Cult expert Rick Ross, who received national attention for his role in the Branch Davidian siege, has been charged with unlawfully imprisoning a man he failed to deprogram in Washington state.
Ross, of Arizona, and two other men charged with the felony have been summoned to appear Aug. 2 before a judge, said Grays Harbor County assistant prosecutor Joseph Wheeler. He said the case probably will go to trial in late October.
The maximum penalty for the Class C felony is five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Grays Harbor County is west of Seattle along the Pacific Coast.
“What they’re doing is just reverse brainwashing,” Wheeler said of deprogramming. “What they’re doing is the same evil.”
Ross, however, charges that the prosecution is bending to the pressure of cult groups by reviving the 2-year-old charge. He added that he was hired by the man’s mother and had her full cooperation in the deprogramming effort.
Court documents allege that Ross and two other men held then-18-year-old Jason Scott against his will in January 1991 in Grays Harbor County.
The documents claim that Scott, a member of a Pentecostal sect, told police on Jan. 23, 1991, that he had “escaped from being kidnapped” by his mother and others in Kirkland, Wash., and was taken against his will to Ocean Shores, Wash.
Scott claims that several men grabbed him Jan. 18 from his mother’s garage. The men duct-taped his mouth, handcuffed him and then drove him to a condominium in Ocean Shores, where he was confined against his will, documents say, adding that he was “repeatedly harassed in the form of attacks on his religious beliefs.”
Documents identify Ross as one of his abductors.
In a telephone interview, Ross said he finds it odd that Wheeler is not prosecuting Scott’s mother along with him and the others.
“Anytime I work with anyone that is in a cult group, this is done within the guidelines and parameters set by family members,” he said, adding that each step is approved by them.
Ross said cult members are trying to use the situation as a way to attack him because of his involvement with the Branch Davidians.
He deprogrammed one cult member and was in contact with the FBI during the 51-day standoff between the cult and authorities that ended in a deadly fire.
“Curiously, within months of Waco these charges are refilled,” he said.
“Jason Scott has become a pawn to be used by cult groups with the purpose of targeting me,” Ross said. “This is not unusual.”
Wheeler said he is not caving to pressure from anyone — including cults.
“I’m not doing that,” he said. “I guess Rick is positioning himself.”
Wheeler says he welcomes information from all quarters, and people have contacted him about the status of the case.
Wheeler said no charges were filed against Ross in 1991. Charges were filed last week because it took an “extensive investigation,” he said.
As for Scott’s mother, Kathy Tonkin, no decision has been made yet on whether to charge her in the case, Wheeler said.
“I’m not saying we’re going to. I’m not saying we’re not,” he said.
Washington court documents dated December 1990 indicate problems between Tonkin and the church.
Tonkin claimed that she was repeatedly harassed by members of the church. While living with her in-laws, she claimed to receive round-the-clock phone calls from people she believed were church members because she recognized some of their voices.
She also claimed a number of men chanted outside their window while pressing their faces against the glass. The document says she recognized some of the men as members of the church.
The documents said the church had about five men who were sect members stationed outside her in-laws’ house at all times, and she was “terrified to leave.”