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News Summaries

ICSA Today, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2018, 35-40


IT 9.1 News Summaries


Campbelltown home of fugitive Agape cult leader Rocco Leo to be auctioned

“It survived the end-of-the-world prediction made by its fugitive owner—and now the home of Agape Ministries doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo will go under the hammer at auction. The 2258 sq[uare] m[eter] property at 25 Hart St, Campbelltown, was opened for inspection to the public on Saturday as part of a court-ordered sale later this month. It is expected to sell for more than $1.5 million as part of Supreme Court action designed to repay the doomsday cult’s creditors, including the Australian Taxation Office. … The Sunday Mail was told Ms Leo, who became the registered owner of the property with Rocco Leo in 1998, did not want to talk to the media or about the sale. ‘We’re told she has nothing to do with the (Agape) cult and like everyone else she is just cleaning up the consequences,’ a representative linked to the sale said. The Hart St property was unremarkable until it made national media in 2010, when the cult’s world came tumbling down and Leo fled to Fiji where he currently lives. … Rocco Leo could not be contacted on Saturday but, in the Supreme Court in March, his Adelaide ‘messenger,’ Kathryn Conder, said her leader would not attend court only because he could not afford an airfare from Fiji. ‘Pastor Rocco is a man of God and he’s telling you that, if someone makes a decision against whomsoever is a man of God, they will personally see the hand of God move,’ she said. ‘So it’s really important that people understand that to try to fight against the hand of God is futile. To make a wrong decision, well, the judgment of God can come down on a person’s head that very day.’” (The Advertiser/Australia, 10/07/17)
Ex-members describe military-style Christian sect now accused of child abuse

“‘They are an ‘Army of God’ waiting for Armageddon at their compound in a remote corner of New Mexico. They wear uniforms, have ranks, and take their orders from a self-appointed ‘general’ named Deborah ‘Lila’ Green who claims to be an ‘Oracle of God.’ And for the hundred or so members of the Aggressive Christian Missions Training Corps (ACMTC), former followers say, Green’s word is law. …

The ACMTC has been branded an active hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its virulent anti-Semitism and gay bashing, which is discussed on its web site. Arrest warrants obtained by NBC News allege that Green presided over a compound where the births were not reported to authorities and children, who held the rank of private, were trained to hide when the police came around. Green also was loath to allow in doctors, not even when a flu virus ‘passed through the camp in 2013,’ according to the warrants. One child—a girl allegedly smuggled in from Uganda—was treated especially badly, the warrants revealed. She became Green’s personal slave and was reportedly ‘treated like a dog’ and whipped bloody for the most minor of infractions with the equivalent of a cat-o-nine tails, the warrants state. That girl, who is named in the papers but is not being identified by NBC News, told investigators that she was sexually abused by Green and by her son-in-law Peter Green, also known under the name Mike Brandon, who raped her four times a week from the time she was seven, the warrants allege. … Another follower, Stacey Miller, allegedly fled the compound after investigators began looking into the death of one of her children during the flu epidemic. She was arrested on a child abuse charge in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. She told police the child died after he "began to leak puss from his forehead." Miller admitted to investigators she did not report his death to the authorities. Yet another key member of the sect, Joshua Green, is charged with failing to properly register a birth, according to the warrants. All were being held in the local lockup and it was not immediately clear if they had gotten lawyers. But on their website, the sect denied the charges. ‘We don’t know who all the accusers are, but the accusations are just re-runs of old lies that have been investigated and shown to be malicious attacks against a legitimate ministry,’ they said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. … Rick Alan Ross, an expert on cults, said he is very familiar with this group and said it runs on the backs of the free labor done by the children. He said the grownups are sent out to sell baked goods, picture frames and other trinkets they manufacture, and the money goes back to Green. ‘In my opinion, they fit the profile of a classic destructive cult,’ he said. ‘It’s run by Deborah Green. She is the charismatic personality. Her husband is subordinate. Whatever comes out of Deborah’s mouth is the word of God. Everybody’s wrong except Deborah.’” (NBCNews.com, 08/28/17)
German court jails fugitive doctor over Colonia Dignidad child sex abuse

