Charges of Sexual Misconduct: Part V

Anne Marie Bertolucci

Anne Marie Bertolucci herself came to be almost a minor character in the lawsuit which bears her name. Her relationship was with Danny Levin, whereas the purpose of the lawsuit was to injure Swami Kriyananda. The story of Anne Marie and Danny is elsewhere on this website, especially in the letters Swami Kriyananda wrote explaining the case.

Here we will deal with one aspect only—the false allegations Bertolucci eventually made that Swami Kriyananda was sexually inappropriate with her.

When she first filed her lawsuit, Anne Marie did not include any allegations of sexual misconduct between herself and Kriyananda. Her sole attorney at that time, Ford Greene, proudly described himself as a “cult buster.” He was happy to take the case, but he was not involved with SRF, so Ananda, to him, was just one of many possible targets

Michael Flynn, however, who joined the case later, and became Bertolucci’s lead attorney, has been associated with SRF for years. It was clear from the beginning that Flynn became involved to further SRF’s agenda to attack Kriyananda.

In her original suit, Anne Marie did claim that Kriyananda and Danny planned “to pass her back and forth between them,” as some kind of a shared “sexual slave.” Nothing remotely like that had happened. Bertolucci merely alleged that, given the chance, that is what Kriyananda and Danny were going to do. To support this far-fetched theory, the complaint made it seem as if Ananda was a hotbed of sexual abuse, with Kriyananda as the chief “sexual predator.”

The only “evidence” offered to support this perverse picture of Kriyananda, was the testimony of a few women who described incidents that allegedly happened in two distinct periods of time: 1968-69, and 1981-82. It was all too long ago to include as actual charges in Bertolucci’s lawsuit. The purpose of their testimony was to fulfill the SRF agenda to destroy the reputation of Swami Kriyananda.

It was likely, however, that the judge would refuse to allow these women to testify. What they had to say was irrelevant to Bertolucci’s actual case, which was about her relationship with Danny Levin. From SRF’s point of view, however, this would have been a disaster. These women were the foundation of the anti-Kriyananda campaign Flynn was there to carry out.

If Bertolucci herself, however, claimed that Kriyananda had been sexually inappropriate with her, then the judge would almost certainly allow the other women to testify as well. The judge would be especially open to allowing the testimony if Flynn argued—as he did—that what allegedly happened to Anne Marie was part of a “life-long pattern and practice of sexual abuse” by Swami Kriyananda. The plan worked and the judge opened wide the door for any and all anti-Kriyananda testimony.

First, however, Bertolucci had to change her story. She was only alone with Kriyananda a few times. It came down to two different versions of one particular counseling session.

This is what actually happened at that counseling session, according to the testimony of Swami Kriyananda, and, to a large extent, according to Bertolucci’s testimony as well.

The two of them were alone together in Swami Kriyananda’s dome at the Seclusion Retreat where he was staying at the time. He was having trouble with his heart and had gone there to rest. (His heart problems were so severe that soon after he had to have open-heart surgery.)

Kriyananda and Anne Marie sat on a couch together and discussed the situation between her and Danny Levin. Anne Marie complained of having a sore neck. Swami Kriyananda offered to adjust her neck—something he has done for many people over the years. Anne Marie said, yes, she would like him to adjust her neck. She stretched out flat on the floor, he knelt above her head, massaged her neck briefly, then gave it a twist to adjust it. They sat back on the couch, and since her neck was still sore, he continued to massage it while she sat there. After a few moments, Swami suggested she might be more comfortable, and her neck would be more relaxed, if she stretched out on the couch and put her head in his lap while he finished massaging it. She agreed.

Kriyananda says she was lying with the back of her head in his lap, face up, staring at the ceiling. He massaged her neck for a few minutes with her head in his lap. At no time, he said, did she ever turn her head to the side and rest her cheek on his leg, or any other part of his body, as she later claimed. After a few minutes, when the massage was done, Bertolucci sat up. She said her neck felt better.

Either Anne Marie offered to rub his shoulders—or Kriyananda asked her to do it. In any case, she stood behind where he was sitting, put her hands on his shoulders, and rubbed his shoulders through his shirt for a few minutes.

