Accusations about sexual misconduct and abuse of power

Anne-Marie Bertolucci was a single woman living at Ananda Village, who in 1993 had a consensual affair with Danny L., a married man with a young daughter. Both worked in Ananda’s publishing department.

When they sought counseling from Swami Kriyananda he urged them to end the relationship. Danny L. later decided that he wanted to stay with his wife and child, and he so informed Bertolucci and Kriyananda.

When Bertolucci continued to pursue the relationship, Kriyananda told her she would have to move to another Ananda community. She decided to move to the Palo Alto community, where she had previously lived.

Though initially angry with Kriyananda, Bertolucci later apologized. In Palo Alto, she participated in community life and seemed to be adjusting.

While Bertolucci was living in the Palo Alto community, Eric Estep circulated a letter, highly critical of Kriyananda, to residents of the Ananda colonies. Eric and his wife, Naomi, had lived at Ananda Village a decade earlier but were now staunch SRF members and vocally anti-Ananda.

While living at Ananda Village, Estep had for 12 years refused to pay the standard fees paid by members for upkeep of the community, a requirement for all members. Estep had steadfastly criticized everything that Ananda and Swami Kriyananda did; yet Swami Kriyananda had always treated him with kindness. Finally the community manager gave him an ultimatum: either start participating in the normal life of the community and pay fees, or leave. Estep  decided to leave.

Estep’s letter defended SRF’s position in its lawsuit against Ananda and criticized Kriyananda for presuming to represent Yogananda. He urged Ananda members not to support Kriyananda and to follow instead the leadership of SRF’s president, Daya Mata.

After receiving the letter, Bertolucci contacted Estep. Shortly afterwards, Bertolucci began attending services at the SRF temple in Richmond, in the San Francisco East Bay, accompanied by the Esteps. There she was introduced to Don Price, one of the founders of a virulently anti-Ananda website. Bertolucci moved out of the Palo Alto community in August 1994.

Estep later persuaded Ford Greene, a former Moonie and self-declared “anti-cult” lawyer, to be Bertolucci’s attorney in a lawsuit against Ananda. Shortly before filing her lawsuit, the Esteps took Bertolucci to SRF headquarters in southern California and the SRF Retreat in Encinitas. There she met with SRF board members and senior monastics, including the SRF president, Daya Mata.

On November 28, 1994, Bertolucci filed a lawsuit against Danny L., Ananda, and Swami Kriyananda. Her main claims were: 1) wrongful termination; 2) fraud; 3) intentional infliction of emotional distress; 4) breach of fiduciary duty; 5) negligence; 6) negligent supervision; and 7) alter ego liability.

Her consensual love affair had now become “sexual harassment,” made possible, she claimed, by the cult-like “brainwashing” she had been subjected to by Ananda. She named both devotional chanting and Yogananda’s meditation techniques as key elements in the brainwashing process.

She also claimed that Ananda fostered an inhospitable environment for women and encouraged ministers to seek out young women for sex. She specifically accused Kriyananda, who had been publicly married to Rosanna Golia between1985 and 1994, of fraudulently holding himself out to be a celibate swami, and of sexually abusing various women in the past.

Bertolucci’s initial complaint included no claim of any specific sexual misconduct toward her by Kriyananda. The complaint stated only that Bertolucci now believed that Danny L. and Kriyananda planned to pass her back and forth sexually.

Beyond that, she said only that Kriyananda had adjusted and massaged her neck with her permission, and had invited her to watch what she described as a ‘”pornographic” movie; in fact, it was the award-winning comedy “Ruthless People,” starring Bette Midler and Danny DeVito.

In 1995, after Bertolucci’s attorney, Ford Green, lost a key motion in court, two new lawyers, Michael Flynn and Philip Stillman, took charge of her case. Ananda later learned that Flynn and Stillman were SRF members with close ties to the SRF leadership. These same lawyers later entered the SRF lawsuit against Ananda as SRF’s attorneys.

