAN, he dismissed Moxon and hired a lawyer who had worked with the previous group. He reconciled with his mother, and now lives near her in Northern Arizona. He has an ex-wife and children in the Seattle area, who still belong to the Bellevue church, Ross said.

Scott could not be contacted.

The old CAN had appealed the jury award, but lawyers say that before a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Scott sold the rights to the judgment to a California man named Gerald Beeny for about $25,000.

Who's Beeny? "Someone who believes in religious liberty," Moxon says.

Beeny would be the beneficiary of yesterday's ruling, but the old CAN "does not have the ability to function," Lawrence said, so whether money is available to pay the award is not clear.

Seattle Times Eastside bureau reporter Ian Ith contributed to this report.