After they finished talking, Kriyananda invited her to stay and watch a video with him that he had already been planning to watch. He told her he knew nothing about the movie; it had been sent over by a friend who thought he might like it and had to be returned the next day. Anne Marie decided she would stay and they watched the video together. The movie was called Ruthless People. Anne Marie has never disputed that this was the movie. It is rated PG13, and, like most such movies, contains a sexually suggestive scene. After the movie was over, Anne Marie left.

In her original complaint, her attorney, Ford Greene, made as much as he could out of this event. He said Kriyananda asked Bertolucci to “massage him,” not mentioning that it was a shoulder rub, done sitting up, without even taking off his shirt. He says Kriyananda “had plaintiff [Bertolucci] watch several videos” as if he forced her to do it, rather than invited her. The video had “an erotic sex scene where a woman was giving the man oral sex.” Anyone reading this, of course, assumes it was an explicit, pornographic movie, instead of a PG13 with the usual suggestive moment in bed. In the video they actually watched, the bedroom scene ends with everything left to the imagination of the viewer.

Swami’s memory of the movie is that he didn’t like it, and made a mental note not to accept any more movie recommendations from that particular friend.

The complaint is accurate in saying that Kriyananda adjusted Bertolucci’s neck, but then it says he “placed [Bertolucci’s] head in his lap.” This implies both sexual and coercive, when, in fact, he asked her if she would be more comfortable and she chose to stretch out. And the context was not sexual.

The complaint also states that Kriyananda “frequently hugged [Bertolucci] and kissed her on the cheek.” Until the time of this lawsuit, it was common practice, although by no means the invariable practice, for Ananda people to say hello and good-bye with a hug and sometimes with a peck on the cheek. It was common among men, women, single and married people —there was nothing sexual about it. Swamiji often greeted people with a hug, and occasionally, with a peck on the cheek as well. As to whether he did so with Bertolucci, he has no recollection one way or another. The use of the term “frequently” in the complaint, however, implies that it was on-going during their counseling session. This is not true. If it happened at all, it would have been at arrival and departure.

The complaint also says that Kriyananda “looked lovingly” at Bertolucci. No doubt he did. She was very unhappy and he was trying to help her.

The whole way the original complaint is written—which is also repeated in exactly the same words in the first amended complaint—is an excellent study in how a false impression can be created without actually telling a lie.

Bertolucci’s complaint was filled with lurid, explicit, sexual detail. It was clear from the beginning that Bertolucci and her attorney intended to try the case in the media before it ever reached a court of law. The complaint seemed deliberately written to shock the reader and produce a sense of moral outrage. Merely to accuse a spiritual organization or leader of sexual misconduct can do grave, even irreparable, damage to them.

Given how determined Bertolucci was to have her revenge against Ananda, Danny, and Swami, and seeing how hard Ford Greene worked to make something of the little material he had to work with about Kriyananda and Bertolucci, it makes no sense to think that Bertolucci held anything back from him at the time the case was filed—or later when he filed the first amended complaint.

Nonetheless, after Michael Flynn joined her case, and began to implement the SRF agenda, Bertolucci seemed to “remember” something she had never told anyone before. This happened in the middle of her deposition on the very day that Flynn first appeared as her attorney. Bertolucci was beginning to talk about the particular counseling session described above, when Flynn stopped her testimony and called for a recess. He took Bertolucci out into the hall where they spoke privately. When Bertolucci returned and continued her testimony, for the first time she alleged that something sexual had happened between her and Kriyananda.

Even then, her allegation was extremely mild. It was what she thought might have happened rather than anything actually taking place.

She said that when Kriyananda was massaging her neck with her head resting in his lap she felt what seemed to be a “hardening against her cheek.” She thought Kriyananda was becoming sexually aroused so she sat up. As Bertolucci described it, Kriyananda made no explicit sexual gesture, he made no sexual references, and he made no effort to restrain her when she sat up.

When our attorney asked Bertolucci why she had never mentioned this alleged “incident” before, inasmuch as it was central to her case, she said she had been “too embarrassed to talk about it.” At this point in the deposition, Bertolucci had already given hours of explicit testimony about her sexual encounters with Levin. She also took every opportunity to put into the record the sexual details of the charges the other women had made against Swami Kriyananda—no matter how irrelevant that information was to the question at hand. Even when the subject matter was quite lurid, Bertolucci never hesitated or seemed embarrassed. She particuarly seemed to relish repeating the charges against Kriyananda. In this context, her explanation hardly seemed credible.

