Steven Fishman

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Steven Fishman (born 1957) is an American former Scientologist whose inclusion of Scientology's secret Operating Thetan levels in a court filing led to the first public confirmation by the Church of Scientology of its doctrines regarding Xenu and the Wall of Fire.

Fraud scheme[edit]

The origins of Fishman's dispute with the Church of Scientology lay in a fraud scheme he conducted from 1983 to 1988. Fishman joined dozens of class action lawsuits by presenting stock purchase confirmations he had stolen from his employer and forged. In this manner he made approximately one million dollars, as much as 30 percent of which he spent on Scientology materials and services.[1] Fishman was arrested in July 1988 and charged with several counts of fraud. The FBI also investigated the possibility of church involvement in the scheme.[2]

Fishman's attorney, Marc Nurik, had planned to use an insanity defense, offering false memory syndrome theorist Richard Ofshe and psychologist Margaret Singer as expert witnesses.[3] Fishman sat for a seven-part videotaped interview with Ofshe and Nurik. In the interview, he discussed in detail various aspects of Scientology doctrine, his own Scientology involvement, and the church's response to his arrest. Fishman claimed that church staff had ordered him to murder his psychologist, Uwe Geertz, who had knowledge of his Scientology involvement, and then to commit suicide.[1]

At the same time, according to Fishman, he participated in a conspiracy with church staff to deflect accusations of church involvement, by submitting fake documents and making false statements to his defense team.[4] For these acts he was further charged with obstruction of justice. The court ultimately blocked Nurik's defense strategy by rejecting both expert witnesses, based on the testimony of opposing expert Dick Anthony.[3] Fishman pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of obstruction, and the court sentenced him on July 20, 1990 to five years imprisonment in the Butner Federal Correctional Institution. Fishman later claimed that the church hired Scientologist inmate Luis Martinez to kill him in prison.[5] He was paroled in mid-1993.

According to Anthony, who had opposed Ofshe and Singer, Fishman's criminal case was one of several in which they had attempted to introduce their ideas of coercive persuasion by religious groups. The court's admissibility ruling came as a setback to American critics of cults. Ofshe and Singer sued Anthony unsuccessfully, claiming that he mischaracterized the basis of their theories in this and other cases.[3]

Libel case[edit]

Main article: Fishman Affidavit

In 1991, while Fishman was still incarcerated, Time magazine published a highly critical cover story on Scientology by Richard Behar. The story mentioned Fishman's fraud conviction and the alleged plot to eliminate him and Geertz.[1] The church responded by filing libel lawsuits against Time Warner, Behar, and Fishman and Geertz jointly.

In support of his contention that he had been brainwashed and ordered to murder Geertz, Fishman attached a series of documents to a motion to reconsider venue. This filing has since become known as the Fishman Affidavit. It included purported Scientology documents describing obstructionist tactics to use in the event of an arrest, as well as versions of Operating Thetan levels I through VII and purported excerpts of OT VIII. Fishman's filing placed the advanced materials on record at the district court, available for viewing by the general public. Despite an unsuccessful church motion to seal the court record and efforts to keep the court files continuously checked out, former Scientologist Arnaldo Lerma obtained the affidavit and posted it on the internet, after which it spread uncontrollably. In the process of suing Lerma for copyright infringement, the church confirmed that the copies of levels I through VII were accurate.

A federal district court summarily dismissed the church's claims against Time Warner and Behar, finding that they had not acted with actual malice insofar as the church was concerned. The church dropped its claims against Fishman and Geertz after Geertz's legal team served subpoenas upon such Scientologist celebrities as Kelly Preston, Juliette Lewis and Isaac Hayes.[6] The court record in the Fishman case remained open to the public.

Wollersheim litigation[edit]

Fishman submitted a declaration on behalf of Lawrence Wollersheim in 1993, claiming firsthand knowledge of tactics the church had used to interfere with Wollersheim's lawsuit against the church. The tactics included allegedly drowning the trial judge's dog and making harassing phone calls to Wollersheim at night.[7]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Behar, Richard (1991-05-06). "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power". Time. Retrieved 2008-05-18. 
  2. ^ Dondero, Robert L. Declaration of Assistant US Attorney Robert L. Dondero. US v. Fishman. N. D. Calif. CR-88-0616. Retrieved on 2008-05-18.
  3. ^ a b c Anthony, Dick (2004). Richardson, James (ed.), ed. Regulating Religion. Reno: University of Nevada. 
  4. ^ Fishman, Steven (1996-09-18). "My History With the Cult". Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  5. ^ Pietersma, Jeroen (December 1995). "Never Defend, Always Attack". N@T. Retrieved 2008-05-18. 
  6. ^ Ortega, Tony (1999-12-23). "Double Crossed". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  7. ^ Appeal. Church of Scientology of California v. Lawrence Wollersheim. 42 Cal.App.4th 628/49 Cal.Rptr.2d 620. Retrieved on 2008-05-18