Letter to Ananda Meditation Group Leaders: The Bertolucci Trial Begins

A Letter From Jyotish and Devi Novak

November 10, 1997

Dear Friend,

We are now starting the trial phase of the Bertolucci lawsuit and want to give you more comprehensive information about the case. Bertolucci and her supporters have been very active in trying to get articles printed in the media, and consequently there may be questions from people in your group.

A Short History

In November 1994, Anne Marie Bertolucci filed a lawsuit against Danny Levin, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters), and Ananda Church of Self-Realization. Bertolucci became a church member of Ananda in Palo Alto in January 1991, and lived in that community for a few months before moving to Ananda Village in June 1992. Ms. Bertolucci and Danny Levin, an 18-year member of Ananda started a relationship in April 1993 that soon developed into a six-month love affair. Levin was married, and consequently the couple kept the affair secret. Only the couple knew about the sexual component, although a few others, including Kriyananda, knew that there was an attraction between the two.

They both were employed by Crystal Clarity, Publishers, and it was decided that it would be best to separate them in their work. Since each of them seemed to be worried about the rightness of this attraction, they were both apparently appreciative of this decision. In September Bertolucci was transferred to the Computer Department, an area in which she had considerable experience.

By November Levin had made the decision to remain with his wife and daughter, who is developmentally delayed. Bertolucci made it clear that she was intent upon continuing the relationship and breaking up Levin’s marriage. Kriyananda met with her, said that Levin was determined to make his marriage work, and told her she must move to one of the colonies. He proposed she consider the branch communities in Assisi or Seattle, but left the choice up to her. It was necessary that she, rather than Levin and his family, leave the Village because of the needs of Danny’s daughter, who was in a special training program. Although she was angry at being thwarted, Bertolucci finally agreed to move to Palo Alto.

In December 1993, Bertolucci returned to Palo Alto where she stayed about eight months, then left and severed her ties with Ananda. Three months after her departure, she filed the lawsuit having by then decided to characterize her consensual love affair as “sexual harassment.”

In her complaint she has made numerous allegations centering around sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and negligence on the part of Kriyananda and Ananda. The court has already thrown out several of her charges, but many still remain to be tried.

Outrageous Allegations

Bertolucci has three lawyers, the head one being Mike Flynn, a high profile litigant known by some of his acquaintances as “the assassin.” Her lawyers know that they have little chance to win this case on its merits, so they have done everything possible to shift the focus toward false stereotype images of small churches to arouse negative responses and prejudice the jury. Among these are the following allegations: Ananda is a cult; meditation and chanting are means of brainwashing people; Ananda is the “alter ego” of Kriyananda who totally dominates its members; Kriyananda has sexually harassed women in the community; and Ananda is an environment hostile to women.

In spite of the fact that Kriyananda was married during the entire time of Bertolucci’s involvement with Ananda, her lawyers have alleged that he falsely claimed he was celibate. Indeed, they have tried to make this the central issue of their case. During the discovery phase of the suit, they took eight days of depositions from Kriyananda in which they challenged him under oath with extremely hostile questions. Over our protests, the discovery referee made a ruling that allowed them to probe with complete freedom into Kriyananda’s private sexual history. Because they had already sent distorted and sensational material to the press and to Ananda members, we asked and were granted the right to have the depositions sealed. In addition to privacy issues, we didn’t want to give them a public forum to make false claims that would have more credence because they were made in a legal setting.

Kriyananda, during the course of his deposition, clearly stated that he had never harassed anyone, sexually or otherwise. In response to questions, he stated that he had consensual sexual relations with five different women, one in 1971, and four others in the early 1980s. One of these was Kimberley Moore who, while separated but not yet legally divorced from her husband, married Kriyananda in a spiritual ceremony in 1982. Far from keeping the marriage secret, Kriyananda wrote an article announcing their spiritual marriage that appeared in the Yoga Journal. Their marriage lasted only two months, and in the aftermath of their separation, Kriyananda had three other brief consensual alliances within the next year. The testimony from both sides places these activities 15 or more years ago. The Bertolucci lawyers have worked extremely hard, and succeeded to an astonishing degree, in turning the focus of the lawsuit away from the Bertolucci-Levin affair and toward Kriyananda’s private sexual history.

The judge has ruled that all deposition documents are now to be unsealed with the start of trial. We fully expect that Bertolucci and her supporters will cull through this material for anything they can use to try to make Ananda, and especially Kriyananda, look bad. From several thousand pages of testimony (and eight days of videotape of Kriyananda), they are likely to extract a small amount of material and distribute it as widely as possible. It is this material, taken out of context, that we must be ready to counter with the full picture.