“A German court has sentenced a doctor who fled Chile to five years in prison for involvement in child sex abuse at a commune called Colonia Dignidad. The court upheld a Chilean prison sentence for Hartmut Hopp, a German citizen in his seventies. Hopp worked with Paul Schäfer, a former Nazi soldier who founded the commune in southern Chile in 1961. … Germany last year said it would declassify its files on the sect, and the foreign minister at the time, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, admitted that the diplomatic service had failed to stop the abuses. The scale of the abuses only came to light after Schäfer faced a series of lawsuits in 1997. He fled Chile and was arrested in Argentina in 2005. He was convicted in Chile of sexual abuse of children, weapons possession and human rights violations. He died in a Chilean jail in 2010 at the age of 88.” (BBC News, 08/14/17)
Exclusive Brethren paid potential witness in sex-abuse case to remain silent

“The Exclusive Brethren church has been covering up child sex abuse for decades, and last year I wrote about it. The story told of children who were denied, bullied or bought off by the religious sect to keep their abuse secret. The main source for the story was the Brethren’s former spokesman, Tony McCorkell. A towering, flawed mountain of a man, McCorkell went nervously on the record with me, breaking ranks a decade after leaving the church and confessing to the role he had played in the history of cover-ups. It was a role that ate at his conscience. What was not clear at the time, to either McCorkell or me, was how far the Exclusive Brethren would go to continue [to] resist the truth being told.… The church's response to my sexual abuse story was swift and comprehensive. Before it was even published last June, they warned me I was in danger of breaching the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act and the defamation law. A Melbourne-based church functionary, Lloyd Grimshaw, wrote to Fairfax Media chairman Nick Falloon seeking ‘management oversight’ of my journalism. A month after the story was published, a Brethren company registered as a charity, the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) Christian Church Limited, briefed Sydney lawyer Mark O'Brien and sued Fairfax Media and me personally in the Supreme Court for defamation. ... A second legal action over the same story was taken against me by a church member described as ‘Jane Doe’ who alleges my reporting illegally identified her as a child victim of sex abuse. That case continues in a different Sydney court. … Just three days after the defamation writ lodged, Lloyd Grimshaw, a director of the company suing me, signed an agreement with McCorkell. Entitled ‘Services and Confidentiality Deed,’ the agreement proposed to pay McCorkell $920,000 over 10 years; part up front, the rest in monthly payments of $6000, along with a $75,000 ‘holding’ account, to keep his mouth shut. McCorkell, though, did not want to wait 10 years for his cash. On Friday, October 21, last year, he flew from his Queensland home to Sydney to renegotiate. ... Before he signed the confidentiality deed in July last year, McCorkell was keen to expose how they had three times previously considered paying a bribe to shut me up. The first was a decade ago when, through him, they offered me and my family an all-expenses-paid trip to Noumea on the understanding that I stop writing about the Brethren’s links to then-prime minister John Howard and their secret donations to Liberal and National Party campaigns. … After July 15 last year, though, he suddenly went cold on the idea. Only later did I find out that was the same day he signed the ‘Services and Confidentiality Deed.’ McCorkell started saying he would not give evidence in the defamation case. … On October 3, the Brethren lost their defamation case against me and Fairfax. Supreme Court Justice Lucy McCallum ruled that we could not have defamed a company that did not exist when the events described in the story took place. The Brethren were ordered to pay Fairfax’s costs. Fairfax has been advised that the Brethren are appealing that decision. A fortnight later, they still had not informed their flock about losing a case they all prayed so fervently to win.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 10/21/17)
US psychic pleads guilty to $3.5 million tax evasion

“A self-proclaimed psychic who was paid $3.5 million by an elderly Massachusetts woman in exchange for claiming to cleanse her of demons pleaded guilty on Thursday to trying to avoid paying taxes. Sally Ann Johnson, 41, for more than seven years provided what she described as healing services to a resident of the island of Martha’s Vineyard, who was more than 70 years old when she first met the spiritual healer, according to court papers. … Johnson, who has resided in New York, Florida, Illinois and at times Massachusetts, faces up to three years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 17. Her lawyers declined to comment. According to court papers, Johnson at various times lived with the unnamed woman on Martha’s Vineyard, a favorite vacation spot for the rich and famous. In an effort to evade the IRS’s scrutiny, Johnson, using the alias Angela Johnson, directed the woman to make payments in the name of Sally Johnson and another of her businesses, Stones of the World, charging papers said. … Johnson made significant cash withdrawals from those accounts and also accrued charges on a credit card held in the woman’s name, according to charging documents.” (Reuters, 10/05/17)
Popular Indian guru arrested over alleged rape of law student

