French Scientologist Sentenced After Church Member's Suicide

Source: New York Times
Date: November 23, 1996

The founder and former head of the Church of Scientology in Lyons was convicted of fraud and involuntary homicide today in the death of a church member who committed suicide after going heavily into debt to pay the sect for counseling sessions.

A French tribunal sentenced the defendant, Jean-Jacques Mazier, to serve 18 months in prison, with an additional 18 months suspended, and fined him $100,000.

The eight-day trial, in the first week of October, also examined charges of fraud, attempted fraud or aiding and abetting fraud against 22 other church officials or supporters involved in its activities in France.

The court convicted 14 of these defendants, including the Rev. Louis-Michel Brolles, a Catholic priest accused of abetting fraud, and gave them all suspended sentences. The remaining eight, who included two officials of the nationwide Scientology organization in Paris, Daniele Gounord, its spokeswoman, and Jean-Paul Chapellet, in charge of its security, were acquitted.

The prosecution had asked only for a three-year suspended sentence for Mr. Mazier, who was charged after the suicide of Patrice Vic, a 31-year-old industrial designer who jumped out of his 12th-floor apartment window on March 24, 1988.

The day before, prosecutors asserted, Mr. Vic, accompanied by Mr. Mazier, had tried to persuade his wife to help him borrow $6,000 to pay for what she described as a "purification" session urged on him by the church. Mr. Mazier's lawyers asserted that the suicide stemmed from chronic depression.

"I hope this will encourage other victims of sects to persevere through the courts," Mr. Vic's widow, Nelly, said after the verdict today by a panel of judges. Saying that Mr. Vic had been subjected to "psychological torture," the judges said in their ruling that the church's principal aim was extracting money from those it recruited. The defense has 10 days to file appeals, and Mr. Mazier's lawyers said they would do so.

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