WASHINGTON -- Two top-ranking members of the Church of Scientology, convicted of charges arising from a conspiracy to steal government documents, say they were prosecuted because they challenged the government.
Jane Kember, 43, and Morris Budlong, 32, extradited from Britain to face trial, said Wednesday they will appeal their conviction for aiding and abetting other church members in the theft of documents from government offices.
A federal jury returned guilty verdicts against the two church officials after deliberating for six hours at the close of a four-week trial. They face up to 15 years in jail on each of nine counts when they are sentenced Dec. 19 by U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson.
Mrs. Kember, a British citizen, and Budlong, an American who has been living in England, were among 11 church officials indicted in 1978 on charges of a sweeping conspiracy to plant church spies in government agencies, to break into government offices and to plant a listening device in at least one Internal Revenue Service meeting.
Mary Sue Hubbard, the wife of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and eight others were convicted in October 1979 of a single conspiracy charge arising from the alleged burglary scheme and were sentenced to various jail terms. Their convictions are being appealed.
But the case against Mrs. Kember and Budlong was delayed while Justice Department officials sought their extradition.
Mrs. Kember and Budlong declined to talk to reporters after the verdict was returned Wednesday, but a church spokesman handed out copies of a statement calling the case 'an obvious vendetta.'
'These defendants were prosecuted only because they challenged and sought to expose the Internal Revenue Service's unconstitutional activities ranging from false dossiers and intimidation to secret enemies lists,' the statement said.
'They were prosecuted because they fought back. The real motivation behind the government's case will ultimately come out and we're confident that these convictions will be overturned.'
During their trial, lawyers for Mrs. Kember and Budlong maintained their clients were 3,000 miles away when the alleged offenses occurred in 1976.
The government introduced into evidence 270 documents seized by the FBI in raids on church headquarters in Los Angeles. Lawyer G. Raymond Banoun argued they showed Mrs. Kember and Budlong were directing the scheme from the church's worldwide headquarters in England.
The church has acknowledged some activities to obtain government documents, but said they were needed to defend itself against 30 years of harassment by federal agencies.
Prosecutors have contended the church was trying to get inside information on investigations of its tax-exempt status and other legal matters.