“A popular spiritual guru has been arrested in India for the alleged rape of a 21-year-old woman, Indian media report. Falahari Maharaj is accused of raping the law student at his ashram in Alwar, a village in Rajasthan state. The self-styled ‘godman’ faces 10 years in prison if convicted. ... The woman, who is studying law in Jaipur, filed a complaint on 11 September alleging the attack had taken place on 7 August. ... She was, she says, raped after she agreed to stay overnight at the property, the Hindu newspaper reports. Mr Maharaj, she says, warned her against reporting the attack. However, she adds, she gained the courage to approach the police after the conviction of Ram Rahim Singh, who was found guilty of raping two followers between 1999 and 2002 in northern Haryana state.” (BBC News/India, September 23, 2017)
Polygamist Warren Jeffs ordered to pay $16 million to former child bride who testified against him

“A Utah judge Tuesday ordered Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints President Warren Jeffs to pay $16 million to a woman who was 14 when she was pressured to marry her 19-year-old cousin. Elissa Wall will receive $4 million in damages and $12 million in punitive damages, 3rd District Judge Keith Kelly ordered in the lawsuit Wall first filed in 2005. Wall filed the case under the pseudonym ‘MJ’ when the events occurred. Wall’s attorney Alan Mortensen said Tuesday the ruling allows for him and Wall to collect the money from Jeffs or the church. He described pursuing FLDS assets in various states as well as Mexico and Canada. ... Through Mortensen, Wall issued a statement Tuesday. ‘The judgment handed down by the Court is a big step forward in the fight for a strong and unmovable statement to the world that no one, especially children, can be sexual[ly] exploited and abused in the name of religion,’ Wall’s news release said. ‘Today is a victory for many thousands of victims of abuse. Many of us have stood up in our own way to fight for justice and further the protection of children.’ Neither Jeffs nor the church defended himself or itself in the lawsuit. ... (Salt Lake Tribune, September 5, 2017)
The Blackmores of the BC polygamous sect receive jail sentences in child-bride case

Brandon James Blackmore, 71, has been sentenced to a year in prison and 18 months’ probation for taking his 13-year-old daughter to the United States to be placing his 13-year-old daughter in the United States and in a a polygamous marriage with Warren Jeffs, leader of of the FLDS. Blackmore’s estranged wife, Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore, 60 (Blackmore’s estranged wife) also was given 7 months in prison and 18 months’ probation for her part in these actions. Both parents were convicted earlier in 2017 for removal of a child from Canada for the unlawful purposes of sexual touching and sexual interference. Jeffs had invoked God’s name and told Brandon Blackmore in 2004 that Blackmore’s daughter ‘belonged to him’ and to bring her to Colorado City, Arizona., where the 13-year-old was married within days to 49-year-old Jeffs. That fall, within a few weeks of her 14th birthday, Jeffs then sexually assaulted her that fall, within a few weeks of her 14th birthday, and recorded the act. …. Jeffs has been serving a life sentence in Texas since 2011 for aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year-old and sexual assault of another 12-year-old girl. In the current decision, the judge said that jail time was required for both Blackmores based on what they did, despite their ages, their religious beliefs and even their medical conditions, noting that Gail Blackmore expressed no remorse for her actions and was noncommittal when asked whether she might repeat such actions. (Vancouver Sun, 08/11/17)
Mexico arrests suspected US cult leader over triple murder and pedophilia

“Mexican police have detained a polygamous cult leader wanted in the United States on charges of pedophilia and who is a suspect in the murder of three U.S. citizens in Mexico. Orson William Black Jr. was arrested in the Mexican border state of Chihuahua along with his four wives and 22 other people, including minors, state prosecutors said in a statement. … Black is a suspect in the murder of three men, but has not yet been charged. He is also facing human trafficking charges. For now, Black and others arrested are accused of entering Mexico illegally, and animal cruelty, after police found butchered and frozen animals on the properties. Black had been wanted in the U.S. for 15 years on pedophilia charges in the U.S. state of Arizona, before fleeing to Mexico.” (VOA News, 11/06/17)
Murder of three teens in Mexico led police to fugitive US polygamist