Later, at Ananda’s deposition of Bertolucci, Flynn and Greene called a recess and took Bertolucci out of the room just before she was to be questioned about the neck-massage incident with Kriyananda.  When Bertolucci’s deposition resumed, she claimed for the first time that there had been sexual contact by Kriyananda. She said that when Kriyananda massaged her neck, her face was in his lap and she felt a “hardening” in his groin area. When asked why she had not mentioned the incident during her previous days-long deposition testimony, she said that she had felt sheepish because it was an intimate matter. Yet she had exhibited no similar sheepishness while testifying in graphic detail about her sexual encounters with Danny L. The new allegation appeared for the first time in the Second Amended Complaint, dated January 19, 1996.

These allegations, which Kriyananda categorically denied, virtually ensured that the accusations against Kriyananda dating back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s would remain in the case. They had suddenly become “relevant” because of Bertolucci’s new allegations.

Under Flynn’s direction, the case, which formerly had focused on Danny L., shifted to Swami Kriyananda and Ananda as a whole. Flynn repeatedly accused Kriyananda of masquerading as a “celibate swami,” even though he had been absolved of his swami vows by SRF president Daya Mata, and had been married during the entire time that Bertolucci was associated with Ananda.

More about Anne-Marie Bertolucci.

How did the Bertolucci case end?

The trial in the Bertolucci case began in September 1997. Ananda’s evidence showed that between 1985 and 1994 Kriyananda was married, and that this fact was publicly known and reported in the press. He was not “masquerading as a celibate swami” as Bertolucci claimed. Kriyananda described several consensual sexual relationships in the early 1980s, before his marriage to Rosanna Golia, but denied sexually harassing anyone, including Bertolucci.

In a highly irregular ruling, the trial court refused to allow Kriyananda’s lawyers to cross-examine his accusers, or to impeach their credibility through the testimony of other witnesses. The judge also refused to allow Kriyananda’s lawyers to tell the jury why they weren’t cross-examining these women, or introducing other impeachment evidence.

The testimony of Kriyananda’s accusers thus stood unchallenged and unexplained. The jurors could draw only one conclusion: that their testimony was true.

The court order prohibiting cross-examination was imposed as a discovery sanction. Ananda had hired a private investigator to obtain information relating to SRF’s sponsorship of the Bertolucci suit. Despite Ananda’s clear instructions to the investigator that all information was to be obtained legally, the sub-agent of the investigator’s agent reached into a fenced outdoor trash area to obtain the trash from the Flynn Sheridan and Tabb law firm, (now Flynn and Stillman), instead of waiting until the trash had been placed on the nearby street.

The documents obtained from the trash were worthless and outdated, and were not used by Ananda. Set aside and forgotten, they were not included in later document productions. This oversight in not producing copies of the documents in discovery provided the basis for the sanctions.

Given the severity of the sanctions, it was a miracle that the jury verdict was not unanimous. Civil cases are tried before a jury of nine citizens, and a unanimous vote is not required. The verdict was 6 for Bertolucci, 3 for Ananda.

The jury verdict:

1) Count one: Both the Ananda Church and Walters were found liable on the charge of “constructive fraud.”

2) Count two: Ananda Church, Walters, and Danny L. were found liable for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

3) Count three: Ananda Church was found liable for “negligent supervision”; the Church had a duty to control Walters’ behavior, and failed to do so.

Awards for compensatory damages:

$595,000 in compensatory damages against Swami Kriyananda and the Ananda church

$30,000 in compensatory damages against Danny L.

Awards for punitive damages:

$1,000,000 (one million dollars) against Kriyananda, which was later lowered to $400,000.

Alter ego claim

The court rejected Bertolucci’s claim that Ananda existed primarily for Kriyananda’s financial enrichment. This claim was tried by the judge without the jury, so there were no restrictions on Ananda’s ability to cross-examine witnesses.

The judge found that Kriyananda did not have a dominant role in the handling of Ananda’s financial affairs:

“[Bertolucci’s]claim rests upon two dominant themes: that there was a commingling of corporate assets funds to Defendant Walters’ control and benefit and his actual control over corporate affairs was sufficiently dominant that the two must be viewed as one and the same for purposes of alter ego liability….[The evidence shows that][C]hurch officers and directors (not Walters) played the dominant role in the exercise of control over such matters.”

