Since November 1994 Ananda had been litigating a two-front war. That month Ananda was served with a new lawsuit, filed in state court, by a new plaintiff, with new counsel, raising new claims. Or so it first seemed.
Bertolucci’s Tale | 1994
Anne-Marie Bertolucci was a vivacious young woman who became interested in Ananda in 1991, and after separating from her husband, lived for a while in the Mountain View community. She moved to the Village in June 1992, where she became a “trainee” in the membership residency program. After brief stints at a number of Ananda-affiliated businesses in town, by January 1993 Anne-Marie was working at Crystal Clarity, the publications branch of the church. By that April she had developed a relationship with her supervisor at Crystal Clarity, Danny Levin, a church minister and a longtime member. Danny, unfortunately, was already married, with a young daughter recently diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Realizing the mistake he was making, Danny talked with Kriyananda about his struggle. Danny tried, perhaps half-heartedly, to break it off, but in July he precipitously proposed marriage and Anne-Marie accepted. By September, Kriyananda was counseling them both to step back from the relationship. Two months later, when they had been unable to break off their affair, Kriyananda asked Anne-Marie to move to another Ananda community of her choice. She left the Village in December, and within days was back in a one-bedroom apartment in Ananda’s Mountain View community. She remained active in Ananda programs and shared meals in the community dining room for several months until August 1994, when she moved out to live in neighboring Palo Alto. She departed giving no hint of the lawsuit to come three months later. Sheila faxed me the bad news. The San Mateo County Superior Court complaint named Ananda, Crystal Clarity, Danny, and Kriyananda as defendants. It alleged six separate causes of action: (1) Anne-Marie had been wrongly fired from her employment “because of her sex”; (2) she had been fired because she complained about sexual harassment; and (3) the firing had occurred “in violation of public policy.” The complaint also claimed (4) fraud, alleging that Kriyananda had said he would act in Anne-Marie’s best interests, but did not do so. Finally, it alleged that Anne-Marie was the victim of (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as (6) battery, because she did not knowingly consent to her physical relationship with Danny. Now Ananda had to deal with an employment lawsuit as well. And when a supervisor gets too close to the hired help, it’s almost always a problem.
East-West Magazine announced in May 1929 that a new Yogoda publishing headquarters would soon open in Merion Station, Pennsylvania, a few miles northwest of Philadelphia. “Swami Yogananda will now be able to give his personal attention to the Yogoda Correspondence Course and he expects to reside more or less continuously at Merion, where he plans to finish writing the Yogoda Bible and his universal prayer book, Sacred Demands.” After years on the road, Yogananda was settling down. He still had not been able to spend a Christmas at Mt. Washington. He would later share with Rajarshi how the hectic pace of campaigning wore him out, and how he looked forward to writing for a larger audience. The prayer book, which would be published later that year as Whispers From Eternity, was almost complete; and Yogoda centers flourished east and west, north and south. The correspondence course was proving a practical way of staying in touch with the flock, and it appeared Yogananda’s peripatetic days were past.
The writing would be supported by dues and contributions from members of the new National Yogoda Society, which had recently set up a National Yogoda Fund at Merion Station. Yogananda was going IPO in the high-flying stock market. A May 22, 1929 open letter touted the Yogoda Publishing Company, a Pennsylvania corporation being formed to own all of Yogananda’s works, and publish the Yogoda Correspondence Course under his personal control. Mt. Washington would remain the heart of West Coast operations, and the “first among equals” of the Yogoda Centers, but the movement was now nationwide and would be based back East. Yogoda members had an exclusive right to early participation in the stock offering, and the Philadelphia Center led the way with a $10,000 buy in.
On May 23, the day after the open letter, Yogananda set sail for Mexico, jettisoning all these projects and plans in his wake. He wrote to Dr. Lewis that day how he was leaving New York “with a heavy heart. . . . We all have to bear our crosses . . .” Dhirananda’s defection had undone everything. Soon visitors no longer filled Mt. Washington, and the Correspondence Course withered. The magazine missed three issues in 1929. When Dr. Lewis returned to Boston after a few weeks that summer in Los Angeles, he faced down a contingent at home that called for regime change. That October the market crashed. Soon the magazine stopped altogether, and Yogananda bemoaned empty rooms and peeling paint at the old hotel. It seemed that even Yogananda had moments of doubt and uncertainty.