“Rancho El Negro is a five-hectare property amid rolling fields of corn and cotton at the foothills of a lonely mountain outside the town of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc in the north Mexican state of Chihuahua. Neighbors ... referred to the farm as ‘The Company’ and had little to do with its owner. … Last weekend, more than a hundred law enforcement officials descended on the ranch and four other properties and arrested the owner, whom they identified as Orson William Black Jr, 56—the fugitive leader of a polygamist sect. … Along with Black, officials detained three of his wives, a woman described as ‘a concubine,’ and 22 other Americans living in Mexico illegally. Another woman escaped during the raid, according to Mexican prosecutors. The raids also turned up a bizarre collection of exotic animal parts and stuffed animals, including elephant feet, a lion skin, stuffed birds and buffalo heads. This week, Black was charged with illegal possession of wildlife and human smuggling—and then quickly extradited to the US. … FLDS leaders teach that men must have at least three wives to reach the highest level of salvation. The group’s former spiritual leader Warren Jeffs is now serving a life sentence for sex crimes against two girls aged 12 and 14. Around 1990, Black proclaimed himself a prophet and founded his own splinter group in Colorado City, Arizona. It was around that time that he met the Petersons—a large polygamist family whose patriarch had more than 40 children. … Black fled to Mexico in the early 2000s with four of his wives and about 20 other followers, including children. [Penny] Peterson [sister] had no news from her sisters until two months ago, when she received a call from an officer with the US Marshals. ‘He asked me to sit because he had some bad news to share, and I thought he was gonna tell me my sister Beth was dead. But instead, he told me my two nephews were shot dead in Mexico,’ she said. Robert,15, and Michael, 23—sons of Beth and Roberta respectively—were murdered on September 10 alongside a third American called Jesse Barlow, 23. Reports in the Mexican media say that all three were shot just outside one of the trailer homes. … On a kitchen wall there are pictures of his [Black’s] sect: seven men dressed in black, and a separate line of 11 women dressed in flowing pioneer-era dresses and long plaits; none of them is smiling. Mexican officials say they are still investigating Black’s activities in Chihuahua. His former neighbors are left with nothing but questions. ‘We never knew who he really was,’ said [closest neighbor Juanito] Peters. ‘But now that the news is spreading we keep asking ourselves: what was really going on inside those walls?’” (The Guardian, 11/11/17)
Judge orders birth certificates issued to children born secretly on polygamous compound in South Dakota

“...At a hearing Thursday, most of which was conducted over the telephone, a state judge in South Dakota ... agreed to issue an order requiring the state’s Department of Vital Records to issue birth certificates [for “two girls were born in secrecy on the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints compound near Pringle, S.D.”]. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Jeff Davis signed the order later Thursday, [Sarah] Allred later told The Salt Lake Tribune. Once it has been served on the state agency, the certificates should be issued in two to four weeks. Allred has been seeking the birth certificates for three years—ever since she gained custody of the six children she had with her now ex-husband. ... ’We were not allowed to get birth certificates per the leadership,’ Allred said. ... The legal case was complicated by a lack of documentation. When Sarah Allred was sent away from the FLDS in 2012, she had few church documents or photos of the girls. Sarah Allred and her Utah attorney, Roger Hoole, searched multiple states looking for any records showing that she and her husband were caring for the girls as infants. What records could be found, from hospitals, former church members—as well as Allred’s divorce decree last year where a Utah judge found she and Richard Allred were the girls’ parents—were submitted as evidence to the judge in South Dakota. A South Dakota attorney, who took Sarah Allred’s case pro bono, represented her in the judge’s courtroom on Wednesday. ... Sarah Allred hugged her 9- and 6-year-olds after the hearing ended. (Salt Lake Tribune, September 14, 2017)
Arthur Janov, 'primal scream' psychotherapist with a rock star client list, dies at 93