Immediately following the verdict, Bertolucci and Flynn filed a new lawsuit against Kriyananda and Ananda, based on the trash incident and for “malicious prosecution” referring to a counter-claim that Ananda had previously filed but withdrawn. Bertolucci claimed that in light of the jury verdict in her favor, Ananda’s cross-complaint for defamation was “malicious prosecution.” They sought $37 million in damages.

Thereafter, Bertolucci and her attorneys threatened to seize the property at Ananda Village and the Ananda Meditation Retreat, and the copyrights to Kriyananda’s books.

The consensus among many legal experts was that the case should be appealed and would easily be overturned on grounds of judicial misconduct and violation of Ananda’s First Amendment religious freedom rights. However, the large Bertolucci judgment, the new lawsuit, and Ananda’s precarious financial position forced Ananda to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Under court supervision, Ananda settled the Bertolucci judgment and the new lawsuit by agreeing to pay $1.8 million dollars to Bertolucci and her attorneys. The bankruptcy court approved the plan, and with considerable belt-tightening, Ananda managed to pay the full amount by 2001. As of November 2012, Ananda had paid all but about $175,000 of the massive legal fees and other costs of defending the SRF and Bertolucci lawsuits.

More complete information about the Bertolucci case.

More about Swami Kriyananda.

Was SRF involved in the Bertolucci lawsuit?

We believe so. As of 1994, SRF had suffered at least 95 percent of the rulings in its lawsuit against Ananda. SRF’s lawyers believed that “tarnishment” provided a possible avenue for regaining its cancelled trademarks in “Self-realization” and “Paramahansa Yogananda.”

If SRF could show that Ananda was morally corrupt, and that the public believed that Ananda and SRF were the same organization, perhaps the judge would feel that SRF was tarnished by the association and reverse its rulings. Thus, SRF had a big stake in proving that Ananda and Kriyananda were guilty of moral and financial misdeeds.

SRF duly asked the judge to consider whether SRF was being “tarnished” by the public’s confusion about the relationship between SRF and Ananda. The Bertolucci lawsuit, SRF said, was being reported in the media.

Ananda responded by accusing SRF of having “unclean hands” in the matter. SRF could not both help to create the tarnishment and then benefit from it. Ananda demanded to take the deposition of Daya Mata, to explore SRF’s involvement in the Bertolucci lawsuit.

Ananda based its argument on the following evidence:

1. Just weeks before she filed her lawsuit, Bertolucci was escorted by long-time SRF members to SRF headquarters, where she met with Daya Mata and other SRF board members.

2. SRF members helped instigate the lawsuit by encouraging Bertolucci to sue, and helping her find an attorney to take her case.

3. Nearly all of the women making accusations against Swami Kriyananda were associated with SRF, either as members or followers.

4. Michael Flynn brought Paul Friedman, a successful businessman and major SRF donor with close ties to Daya Mata, to Kriyananda’s sealed deposition, under the pretense that Friedman was a paralegal at Flynn’s firm. This was highly illegal, as the deposition was sealed by a ruling of the court.

5. Shortly after Kriyananda’s deposition, SRF transferred to Paul Friedman a valuable piece of land near its Encinitas hermitage for $1 and “other consideration.”

6. Friedman boasted to a new Ananda member that he had attended Kriyananda’s deposition, and that even though most SRF members did not know anything about the Bertolucci lawsuit, Friedman did because he was well-connected with people at the highest levels of SRF and knew Daya Mata well.

Despite the court order, Daya Mata refused to appear for her deposition, forcing Ananda to file a second motion to enforce the deposition order. At this point, Daya Mata accepted Kriyananda’s suggestion that both sides sit down together and try to settle the SRF case.

One of the first concessions SRF requested was that Ananda not take Daya Mata’s deposition. As a gesture of goodwill, Ananda agreed. A few months later, settlement discussions broke down. In the meantime, SRF decided not to pursue its tarnishment claim. Had it done so, the issue of unclean hands could have been revisited.