SFWeekly Feature
Sign of the Cult-Buster (Page 3)

Ford Greene eventually assumed a more controversial role, becoming a "deprogrammer" hired by parents to pluck their sons and daughters from cults, sometimes employing tactics that bumped up against the law. In 1977, he was charged with kidnapping in Colorado after helping to abduct a rancher's son who joined the Moonies and tried to cash out his share of the family spread. (The charges were later dismissed.) Greene's deprogramming of a young Canadian schoolteacher who fell in with the Unification Church while on a trip to the Bay Area was chronicled in the 1980 film Ticket to Heaven.

By his estimate, Greene deprogrammed more than 100 young people, scaling back only after managing to talk his way into law school at San Francisco's New College of California. It was hardly the Ivy League track that his influential parents had imagined for him. But for Greene, who had bounded from one expensive boarding school to another as a teenager and was without a college degree at the time he was admitted, the tiny, little-known law school suited his purposes. He chose law not for the sake of becoming a lawyer, he says, but as a way to better equip himself for the anti-cult crusade in which he had already enlisted. "Ford is one of those people for whom the law is a means to an end, and in his case that has meant going after groups that he considers to be cults," says Murray Orrick, whom Greene helped deprogram from the Moonies and who is a Bay Area music producer and nephew of the late federal judge William Orrick.

As a lawyer, it didn't take long for Greene to make a mark.

For example, in 1979, a young law school graduate named David Molko and another former Moon follower sued the church, claiming to have been coerced and brainwashed. Lower courts ruled that constitutional guarantees of religious freedom barred such suits. But in Molko v. Holy Spirit Association, Greene prevailed before the California Supreme Court. In an opinion written by Justice Stanley Mosk in 1988 that would bear on the tactics religious groups use to attract followers, the court said that any burden on the free exercise of religion was outweighed by the state's interest in protecting against "fraudulent induction of unconsenting individuals into an atmosphere of coercive persuasion."

A year later, Greene scored another victory against the Unification Church, persuading a Colorado jury to acquit two deprogrammers of kidnapping a woman who became a Moonie. In that case, he and another lawyer successfully used a "choice of evils" defense to argue that the deprogrammers were forced to capture the woman to prevent her from being brainwashed.

About the same time, he agreed to represent Richard and Vicki Aznaran, the high-ranking husband-wife duo whose departure from Scientology sent shock waves through the organization. In the mid-'90s, he helped represent ex-Scientologist Lawrence Wollersheim, to whom the church agreed to pay an $8.7 million judgment after Wollersheim claimed that Scientology operatives had subjected him to numerous deprivations, including being held as a church prisoner on a ship off the California coast. Greene also successfully represented a partially brain-damaged former Scientologist named Raul Lopez, who contended that church officials in Southern California had bilked him out of nearly $3 million from an insurance settlement.

In a 1998 case involving the Ananda Church of Self Realization, Greene won a $1.7 million judgment against the church and its spiritual leader, J. Donald Walters, aka Swami Kriyananda. In that case, a jury found that Walters and another church official had sexually exploited a former Bay Area devotee, Anne-Marie Bertolucci, under the guise of helping her to make spiritual advancement.

"Fighting cults comes from deep within Ford's own experience," says Vermont attorney Max Taylor, whom Greene helped bring out of a group called Fellowship of Friends years ago. "In his mind there's nothing worse than using spirituality to take advantage of people."

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sfweekly.com 10-05-2005 Sign of the Cult Buster

Greene in front of a Church of Scientology organizational chart, in his "Scientology War Room."

Photo: Paul Trapani


Hub Law Offices 711 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo, California 94960-1949 415-258-0360 ford@fordgreene.com