The best defense we have is the simple truth of who we are. If you receive questions from people in your group, respond honestly and openly to them. We will be happy to provide you with more information. We have an entire set of all the deposition transcripts (and videotapes of Kriyananda) available at Ananda Village and at each of the colonies. Because this material comprises several thousand pages, we don’t want to have to make multiple copies. If there is anything you want to see, please call Jaya or Ram at the Ministry Office to make arrangements. Also, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call. We will try to provide regular updates about the trial which is expected to last four to six weeks, ending some time in the middle of December.

The SRF/Bertolucci Connection

There have been numerous ties between the Bertolucci lawsuit and SRF, which has been active from the sidelines. Ananda believes, but has never been able to prove, they may be secretly funding the suit. Here are a few of the many connections between Bertolucci and SRF:

1) Most of the main players on their side are SRF members or have strong connections to SRF. This includes Bertolucci, the women who will testify on her behalf, her support group, and her lawyers.

2) Bertolucci visited SRF headquarters a week before she filed the lawsuit. During this visit she was given the red carpet treatment, reportedly meeting with Daya Mata and other members of the Board of Directors. There has also been written correspondence between Bertolucci and Daya Mata.

3) Mike Flynn and his partner defended Paul Friedman, a major SRF donor, in a lawsuit shortly before the Bertolucci suit was filed.

4) This same Paul Friedman, attended the first day of Kriyananda’s deposition, and was falsely presented by Mike Flynn as his “paralegal.”

There are many more such ties but these give you a general idea.

Ananda’s Attempt to Find Proof of SRF’s Financial Involvement

During the course of the Bertolucci lawsuit a decision was made to hire a private investigator to see if we could obtain proof of SRF’s financial involvement. The investigator hired by Ananda informed us that one of the techniques used to get such information is to collect trash thrown out by the opposing lawyers and assured us that this was perfectly legal. As long as trash is not on private property, it is considered to be legally “abandoned.” Since this investigator had an office only in northern California, he decided to hire a second investigator in southern California where Flynn’s offices are located. This investigator, in turn, hired a third man to do the actual collecting. All three of these investigators have testified under oath that they were given explicit instructions to be sure they did nothing illegal. While it is still to be finally determined, it appears that the man who actually collected the trash (it was done only once) may have trespassed onto private property.

A Shocking Ruling

Flynn made a huge issue out of this incident, asking the judge for “default sanctions,” meaning that the entire case be decided in Bertolucci’s favor. While the judge rejected this, he did impose an extremely harsh penalty. In one of the more shocking decisions so far, the judge ruled that Ananda could not present any defense concerning Kriyananda’s past sexual activities or cross examine their witnesses to show in what ways they might be lying. This, obviously, ties our hands and makes our defense of the whole lawsuit much more difficult. Ananda made an emergency appeal to have the appellate court review this ruling. Unfortunately, once a trial starts, such motions are rarely granted, and ours was denied. The jury has now been selected and opening arguments took place on November 10th.

Flynn’s Son “Buzzes” Ananda and Drops Leaflets from an Airplane

In another example of the persecution of innocent people which is a hallmark of their tactics, Flynn’s son, Mike Flynn Jr., flew a small plane over Ananda on October 24th and dropped several hundred leaflets containing false information about Swami and the Bertolucci lawsuit. These flyers, very graphic in their language, were dropped virtually on top of a group of school children. One child, a 4th grader, read the leaflet and asked her mother, “What is sexual harassment? Mommy, are they going to shoot Swami?” The leaflet ends by calling for Kriyananda’s resignation – the goal of Bertolucci’s supporters from the beginning of the lawsuit.

During the flight, Flynn not only violated FAA regulations, but also seriously violated a prohibition against the lawyers from one side communicating directly with the other side. We wrote a strong paper attempting to get balancing sanctions, but the judge ignored the whole incident. A declaration, supposedly written by Mike Flynn Jr., is a prime example of the kind of energy we are up against in this case. He falsely claims that we prohibit our members from receiving their mail, implies that we have tried to kill his father and his partner, Phillip Stillman and compares Ananda to the most sensational examples of cults: Jonestown, Waco, and Heavens Gate.

The Long Range View

From the outset this case has been a battle for the hearts and minds of those who love Ananda and Swami Kriyananda. This lawsuit, and the SRF lawsuit before it, are attempts to kill our belief in our right to serve Master. The people of Ananda have already fought and won this battle. Because we have already made the decision to give Master and Swami our life commitment and support, the opposition can take nothing of lasting value from us.

There is a larger karma involved in this whole drama. When SRF threw Swami out, what appeared to be a terrible tragedy turned out to be a great blessing. That experience, painful though it was, proved to be the birth pains that gave rise to Ananda. It will be interesting to see what glorious event Master and Divine Mother have in mind for us this time! We invite you to join us in the blessings that come from standing up for what you believe in. May God and Guru guide you with their infinite love and patience to their light.

In divine friendship,

Jyotish & Devi