From AR 21, September 30, 1982
Herbert and Ramona Battle It Out
In our last newsletter, we reported that Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), president of Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), had filed for dissolution of his marriage. That divorce action against his wife Ramona is rapidly becoming one of Tucson, Arizona’s biggest lawsuits as both sides engage in a mammoth paper war. Allegations continue to pour out from both sides, with Ramona refusing to answer many questions and Herbert’s lawyers claiming he is too senile and sick to appear in Arizona to answer questions. But by brandishing copies of WCG publications showing HWA’s recent worldwide travels and lengthy speeches, Ramona’s attorneys (she is represented by the firm of Ettinger and Deckter, not by Stanley Rader, as some are alleging) were able to convince Judge Lillian Fisher that HWA is indeed well enough to appear. He has been ordered to give a deposition even if a physician’s presence is needed, and a hearing to set a trial date is scheduled for Nov. 8.
In the meantime, in a separate action, WCG attorneys have filed a suit against Ramona in the U.S. district court in Tucson (Pasadena Star-News, Sept. 3, 1982). They allege she has over $400,000 worth of church property in her possession that she refuses to return. The property, they claim, is owned by the church and was intended solely to furnish HWA’s Tucson residence. (Another one of those little special benefits HWA gives himself above salary.) Church attorneys freely admit the furnishings in question are not those of HWA’s Pasadena residence (it is separately furnished, also by the church), nor does the property include the Tucson home itself or personal items such as over $490,000 worth of jewelry HWA has admitted he’s given her.
Now, just as we go to press, we have learned that Ramona has retaliated by filing a countersuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against HWA, plus church lawyer Ralph Helge and Armstrong aides Ellis LaRavia, Joe Tkach, Aaron Dean, Kevin Dean, Leroy Neff, Larry Neff, Robert Seelig, and several Armstrong religious corporations. Ramona has charged the defendants with breach of a marriage-employment contract, fraud, and loss of a guaranteed $50,000 annual income and survivor’s benefits. Besides restitution, she is asking $6 million in punitive damages. HWA was served the papers on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). That day, before his Pasadena congregation, he declared that “God’s church” is now facing one of its greatest crises ever.
Ramona’s countersuit makes interesting reading. For instance, she alleges that HWA and other defendants asked her to become HWA’s secretary and traveling companion in 1974. (Some readers may recall that on page 96 of William Hinson’s 1977 book, Broadway to Armageddon, ex-WCG official Al Carrozzo was quoted as saying: “Yes, it is true that Herbert Armstrong got a girl pregnant. She was sent to Arizona in a type of exile. This is the same woman Herbert Armstrong was going to marry.”) Shortly after becoming his traveling companion, Ramona claims, HWA and other defendants asked her to marry HWA as part of a plan to bolster HWA’s image. She refused on the grounds of their great age difference – he was about 83 and she about 35. But, she says, the defendants “persisted in their efforts which they fortified with inducements of purported lifetime financial and other benefits if she would relent.”
In her countersuit Ramona alleges that HWA has created the numerous religious organizations he heads as shields for his personal assets. She alleges that those corporations are “alter egos of Armstrong” and that he has full personal control of them and uses them to hide his assets from the public and from her. She further alleges that the eight individual co-defendants listed have conspired in a power struggle to gain control of those assets when Armstrong dies, and in doing so have deprived her of her contractual benefits. She says they were able to do this by “deceitfully persuading” HWA that others – including herself, HWA’s son Ted, and lawyer Stan Rader – were planning to “seize power” from him. But the sweeping allegations found in her suit and the claim that HWA had once agreed to leave her his “entire estate” upon his death have led some church members to fear that perhaps Ramona and certain associates are indeed trying to seize control of major portions of the WCG’s assets.
And then there are those church members who naively wonder why Herbert and Ramona do not simply get together and apply the marriage-saving advice found in “When the Kissing Begins to Stop…”, an article in the Sept.-Oct. issue of Armstrong’s own Plain Truth magazine. Oh well.