A strange and twisted tale emerged from blogland this week -- the story of a Scientology refugee who was reportedly talked into returning to the organization, grilled by a church lawyer and subsequently arrested.
Nineteen-year-old Daniel Montalvo, a lifelong member of the church's core group, Sea Org, was released from jail Thursday in lieu of $20,000 bail. What did he do? That's a question we haven't been able to answer. Update: It's been answered, after the jump.
The District Attorney's office appears to have no record of a case against him. A Sheriff's Department booking information page is mysteriously devoid of information such as booking charges and where, exactly, he was housed.
Scientology defector Marty Rathbun opines on his blog (via Village Voice editor-in-chief Tony Ortega's long-running coverage of the church) that a sheriff's detective was talked into gathering some kind of case against Montalvo after he returned to Los Angeles from a safe house for Scientology refugees in Florida:
Daniel was picked up by an investigator in a black car with blacked out windows. Instead of being taken to a hotel, where he could route out as promised, he was taken to the Century City Towers. He was deposited in an office on the 33rd floor where a pricy church lawyer interrogated him for two hours.
... plied the Sheriff's detective with a grand conspiracy theory, characterizing me as the "anti-christ" of the church of Scientology. I guess Kingpin has become passe.
The next thing Daniel knows he's in a cell where he sat for the next 30 hours.
Rathbun indicates that the church might have tried to accuse Montalvo of grand theft for leaving with a couple of hard drives from an official Scientology magazine -- hard drives that Rathbun says Montalvo had returned to the church via mail but which church officials said they didn't receive.
In any case, it's a wild tale, with Montalvo coordinating his escape and a rendezvous point with other Scientology defectors. According to Rathbun hey took him to an L.A. area deli where they watched "him eat a cheeseburger and fries with his eyes lit up like he was ingesting an eight course gourmet feast ... "
Update: Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore gave the Weekly the following time line and background regarding Montalvo's arrest:
On Sept. 24 Montalvo was reported to have quit a Scientology-related job at a warehouse in East Los Angeles, at East Olympic Boulevard and South Gerhart Avenue in the city of Commerce, which the Sheriff's Department patrols.
On Sept. 29, representatives of the church came to the East Los Angeles sheriff's station to report that when Montalvo quit he allegedly took hard drives with him. The report was taken as a case of grand theft, Whitmore said.
On Oct. 6, after having returned from Florida, Montalvo "walked into lobby of the East L.A. station and turned himself in," Whitmore said. He added that the teen "told us everything he did."
Strange twist: Whitmore originally echoed our report here that Montalvo allegedly took two hard drives. He said, more definitively, that the teen was alleged to have stolen a computer hard drive and a Zip drive.
When we asked how -- with retail prices in the sub-$100 range for both items -- the alleged theft could have added up to meet the $400 state threshold (soon to be $950) for grand theft, Whitmore wasn't sure.
We suggested that maybe Scientology was claiming a high intellectual property value for what was on the drives.
However, Whitmore called back to say there were five hard drives worth $200 each involved in the alleged theft.
The case would normally be brought by sheriff's authorities to the District Attorney's office, where prosecutors would weigh the evidence and either drop the case or press forward.
As we noted previously, the D.A.'s office on Friday had no record of the case. That doesn't mean that it won't prosecute later, through.
Asked if the church of Scientology would have to "press charges" in order for the matter to go to court, Whitmore said, no, but that if the organization were to withdraw its claim of theft and refuse to testify the D.A. might then be forced to back off.
Comments here and charges on Rathbun's blog seem to charge that Sheriff Lee Baca -- who has appeared at Scientology events in the past -- has somehow gone out of his way to target Montalvo.
Whitmore says Baca wasn't even aware of the case and that "the sheriff has nothing to do with this."