“Arthur Janov, a psychotherapist whose ‘primal therapy’ had celebrities screaming to release their childhood traumas and spawned a best-selling book in the 1970s, has died. He was 93. ... Janov, a clinical psychologist, became an international celebrity with his idea that adults repressed childhood traumas, making them neurotic and leading to problems such as mood disorders, drug addiction and even epilepsy. His ideas rode the counterculture wave of the late 1960s and were embraced by celebrities from John Lennon to James Earl Jones. The 1980s rock group Tears for Fears said it—and the songs it recorded—were inspired by Janov. Over the decades, though, many of the bedrock principles of Janov’s teaching were dismissed as unsound. ... In a 1975 book, Janov called his therapy ‘the only hope if mankind is to survive’ and suggested that what he called primal consciousness ‘certainly means an end to war.’ As with many other emotional-release therapies of its time, primal therapy now is widely rejected by mental health professionals as unscientific and ineffectual….” (Los Angeles Times/Associated Press, October 4, 2017)
Jehovah's Witnesses organization banned in Russia as extremist

“The Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses has been added to the list of organizations banned as extremist, the Russian Justice Ministry announced on its website on Thursday. In spring, the Supreme Court of Russia ordered liquidation of the Jehovah's Witnesses managing organization and all its 395 local branches. The ruling has become effective. …The Justice Ministry’s representatives said in court that the Administrative Centre’s activities endanger observance of rights and legal interests of people as well as peacekeeping and security protection. … Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2004 several branches and chapters of the organization were banned and shut down in various regions of Russia.” (Rapsi News, 08/17/2017)
Judge orders Jehovah’s Witness to release molestation files

“The mission of Jehovah’s Witnesses is to spread belief in the Bible in hopes of rescuing folks before the world ends. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ attorneys seem to have another mission: do anything to keep internal documents revealing the names of alleged child molesters, and the congregations they attended, from seeing the light of day. The second directive is unfolding in two San Diego courtrooms. Attorneys for José Lopez and Osbaldo Padron—both alleged victims of molestation by an elder from the Linda Vista [CA] congregation named Gonzalo Campos—say Jehovah’s Witnesses’ governing body, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, refuses to turn over documents. This is despite the fact that two San Diego County Superior Court judges have imposed millions of dollars in sanctions for similar conduct. …The struggle for documents is not isolated to San Diego courtrooms but is playing out in several countries. Watchtower’s policies of requiring more than one eyewitness to the abuse before launching an investigation; of forcing the abused, often young children, to confront their abuser; and of prohibiting members from contacting law enforcement with complaints of sexual abuse have created what one former member and outspoken critic of the Watchtower Tract Society, William Bowen, calls a ‘pedophile’s paradise.’ Last year, a Royal Commission in Australia found that Jehovah’s Witnesses had hidden more than a thousand reports of child abuse from that country’s law enforcement. In the United States, during the past five years, the Watchtower has paid out numerous settlements to people who claimed they’d suffered child abuse at the hands of church elders. To date, seven San Diego residents have sued the Watchtower Tract Society regarding sexual abuse of minors. … But according to accusations against him, Campos and his mother were staying at a member family’s home in 1982. Campos shared a bedroom with a young boy. In the middle of the night, the boy felt somebody pulling down his pajama pants and felt wetness on his buttocks. He opened his eyes and Campos was kneeling next to his bed. The boy punched Campos and then grabbed a baseball bat. The boy’s mother kicked Campos and his mother out of her house. Days later she lodged a complaint with church elders Justino Diaz and Carlos Ramirez at the Linda Vista congregation. The elders did not punish Campos. Instead he remained a publisher and was allowed to teach Bible classes to children. It was not the last time Campos is alleged to have sexually assaulted a child and received protection from church elders. Eight now claim that Campos molested them. The alleged molestations happened between 1982 and 1999. Elders have been accused of refusing to report the molestation to law enforcement….” (San Diego Reader, 08/30/17)
Jehovah’s Witnesses face legal/financial penalties in court case

