Court’s patience running out with fugitive cult leader

Fugitive Australian cult leader Rocco Leo may be forced to pay damages to former members of his religious group if he does not instruct a lawyer to attend a court hearing next week.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says

Pastor Leo and two other Agape Ministries leaders, Joe and Marie Veneziano, are being sued in the Adelaide District Court by two former members of the group.

They claim they were brainwashed into giving all their assets to Agape based on a doomsday scenario.

Disabled woman Silvana Melchiorre claims she was made to sell her house and give all the proceeds to Agape, a total of more than $400,000.

She claimed in court documents Leo and Agape made false representations she would be healed and saved from damnation and that she was particularly vulnerable to those suggestions.


Another former member, Martin Penny, claims he gave more than $1 million, also under false pretences.

The civil claims allege members were brainwashed into thinking a new world order was pending and they all would be doomed.

It is alleged members were told they would have microchips inserted, the government would use these to control them and they would go to hell if they allowed it to happen.

They allegedly were told the government would force them into concentration camps if they refused the microchips and they would be killed.

Leo allegedly promised to save the members by moving them to a Pacific island, but said he needed money to build infrastructure.

In January this year the fugitive cult leader blamed death threats for not showing up in court.

In November last year Agape Ministries was stripped of its legal status as a religion and lost its tax exemption. Reportedly the organization will be sued by the Federal Government for a decade of unpaid debt.

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This post was last updated: Jun. 23, 2011