What Bertolucci claimed happened between her and Kriyananda was not much. But it was enough to accomplish her goal. Flynn—and eventually Bertolucci herself—also continued to embellish the story as time went on. By the time of Kriyananda’s deposition, Flynn questioned him about “the time you rubbed my client’s face against your erect penis.”

Kriyananda said he was never sexually aroused in her presence, and as for “rubbing her face against him,” it was preposterous. Our attorney pointed out that Bertolucci herself never said that happened. Flynn’s reply was to shout back, “That’s just the way it happened!”

In the second amended complaint, submitted after Flynn joined the case, the description of the counseling session now describes the neck adjustment as “inappropriate touching,” and adds that “Swami rubbed plaintiff’s cheek against his penis.” With this as a basis, Flynn tried to get a charge of “sexual battery” by Kriyananda included in the case. It was too late, however, and the judge did not allow it.

Nonetheless, since Bertolucci now was claiming “inappropriate touching” by Kriyananda, the door was opened in just the way Flynn—and SRF—wanted.

To this day, Ananda’s detractors characterize the verdict in the Bertolucci trial as Swami Kriyananda being convicted of “molesting young female devotees.” In fact, there was never any specific charge of sexual misconduct against Kriyananda for the jury to rule on. The alleged incidents described by the other women were too far in the past to be the subject of this or any other lawsuit. The question of whether or not Kriyananda had, in fact, touched Bertolucci “inappropriately,” however, did figure into the jury’s verdict on the related issue of “intentional infliction of emotional harm.” The jury decided he had been inappropriate.

As is explained elsewhere on this website, Ananda was not allowed to cross-examine any woman who testified against Kriyananda. And the women testifying knew in advance that they would not be cross-examined. As just one example, Bertolucci never had to answer questions in front of the jury as to why it took her so long to “remember” this incident with Kriyananda.

To make it even worse for Ananda, the jury was never told why we didn’t cross-examine the women who testified against Kriyananda. When we didn’t challenge such damaging testimony, the jury could only assume we had no defense against it. The jury didn’t know it was the judge who prevented us. In fact, through cross-examination we could have impugned the credibility of every one of those women. This is one, among many reasons, why legal experts say the verdict would certainly have been overturned on appeal.

Ananda was also not allowed to present any witnesses who would testify in Kriyananda’s favor on the sexual issue. Since we presented no evidence, the jury again assumed we had no evidence to contradict Flynn’s assertion that there was a “life-long pattern and practice of sexual abuse” by Kriyananda. In fact, we had many women eager to testify about Swami’s true character in order to clear his name. These are women who have known him closely and worked with him for years, in some cases, even decades. As one woman put it, “If there had been the inclination, there was ample opportunity. But there was never even a hint of sexual energy from him.”

The jury never knew the magnitude of the very profitable deception that Flynn, Bertolucci, and company perpetrated on them. By the time it was all settled—months after the trial ended—Flynn, Greene, and Bertolucci got a $1.8 million settlement from Ananda.

It was an interesting moment when the verdict was finally announced. It was late on a Friday afternoon. We got a call from the court saying the jury was about to return the verdict. Only a handful of Ananda people were able to come to the courtroom on such short notice. As it became clear that the jury was ruling in favor of Bertolucci, and awarding her a great deal of money, as well, a surprising sense of calm settled over the Ananda people there. Later, we realized we’d all had the same experience.

One woman said what she felt was great compassion for Anne Marie, Flynn, and the others involved on that side. “Not only have they acted dishonestly,” she thought, “but now they have been rewarded for it. This will only increase the delusion in their minds that it is okay to behave in this way. It will be that much more painful and difficult for them to escape from the karmic catastrophe they are creating for themselves.” Whether this was true intuition, or mere presumption, only time will tell. Truly, it is between them and God.

We have no idea what has become of Anne Marie. She was from New Zealand and some rumors say she returned to her homeland. Flynn, unfortunately, is still part of our lives, since he now represents SRF in their on-going lawsuit against Ananda.