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State attorney: Scientologists tried to infiltrate my office

Title: State attorney: Scientologists tried to infiltrate my office
Date: Wednesday, 7 May 1980
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Craig Roberton
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CLEARWATER — Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney James T. Russell said Tuesday that members of the Church of Scientology have attempted to infiltrate his office at least five times since 1976.

The alleged infiltration attempts failed because routine background checks on the job applicants revealed that hey were members of the Church of Scientology, Russell said.

Asked if it was legal to turn down job applicants solely because they are Scientologists, Russell said, "I don't know, but I'd like to fight a lawsuit over it." He added that he would not hire any Scientologist.

"I am not naive," Russell said.

Russell made the comments at a press conference following a court hearing in which Circuit Judge John S. Andrews found the church guardian Doug Sadwick in contempt of court for refusing to answer a question posed by investigators.

RUSSELL said the alleged infiltration included prospective secretaries and attorneys. He refused to identify any of the applicants, but acknowledged that former Clearwater attorney Merrell G. Vannier, accused in a civil lawsuit of being a Church of Scientology spy, did try to get a job with his office. Vannier could not be located for comment. Church spokesmen say they don't know anything about him.

Former Clearwater Mayor Gabriel Cazares and his wife Maggie claim in a $1.5-million lawsuit that Vannier, who represented the Cazareses in their legal battles with the church, was actually feeding confidential information about the their case back to church officials.

Russell said the most recent infiltration attempt occurred this year, but he would not elaborate.

He added that he believes "every law enforcement agency in Pinellas County has been subjected to infiltration or burglary by these people."

WHEN ASKED whether he denies that the Church of Scientology tried to infiltrate Russell's office, Scientology spokesman Milt Wolfe said, "For sure."

"I think he's seeing ghosts behind every bush," Wolfe said of Russell.

When told that Russell said Scientologists had tried to infiltrate or burglarize every police agency in Pinellas, Wolfe accused Russell of making statements "with no basis in fact."

Russell also shed more light on his office's interest in the apparently unrelated deaths of two Scientologists earlier this year. Asked if he suspects foul play in the deaths, Russell said, "Not necessarily."

There could be other things that contributed to the causes of death," Russell said, "and to the disappearance of things subsequent to the deaths."

IN JANUARY, a 51-year-old Swiss woman drowned in Clearwater Bay in an apparent suicide while visiting the church's Clearwater retreat at the Fort Harrison Hotel. In February, a 45-year old German man drowned in his bathtub in his room at the Fort Harrison. Police said at the time that there was no indication of foul play.

Russell said he is on the Church of Scientology's "enemies list." During Sadwick's contempt hearing, it was revealed that some of the questions being asked of the church official pertained to "surveillances" of Russell's personnel by church members.

Sadwick's attorney, William Plowman, claimed that if Russell's office feels it is a victim of the very criminal acts that it is investigating, than Russell should relinquish its probe to other authorities, a sentiment shared by Wolfe, who suggested that Russell should "appoint a special prosecutor for this so-called investigation."

RUSSELL LATER said Plowman's argument "doesn't make too much sense." If he or one of his assistants were defendants in a case, as opposed to victims, Russell said, then there would be a conflict of interest.

Judge Andrews agreed, saying it is up to Russell to decide if he faces a conflict and if so to inform the governor's office so that another prosecutor could be assigned to the case.

Andrews reminded Plowman that the hearing at hand was concerned only with Sadwick's refusal to answer a question in connection with Russell's wide-ranging criminal investigation of members of the church.

The question sought the identity of Sadwick's colleague in the church's information bureau. Sadwick is head of the bureau, believed to he responsible for plotting local harassment and infiltration campaigns in recent years.

Sadwick, 32, who has been in Clearwater only a month, cited his constitutional rights in refusing to answer. Andrews then found him in contempt, but delayed sentencing until next week.

Church officials have long argued that Russell's investigation is a political fishing expedition and an "inquisition" that violates members' rights to freedom of religion as well as confidential information gained in minister-parishioner counseling sessions.