Swaggart church sues investment group

The church run by the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart claims it was defamed and the victim of unfair trade practices by officials with Health Science Park, a group of investors who claimed to be searching for a new home for Earl K. Long Medical Center.

Family Worship Center Church Inc. claims the defamation and other actions by officials with Health Science Park caused it to lose $24 million in rental income and other damages.

The ongoing legal feud between the church and Health Science Park appeared to have ended earlier this month when a lawsuit over lease and purchase options on Bluebonnet Boulevard property held by Health Science Park settled.

Family Worship Center paid Health Science Park $600,000 to buy out the remaining month of the options. In that dispute, Health Science Park officials Stephen Jones, Terry Jones and Gary Solomon sued the church in September, claiming the church was trying to back out of the options deal in order to take advantage of the high lease prices being charged after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans.

But in the new lawsuit filed Friday afternoon, Family Worship Center says those allegations, made in a news release, constitute defamation and extortion.

“The sole purpose of filing of the (September) lawsuit and issuance of the defamatory press releases was to hinder the church from exercising its right to lease to third parties in order for HSP to extort unjustified payments and concessions from the church,” the suit says.

Family Worship Center Church also claims it is the victim of unfair trade practices because the members of Health Science Park made claims that they would be able to relocate LSU Medical School, the hospital, research centers and other related facilities to property owned by the church.

The suit says Health Science Park officials claimed they had the experience to get the projects and financing by procuring more than $100 million in bond funds from the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority.

Based on those representations, the church agreed to enter into the options deal with the idea being that church land and buildings would be used for the medical facilities, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that Terry Jones said he was asked by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to remain silent so a deal could be arranged for LSU to buy Baton Rouge General Medical Center.

The suit alleges that the partners of Health Science Park were paid to keep quiet about LSU’s deal with Baton Rouge General.

“…Terry Jones did not state how much he and (his partners) were paid by their competitors to ‘remain silent,’ ” the suit says.

None of the partners could be reached for comment late Friday. Barry Miller, the attorney for Family Worship Center, and Claude Reynaud, the attorney for Health Science Park, were both out of their offices Friday and unavailable for comment.

The lawsuit seeks to recover the $24 million in lost leases, injury caused to the name and reputation of the church, loss of future revenue and attorney fees.

In addition, the lawsuit is asking for “treble damages.” Treble damages, when allowed by state or federal law, gives a judge or jury the authority to award an amount equal to three times the damages.

The case has been assigned to state District Judge William Morvant.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Advocate, USA
Oct. 22, 2005
Adrian Angelette

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