Double Crossed

Here's why you should be skeptical about what Graham Berry and Robert Cipriano say about the Church of Scientology: Berry's been after the church for years, and he makes no secret of his desire to litigate the 45-year-old organization to its knees. An eloquent, New Zealand-born attorney who lives in Santa Monica, Berry has enjoyed his role as one of the few attorneys who battles the controversial organization full-time. That has gained Berry some notoriety, particularly with a loosely knit online community of ex-Scientologists and free-speech advocates who keep a close watch on all that pertains to Dianetics and Scientology. Berry plays to that audience eagerly, posting his latest motions and pleadings on the Internet nearly as quickly as he files them in court.

For years, he's been known for brash court strategies meant not only to take a bite out of the church but also to embarrass it publicly. To a client, he once said: "My agenda is to bite Scientology in the butt and to cause it as much grief as possible." He's also notorious for phone-book-thick court documents filled with tales of conspiracy that reach back to Scientology's 1954 founding by the late science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Last year, Berry filed a 312-page complaint on behalf of a former member of the church who claimed he'd been defrauded by everyone from Scientologist actor John Travolta to President Bill Clinton. In August, a judge declared Berry a vexatious litigant, a rare penalty handed out to attorneys who tie up courts with frivolous lawsuits.

Robert Cipriano, meanwhile, is an admitted liar who says that he willingly committed perjury last year by lying in a deposition taken under oath. A nervous, chameleonlike figure, Cipriano never seems to stay in one place or situation very long. He spent five years living as a gay man and now says he's straight. He was once a successful Park Avenue businessman, but then couldn't hold a job. He was willing to accept financial help for his perjured testimony but now claims to be doing the righteous thing by speaking out about it. His own court-filed declarations make him out to be something of a confused, pathetic loser who is usually either running from a bad situation or running toward someone who will give him a handout.

So it's not easy to believe such a man when he says he was at the center of an elaborate conspiracy by the Church of Scientology to destroy Graham Berry.

Cipriano says in court documents that five years ago he was duped by Scientology operatives into making false claims that Berry is a pedophile who bragged about having sex with boys as young as 12. Those claims ended up on the Internet, and Cipriano says that Scientology, which considers Berry a bitter enemy, contacted his colleagues, clients, and friends about them. Last year, Cipriano says, he was encouraged by Scientology attorneys to testify in a deposition about his false claims and, when he agreed, Scientology rewarded him handsomely.

Cipriano says that when he agreed to help Scientology destroy one of its enemies, the church leased him a house and a car, helped finance his nonprofit business, and paid off a debt that freed him from a felony probation sentence. Cipriano also says his Scientology attorney rewarded him with a job at Earthlink, the Internet provider started by Scientologists. Berry, meanwhile, says the church's harassment has severely hampered his ability to practice law.

But given their backgrounds, it's easy to dismiss Berry and Cipriano when they say Scientology -- which has earned a reputation for harassing enemies with covert operations -- is up to its old tricks.

However, it's not so easy to dismiss a pile of documents suggesting just that.

Court filings and hundreds of pages of financial records, receipts, letters, and e-mail printouts make a case that Cipriano was, indeed, part of an operation by Scientology attorney Kendrick Moxon and private investigator Eugene Ingram to harass Berry, and that Cipriano's cooperation was richly rewarded. Records show that Moxon did lease Cipriano a home and a car, bought him a computer, and incorporated his nonprofit business. Earthlink officials, meanwhile, acknowledge that they hired Cipriano after he was referred by Moxon. And Moxon did send $20,000 to a New Jersey attorney to pay off Cipriano's felony debt. Moxon insists that he housed Cipriano to protect him from Berry, but he declined to reveal the source of the New Jersey payment or discuss why he sent it.

In court documents, Berry lays out the conspiracy against him: "Moxon and Ingram engaged in...criminal, tortious [sic] and unethical conduct, including but not limited to blackmail, bribery, witness tampering, subornation of perjury, and obstruction of justice...[They procured] employment for Cipriano at Earthlink...[Offered] Cipriano approximately $750,000 in exchange for his continued testimony consistent with the perjurious statements set forth in his May 5, 1994 Declaration....[Funded a nonprofit corporation] which led to Moxon using the nonprofit entity he incorporated to 'launder money' for the personal use by Cipriano....Moxon [also] solicited and suborned perjurious statements by Cipriano at his deposition...[Thereafter] Moxon engaged in other conduct that was intended to threaten and intimidate Cipriano and otherwise dissuade him from recanting his prior perjurious testimony and telling the truth about the activities of the Church of Scientology."