1984 – State Pursues Morningland Leader

Feb 1984

State to pursue charges against cult leader

Prosecutors will pursue four-year-old bribery conspiracy charges against a Morningland cult leader in light of an appellate ruling this week that allows the state Attorney General’s Office to attack a judge’s dismissal of the charges.

Deputy Attorney General John Gordnier said yesterday he was happy with the ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal that could lead to a reinstatement of three felony charges against cult leader Sri Patricia. Besides the conspiracy count, she was charged with two counts of embezzlement.

“Our intention is certainly to pursue this matter to judgment,” Gordnier said.

In March 1980, Sri Patricia — whose real name is Patricia Sperato — was charged, along with Morningland attorney Edward Masry, of attempting to bribe former Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally. In exchange for $10,000 that allegedly was to be taken from the Escondido-based church, Dymally allegedly was supposed to set up a rigged legislative committee that would conclude local governments and law enforcement agencies were harassing non-mainstream religious groups.

Dymally, now a congressman from the Los Angeles area, was not indicted or charged in the alleged bribery scheme.

In October 1980, in the middle of a lengthy preliminary hearing, North County Municipal Court Judge Michael Burley dismissed charges against Sri Patricia after her former lawyer testified against her. Burley ruled the lawyer’s testimony violated attorney-client privilege.

The first time the case went before the appellate court, Burley’s ruling was upheld on procedural grounds. In March 1982, Gordnier refiled the charges, which stem from actions Sri Patricia allegedly took during 1978, and her attorney sought to have the new complaint thrown out because the three-year statute of limitations had expired.

In a decision Monday, the appellate court agreed that the statute of limitations had expired and the second complaint against Sri Patricia would have to be dismissed. However, the Court of Appeal said the prosecutor was still able to appeal — on substantive rather than procedural grounds — Burley’s dismissal of the original charges.

And in a somewhat candid admission, the appellate court indicated that its earlier ruling may have been less than lucid. In a decision written by pro tem Justice Judith McConnell and joined by Justices Gordon Cologne and Don Work, the court referred to its original opinion as “unartfully stated.”

McConnell wrote, “Language in our previous opinion contributed to the people’s decision to file a second complaint rather than to promptly pursue the original.” Gordnier said he now will ask the Superior Court to reverse Burley’s ruling on the merits and reinstate the felony charges.

Sri Patricia’s attorney was not available for comment yesterday. Meanwhile, a scheduled retrial for Masry, on charges he stole $10,000 from Morningland, has been delayed, while the state Supreme Court decides whether to hear his appeal that his rights to a speedy trial have be violated.