Tampa Tribune Pinellas North, May 1 1991

"Church settles lawsuit:Settlement terms not disclosed" by Pat Dunnigan

CLEARWATER - The Church of Scientology has settled its lawsuit with a Michigan man who said church representatives pressured him into paying more than $13,000 for services, church attorney Paul B.Johnson said Tuesday.

Mark Lweandowski said in the lawsuit that church representatives interrogated him for more than four hours in December 1989 and wouldn't let him leave until he agreed to pay $2,000 for a lifetime church membership.

He was seeking to have that money - and subsequent payments of $6,000, $2,200 and $3,100 - returned. He claimed the money was obtained from him through "the use of fraud, duress and misrepresentation."

Johnson declined to discuss the allegations in the lawsuit and said he was prohibited by the settlement agreement from discussing its terms.

"This thing has been resolved... and that's really all I can tell you," Johnson said. "All sides are happy with it."

Barry Glenn, a Palm Harbor attorney who represented Lewandowski, said the settlement was strictly "monetary," but also said he could not discuss specifics. "Let's put it this way. It had a happy ending," he said.

Allegations such as those contained in the lawsuit are nothing new for the Church of Scientology, which has its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater's Fort Harrison Hotel. The church claims to lead its members to more fulfilling lives through an expensive system of counseling said to rid participants of past traumas buried in their psyches.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court in February, Lewandowski was promised "spiritual immortality" in exchange for his membership fee.

Church representatives also tried to take Lewandowski's credit card and allowed him to leave only after he signed several checks - supplied by the church - authorizing withdrawal of funds from his checking account, the lawsuit said.

Lewandowski notified the church shortly afterward that he didn't want to be a member and never received any church services, the lawsuit states.

Church officials haven't yet resolved a second lawsuit filed in February. In that suit, a mother is seeking to recover more than $28,000 paid in advance for church services by her son Julian, who died in September 1990.

Maria Echavarria's complaint, set for a hearing on May 21, seeks only to collect a refund for services her son did not receive and does not make allegations of coercion or fraud.

But Glenn, who is handling Echavarria's case as well, says that could change if she is unable to get the money she feels she is owned [sp].

"If not, we may very well amend our complaint to include other allegations," he said.

Two other lawsuits against the church of Scientology have been set for hearings this month, court records show.

In one, American TV& Appliance Rental is seeking more than $71,000 it claims to be owed for office furniture sold and delivered to the church in June 1990. A hearing on the church's motion to dismiss the complaint is scheduled for May 23.

A second collection lawsuit, filed last month by Aaron Rents, Inc. claims the church owes more than $48,000 for furniture rented under a number of contracts dating back to 1985. A hearing in the case is scheduled for May 28.

Church officials declined to comment Tuesday.

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