“A state appeals court has upheld $2 million in legal sanctions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the religious organization refused to produce internal files and documents in a lawsuit that alleges sexual misconduct by a former elder in the organization. Osbaldo Padron sued the local Playa Pacifica Congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, also known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Padron claimed he was molested on multiple occasions as a child by Gonzalo Campos, who was also associated with the Pacifica Congregation. … The organization argued, in part, that the order, issued by Superior Court Judge Richard Strauss, violates its First Amendment rights as a religious organization. Judge Strauss disagreed, and last year imposed monetary sanctions of $4,000 a day for every day Watchtower failed to search for and produce the documents. Watchtower appealed Strauss’s order, and on Nov. 9, a three-member panel of the state Court of Appeals upheld Strauss’s ruling. … The alleged molester, Gonzalo Campos, could not be found for comment. Watchtower’s public information office responded with a brief comment when asked about the appellate court ruling: ‘We are evaluating our legal options at this time,’ the organization said. In papers filed in the Padron lawsuit, Watchtower denies Padron’s allegations of abuse and argues that even if an elder did molest a child, the parent organization has no control over that abuse, and is not responsible for harm done to that child.” (NBC 7 San Diego, 11/10/17)
Cult Leader Released From Jail

Chatsworth [Ontario, Canada] cult leader Fred King is out after one year of serving his 18-month sentence. “King, who was called the "Prophet," pled guilty in 2016 to nine counts of assault, and was sentenced in Owen Sound Superior Court last September. Along with the jail sentence, King was given two years probation. ... The assault charges stemmed from incidents between 1988 and 2008, when King was leader of the Church of Jesus Christ Restored on Concession 2 in Chatsworth Township. (Bayshore Broadcasting News Centre, Chatsworth, September 15, 2017)
Legion of Christ faces new scandal

“The Legion of Christ religious order, stained by revelations that its founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered several children, is facing a new credibility scandal: The rector of its diocesan seminary in Rome is leaving the priesthood after admitting he fathered two children of his own. In a letter released by the Legion on Saturday, the Rev. Oscar Turrion said he fell in love with a woman a few years ago during a time of turmoil in the Legion, fathered a son and, a few months ago, a daughter. … The issue is particularly delicate because of the international diocesan character of the seminary: Bishops entrusted their seminarians to the Legion to provide them with a wholesome living environment while they complete their studies. In a statement, the Legion said it was ‘conscious of the impact that the negative example’ of Turrion’s case had on seminarians and the Christian faithful, and said it was committed to a path of renewal.” In an earlier scandal, “The Vatican took over the Legion in 2010, after revelations that its late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children with two women. It ordered up a wholesale reform, but the scandal hurt the Legion’s credibility and stained the legacy of St. John Paul II, who had been a leading Maciel supporter. … The Legion said Turrion first informed the order of the birth of his daughter in March, at which time he took a leave and a new rector was named. In October, he revealed he had had a son ‘a few years ago’ with the same woman and announced he intended to leave priestly ministry. In his letter, Turrion said he was at peace and asked for prayers. ‘I ask everyone forgiveness for the lack of trust that this implies,’ he wrote. ‘I ask forgiveness for my bad example and the negative witness I have given.’” (VOA, Associated Press, 10/07/17)
State to review women’s complaints about branding in secretive group

“Officials in New York State plan to review why regulators and others did not act after women involved with a secretive group reported they had been branded with a cauterizing device or traumatized during an ‘experiment,’ said a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The review will also examine whether state officials should now pursue those complaints, said that spokesman, Richard Azzopardi. The women were former members of an Albany-based group called N[XIVM] that offers self-improvement courses. … The doctor, Brandon Porter, is accused of having run a study in which women were shown video clips while their brain waves were recorded and facial expressions videotaped. Participants were not warned beforehand that some clips were extremely violent, including scenes of women being killed and dismembered, according to a complaint filed with the New York State Department of Health. … The developments follow the publication on Tuesday of an article in The New York Times about N[XIVM] and the practices of the secret sorority. The article cited a text message indicating that N[XIVM] leader, Keith Raniere, who is known as ‘Vanguard,’ was aware some female members were being branded and that the symbol used contained his initials as a ‘tribute’ to him. Late Wednesday, N[XIVM] released a statement through an affiliate, stating that an unnamed media outlet had ‘unfoundedly, and incorrectly, linked NXIVM corporation, and its related companies, with a social group.’ … During a three-month period, officials of N[XIVM] did not respond to repeated requests by The Times for interviews and responses. Neither Dr. Porter nor Dr. Roberts responded to repeated inquiries. Mr. Azzopardi said in his statement: ‘The allegations in this article are disturbing. Counsel’s Office will be reviewing this matter to determine if applicable laws, regulations and procedures were followed by the agencies cited in this report and that review will determine if further action is warranted.’ … A spokesman for St. Francis Hospital said Dr. Porter resigned his part-time position after officials there met with him to discuss the allegations cited in The Times article.” (The New York Times, 10/19/17)
After abuse allegations, Sogyal Rinpoche retires from Rigpa

