A profoundly disabled woman has won her $500,000 lawsuit against fugitive cultist Rocco Leo – by default.
Australian newspaper The Advertiser reports
The District Court this morning ordered Silvia Melchiorre’s life savings be repaid out of the assets of Leo and his Agape Ministries organisation.
Costs and interest on the damages are yet to be determined but are, the court heard, likely to exceed $114,000.
Ms Melchiorre claimed Leo duped her into handing over the $420,000 in return for promises he would heal her and save her from global armageddon.
A trial on her claim was due to start today and expected to run into next week.
However, Judge David Lovell entered a default judgment on Ms Melchiorre’s behalf because Leo did not attend court – and nor did any lawyers acting on his behalf.
Last week, The Advertiser revealed Leo’s previous solicitors had withdrawn from the case because he had failed to respond to their e-mails.
Rocco Leo, founder of Agape Ministries, and two of his senior members fled to Fiji shortly before police raided 13 properties associated with the cult, uncovering a cache of weapons and ammunition.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says
The woman claimed she was brainwashed into giving to Leo’s group, Agape Ministries, on a false promise she would be healed.
The court was told she sold her house and donated the proceeds to Agape.
All Australian-based assets of the church have previously been frozen and the court has heard the defendants have considerable wealth that could be used to repay Ms Melchiorre.
Three weeks ago, Leo — who is in Fiji — settled an $800,000 dispute with another former follower.
He is still battling the Australian Taxation Office over a $4.1 million debt and is wanted on assault charges.