When Sheila first told me about the rumors of SRF’s involvement in Anne-Marie’s case they were hard to believe. The San Mateo employment case seemed like a completely new lawsuit, alleging the tired cliché of an office romance gone sour. But after talking with some witnesses, it began to appear that SRF was indeed involved, and was actively encouraging and funding the Bertolucci lawsuit as a second front.
We learned that before leaving Ananda, Anne-Marie had reached out to a sympathetic SRF member who dutifully informed Mother Center of her situation. This SRF member had also lived at Ananda before, and I was told he too had been asked to leave. Over the years he developed close ties with Mt. Washington, reporting back about Kriyananda and his doings. Witnesses now told how this SRF member had escorted Anne-Marie down to Mt. Washington, where she was welcomed with open arms, and given all the sympathy and advice she could handle. She reportedly lunched with Daya Mata herself, and was allowed to meditate in Yogananda’s private room on the third floor, now reserved as a shrine. Two such privileges would be rare indeed, and the more surprising for a devotee so new to the path. She was then given referrals and encouragement, and seconded back to the Bay Area.
Team Bertolucci | 1993–1999
Bertolucci’s first lawyer was a character. Aylesworth Crawford Greene III, known on the street as “Ford” Greene, was the son of a prominent San Francisco attorney. Years before, Greene’s father had achieved a brief if brilliant notoriety when Herb Caen’s “On the Town” column in the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned his gay affair with an HIV-positive lover, long before such things became vogue. These were big shoes to fill.
In the 1980s Greene’s sister became involved with the Unification Church as a “Moonie.” Ford went in to rescue her but got caught up in the movement himself. Once he managed to extricate himself, he rebounded into a born-again cult-buster, active in the deprogramming community. He was one of several attorneys for the plaintiff in the landmark case of Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology, and despite kidney surgery and a disabling bicycle accident that had him out of the office for months, he remained an attorney of record in the case. In July 1989 the California Supreme Court handed the plaintiff a victory when it permitted the former Scientologist to sue the Church of Scientology on several grounds, providing for a variety of damages including emotional distress. For the next several years suing “cults” became a cottage industry.
Not long after I filed Ananda’s first papers in the Bertolucci case, a burly gentleman visited my office and introduced himself as Eugene Ingram. He was a private investigator who had learned that I was on the other side of a lawsuit involving Ford Greene, and his employer thought I should be told about Mr. Greene. His information consisted of an inch thick document pushed across my desk. Labeled a complaint to the Los Angeles District Attorney concerning supposed “criminal perjury,” it read more like a hit piece intended to smear Greene’s name. And nicely done. Ingram was disconcertingly thorough in researching public records and tracking down potential witnesses. He included copies of police reports, criminal and civil complaints, and even declarations from former clients about Greene smoking marijuana in front of them. Obviously Ingram continued to monitor Greene’s every move, and took advantage of every opportunity to besmirch the man. I assumed at the time, and later confirmed, that Ingram’s employer was the Church of Scientology.
Having already met Greene I needed no introduction. It was informative, however, that the Scientologists would spend so much money and energy hounding someone like that, publicizing his personal foibles. So that was the way the Scientologists played the game. I wondered whether my representation might take me into a world of litigation where surveillance and character assassination were tools of the trade. Would I be followed and photographed, former clients contacted, and unsavory rumors circulated?
During the middle of an unrelated trial years later in 2005 my office was broken into at night. I dropped by the office early the next morning to pick up my laptop and witness examinations for court, but discovered the window broken, my laptop stolen, and that someone had used the key in my desk to open the file cabinet. There were six other offices equally accessible in the suite I shared, three of them with laptops. Most were undisturbed. A couple desks had some small items taken, but no other laptop was missing, and no other file cabinets appeared disturbed. It was the laptop that I used three years earlier during the SRF trial in Sacramento. I had no idea who broke in, but couldn’t help but wonder.