Fugitive cult leader and former cult member settle lawsuit

Religion News Blog — Lawyers for Agape Ministries cult leader Rocco Leo and former follower Martin Penney have told a Court they would withdraw their lawsuits against each other.

Sean Fewster says in The Advertiser

Mr Penney had claimed that, while a member of Agape, he spent $250,000 of his own money on “daily incidentals” for the cult, including toilet paper.

He further asserted he bought the cult a $42,000 Ford Fairlane and donated $217,000 in cash during his time as a member.

In all, Mr Penney claimed Leo’s stories of poisoned microchips, government beheadings and South Pacific island refuges duped him into parting with $876,000.

The settlement was first reported last March, but has now been finalized.

Court documents in the lawsuit filed by businessman Martin Penney allege Leo convinced him he would be poisoned and killed by the government unless he handed over $1.2 million.

Rocco Leo fled to Fiji in May 2010, just before police raided his Agape Ministries properties where they discovered thousands of rounds of ammunition and guns.

Penney sued Leo for $1.2 million, plus damages, costs and interest. In settlement talks he later reduced his claim to $866,000.

Leo’s legal woes are far from over, though.

The Australian Taxation Office is pursuing Leo and his associates for $4.1 million after it stripped Agape Ministries of its tax-exempt legal status as a religion.

In June a court will hear the lawsuit of Silvia Melchiorre against Leo and Joe and Marie Antoinette Veneziano.

Meanwhile, an arrest warrant for Leo remains active over assault charges dating back to April 2010, when he allegedly attacked the estranged husband of one of his followers.

In July 2011 South Australian authorities said they will not pursue Leo over the 126 fraud allegations with no reasonable prospects of a conviction.

However, Independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon, who has taken a marked interest in cult-related issues, renewed his call for an independent review of the case.

[Financial amounts reflect Australian dollars. Convert to US dollars / other currencies]

Research resources on Agape Ministries

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 7, 2012.
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