“Following discussion of allegations of abuse, Sogyal Rinpoche, Buddhist teacher and author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, ‘has decided, with immediate effect, to retire as spiritual director from all the organizations that bear the name of Rigpa in different countries around the world,’ according to a press release from the organization: ‘Rigpa is an international network of Buddhist centres dedicated to making the Buddhist teachings of meditation, compassion and wisdom available to the modern world. The courses and programs offered by Rigpa have helped many thousands of people around the world experience relief from suffering and find meaning in their lives. … The governing boards and management teams of Rigpa, having sought professional and spiritual advice, will assure that the following steps are taken: 1. Set up an independent investigation by a neutral third party into the various allegations that have been made. 2. Launch an international consultation process to establish both a code of conduct and a grievance process for Rigpa. 3. Establish a new spiritual advisory group to guide the Rigpa organization. These steps are being taken by the boards and management teams of Rigpa worldwide, in a true spirit of collaboration. Channels will be established so that any member of our community has the opportunity to express their wishes, views and concerns.’ A number of allegations of abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche were communicated in a letter dated July 14 of this year. The letter was signed by current and ex-members of Rigpa. Days after the release of the letter, it was announced by Rigpa that Sogyal would ‘step back’ and would go on retreat.” (Lion’s Roar, 08/11/17)
Indian guru sentenced to 10 years in jail on two rape convictions

A controversial Indian spiritual guru who goes by Dr. Saint Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan has been sentenced to a total of 20 years in prison on charges of raping two female followers. With intense security present, the judge handed down the two sentences at the prison in Rohtak where the guru has been held since his conviction. Ahead of the sentencing announcements, Train and bus services to Rohtak were suspended and a curfew was imposed prior to the sentencing to prevent supporters of the guru from gathering in the town. Additional security also was provide around the prison, and government troops had permission to use firearms if any violence erupted. A curfew was also in place in Sirsa town, location of the main headquarters of the guru's Dera Sacha Sauda sect. The sect, which supports vegetarianism, ecological endeavors, and prohealth lifestyles, claims about 50 million followers. (The Associated Press, CBC.ca, 08/28/17)
Dan, Fran Keller to get $3.4 million in “satanic day care” case

“Dan [Keller] and Fran Keller, who spent more than 21 years in prison after they were accused of sexually abusing children during supposed satanic rituals at their South Austin day care facility, will receive $3.4 million from a state fund for those wrongly convicted of crimes. Shortly after receiving the news Tuesday, an ecstatic Fran Keller said they will no longer have to live on the brink of destitution, unable to find jobs at their ages and with their convictions, even if overturned by the state’s highest criminal court. … [Dan] Kelley, serving a 25-year sentence on a child sexual assault charge, has maintained his innocence and [along with his wife] … is being represented by Keith Hampton, who phoned the Kellers with news of the state payments while he was inside the jail arranging Kelley’s release. The state’s wrongful conviction compensation fund pays $80,000 for each year in prison, plus a matching annuity that provides annual payments of 5 percent interest as long as the recipient is alive and isn’t convicted of a felony. … Children who reported no problems at the day care were ignored, and leading psychologists and criminology professors provided affidavits saying improper interview techniques and subtle encouragement by therapists produced believable-but-false memories in the children who accused the Kellers of abuse. Taped interviews of a Keller accuser, a 3-year-old girl, made at the Travis County sheriff’s office have since been used in lectures by a top specialist in assessing and treating crime victims to illustrate common interviewing mistakes. … The couple’s circumstances changed in June, when Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore filed court documents that dropped all charges and declared the Kellers ‘actually innocent’ under the law. After an extensive review, it was clear that the Kellers’ innocence claim should be supported in the interest of justice, Moore said at the time. Now adults, several of the children who accused the Kellers opposed the move, according to Moore and family members.” (My Statesman, 08/22/17)
Scientology draws dueling petitions involving Leah Remini, the IRS, and change.org

“Reaction to this month’s Season 2 premiere of the Emmy-nominated Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath series has been swift, from the religion's international spiritual headquarters in Clearwater [FL] and nationwide. Two dueling online petitions have emerged since the Aug. 15 premiere: one calling for the IRS to investigate Scientology's tax-exempt status. That one was launched by Jeffrey Augustine, Scientology researcher and husband of former Scientologist Karen de la Carriere, who served aboard the church’s ship Apollo with founder L. Ron Hubbard. The other, launched by a teenage Scientologist in India, calls for the cancellation of the series, alleging it is a ‘hate show’ inciting violence. … Traditionally, Scientology has not wanted ‘people going on the internet and even knowing there is a show happening—they fear some of them will watch and be influenced,’ [Mike] Rinder [‘a former senior Scientology official and consulting proucer of the A&E show’] said Wednesday. ‘Presumably this show has gotten such wide coverage and acceptance that they figure everyone knows about it already.’ … Scientology also launched a page on the website calling Clearwater Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Willy Rice ‘an incendiary bigot who uses his pulpit to disparage other religions and groups he doesn't like’ in response to Rice calling Scientology an abusive and dangerous cult. … In Clearwater, Scientology owns $207 million worth of property under its name, 74 percent of which is tax-exempt for religious purposes. It paid more than $1 million in property taxes in 2016 on the remaining 26 percent. City Manager Bill Horne said the city has no official position on whether Scientology's tax exemption should be examined. But he said given ‘their level of activity, the public could benefit from them paying more taxes.’” (Tampa Bay Times, 08/25/17)
PCCAD pulls antidrug program funded by Scientology

“The Pulaski County Coalition Against Drugs (PCCAD) announced Monday morning, via Facebook Live interview, in the Daily Guide office, that it is pulling the anti-drug program, The Truth About Drugs, from Pulaski County Schools due to its connection to the Church of Scientology. The Truth About Drugs is an anti-drug curriculum created by an organization named Drug Free World. Drug Free World appears to be a department under the Church of Scientology and admitted, when asked by PCCAD that the Church of Scientology is its ‘largest contributor.’ … The Daily Guide was also contacted by individuals over the weekend making us aware of the connection to Scientology on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. An organization that actively tries to discredit the Church of Scientology had seen the Daily Guide’s article about the implementation of the drug program and published the information on its website. The website, www.tonyortega.org, home of the Underground Bunker, a blog about the Church of Scientology, contacted local schools and the sheriff’s department, according to information it provided. A notification from Twitter Monday afternoon made the Daily Guide aware of the information on the website. … Bales explained that when the organization was reviewing drug programs, they were only looking for programs that provided a curriculum that was more effective than ones used in the past. It simply didn’t come up about who funded this particular program. … ‘Our focus is drug education, period. We’re not out to promote any certain religious group or affiliation or whatever the case may be. We’re here to try to educate kids and parents about the dangers of drugs and that is our sole purpose,’ Bales said.” (Waynesville Daily Guide, 09/05/17)
Quebec sweating death: Three accused lose appeal of their conviction

“Three Quebecers have lost an appeal of their conviction in connection with the extreme-sweating death of a woman who was wrapped in mud and cellophane at a spa. The Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision means Gabrielle Frechette, Ginette Duclos and Gerald Fontaine will head to prison for the death of Chantal Lavigne. Lavigne, 35, died in July 2011 after a sweating session organized by the accused. … The accused were found guilty in December 2014 of criminal negligence causing death and were sentenced in January 2016. Frechette, who was considered a spiritual guide and organized the personal-growth seminar in Durham-Sud, was sentenced to three years, while her two assistants were handed two-year prison terms.” (The Canadian Press, 11/08/17)