May 30, 2015

Sect leader Lia Eden warns a major earthquake will hit Jakarta before the end of the month

By Coconuts
May 28, 2015

Jakarta’s going to be hit with a major earthquake before the end of this month, or so says the leader of the Salamullah (God's Kingdom of Eden) religious sect, Lia Aminudin AKA Lia Eden.

Lia wrote an open letter addressed to several leaders including President Joko Widodo, Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, and even US President Barack Obama about her warning. Though we’re puzzled as to why Obama was included.

“There will be a great earthquake in Jakarta because God has withheld His heaven from Jakarta,” Lia wrote, as picked up by Okezone yesterday.

She has two days from today to prove that she’s not just a nutty cult leader. If she’s right, then boy will we all be sorry.

Lia Eden leads a sect in which she claims to be the reincarnation of Mother Mary. She claims her son, Ahmad Mukti, is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

The best smartphone apps for making life in Jakarta easier and awesomer!

The Real Life 'Kimmy Schmidt': Twin Sisters, Former Children of God Members, Describe Life Inside Controversial Religious Sect

ABC News Nightline, May 30, 2015 Most childhoods are filled with bike riding, eating pizza or going to the movies, but twins Flor and Tamar Edwards, both 34, have been discovering many of these things for the first time as adults. That’s because for the first 13 years of their lives, these twins lived in what some ex-members call an apocalyptic cult. “I didn’t know what a movie theater was,” Flor said. “We saw a drinking fountain for the first time, and we all just kind of like saw it, and we, like, huddled around it like it was some ...“ “... novelty,” Tamar said, finishing her sister's sentence. Flor and Tamar were raised in a controversial religious sect called “The Children of God,” which formed in Huntington Beach, California, in the late 1960s out of the “free love” hippie era. The twins said the group lived as nomads and were shut out from mainstream society, believing that they were among God's chosen people who would be saved when the apocalypse came. The Tragic Legacy of the Children of God Joaquin Phoenix Discusses Growing Up in the Children of God Religious Sect As children, Flor and Tamar said they were taught they were “going to be God’s Martyrs” when they were 12 years old -- because they said members believed the apocalypse was coming in 1993 -- and the twins lived in constant fear of that approaching year. “I was terrified because of the this ‘end time’ that was coming up so I had to deal with a lot of, as a child, very real fear,” Flor said. “I thought a lot about my death that was supposedly coming when I was going to be 12 years old.” Flor said she has watched “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a popular Netflix show about a group of young women who are freed after years of being held captive by a cult leader in an underground bunker. It’s a storyline she said she can relate to. In the first episode, the character Kimmy Schmidt “sees water in the bathroom for the first time,” Flor said, a moment that really resonated with her. Within The Children of God, the twins said they and other families lived in tight quarters. They said they were prevented from going to school, and they said they didn’t learn to read until age 9. “Everything was evil. You know, education,” Flor said. “Politics was evil,” Tamar added. “Music,” Flor continued. “Anything. Anything outside of the group was evil.” They missed the 1980s entirely, they said, and are still catching up on a those lost years of pop culture references. “If I watched all the movies from the '80s and got a whole collection of music from the '80s, I just -- there's no context there,” Flor said. “We knew that there was someone out there named Madonna and Michael Jackson. That's about it.” All of this, they said, was determined by one man, David Berg, known to them as “Father David.” “Father David taught us that churches were evil,” Flor said. “And money was evil,” Tamar added. Flor said Berg actually came from a “long ancestral line of evangelists,” and that he was “very familiar” with the established Christian church, but rejected it. “He wanted to break away from that and he came out to California,” Flor said. “He had some sexual experiences when he was very young and he was living in a constant conflict between his desire and his commitment to God.” The Edwards family was living in Los Angeles when they joined The Children of God, and then, in 1985, when the twins were 5 years old, Flor and Tamar said Berg decided his followers should leave the United States. So the family packed up and left for Thailand, where the twins said they lived until they were 12 years old, when Berg decided it was safe for his followers to come back to the states. The group moved to Chicago in 1994, where the twins said they were confided to a house with dozens of other families. “Once you're inside the house, it was kind of like our own little community,” Flor said. “You know, we did what we did inside the walls.” Some called The Children of God a sex-charged cult. At its peak, the group claimed to have tens of thousands of members around the world, and that 13,000 children had been born into the sect. Among those children raised in the group were actress Rose McGowan and a young Joaquin Phoenix, both of whose families eventually left. Ex-followers say they were taught to believe that love for God was expressed through having sex or exposing others to sex, including children. “Sex was the thing that drove people,” Tamar said. “They didn’t do any drugs, no alcohol. ... So sex was the way to freedom, they saw sex as God’s creation of love and beauty, which was one of the teachings but also within that there was abuse that happened. ... Children were having experiences that surely [they] didn’t want to have.” The twins said it was common for adults in the house to have sex in front of children. “We've talked to some of the adults. ... They believed in what [Berg] said,” Tamar said. “So they don't have regret over it. They don't say, like, ‘Oh no, that was bad.’ They still believe that Father David had something, like, that's how charismatic he was.” The Children of God has since reorganized and is now known as The Family International. In the 1980s, the group formally prohibited sexual contact between adults and minors and renounced its previous endorsement of sharing sexual partners and polygamy. "TFI reorganized four years ago (May 2010) and currently exists mainly as a small virtual community, so there is little relation of controversies and allegations from the distant past to the current membership, or alignment to its history of the past 10 years," a spokesperson for the organization told ABC News via email in November. "TFI has expressed its apologies on a number of occasions to any members who feel that they were hurt in any way during their membership, which are also posted online. For all intents and purposes, TFI no longer exists as a structured entity or communal movement." Flor and Tamar said they were never sexually abused, but they said they were physically abused as children. “[Children] would be getting spanked really young,” Flor said. “My little sister she was like 6 months old which, you know, you don’t get spanked at that age.” Some former members of The Children of God have committed suicide. One member named Ricky Rodriguez, who was deemed a prophet inside the sect, made headlines in 2005 when he murdered his alleged abuser, who had also been a former Children of God member, and then committed suicide at age 29. Tamar said she wanted to take her own life when she was just 7 years old. “I wanted to take my life and it really came from a place of first of all... there wasn’t room for play and fun and that’s what every kid wants,” Tamar Edwards said. “I wanted to escape what was going on and second of all, I really didn't want to go through the apocalypse.” “The apocalypse seemed really scary,” she continued. “The whole Earth burning in the lake of fire, they had a whole agenda of what was going to happen like a lot of religions do, so it was terrifying.” The group disbanded after David Berg died in 1994, and suddenly the twins said they were forced into a life they had never lived before. “We wake up in the morning, and I just remember looking outside, and looking on the lawn, and everyone was outside with their things packed up,” Flor recalled. “We walked around the house, like, the house was empty.” Days after the group disbanded, Flor and Tamar said the Rev. Pongsak Limthongviratn, a Thai pastor, came to their family’s aid, counseled them and helped them navigate life outside of the religious sect. Flor and Tamar said they still struggle to live normal lives as adults today. They both live in California now. Flor is a freelance writer and office coordinator. Tamar teaches yoga in San Francisco. “It’s hard to go out and have a drink at the bar like normal social things that people do,” Flor said. “Meeting someone at a party when they ask where you’re from I almost want to go run away and hide.” The hardest part, she said, is not being prepared for the real world and not being taught how to live outside the walls that had long surrounded them. “It’s the hardest thing to have lived a life where you weren’t prepared for what was on the other side and then be on the other side,” Flor said. “That’s definitely been the hardest part for most of the kids. I don’t even think the upbringing was that difficult as much as being told a lie your whole life.” Both Flor and Tamar admit that although they still have questions about their past, they want to move forward. “Who are we supposed to be mad at?” Flor asked. “Father David's dead. I already said I'm not blaming my parents because of what we've been through together. I can't blame all the other adults. ... Should I blame God? Should I blame religion? I don't even know who to direct my anger at. And already that becomes very exhausting for me. So instead, I just do what I can with what I have.”

Mystery surrounds visit to UAE of alleged religious cult

May 29, 2015
Nick Webster
The National

DUBAI // Just what the leader of an alleged South Korean cult was doing in the UAE this week remains a mystery, after self-proclaimed peace activist Lee Man-hee made a brief appearance as part of a Middle East tour.

Mr Lee is the leader of Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ), which is part of the Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light, known as HPWL. It has been reported the church’s followers believe he is immortal.

A delegation from the group, which bills itself as an international peace organisation, also toured Ethiopia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Bahrain.

Mr Lee takes every opportunity to be photographed with political leaders and figureheads. His critics say it is little more than a propaganda exercise to increase the church’s popularity in his native South Korea.

Zackary Downey, a Canadian, is a former English teacher in South Korea who blogs about the church’s operations.
“Their message is that world peace will be achieved by uniting cultures,” he said.

“The purpose of the rallies is to show the church is reaching out to all of these different cultures around the world.
“There is pushing and shoving at some rallies, with family members trying to reach their daughters and sons who are involved with the church.”

Mr Downey said he had had run-ins with various volunteers, but no direct dealings with the church itself, or its chairman.
“Church leaders are saying they can’t see their family, or even talk to them. They are cut off from any contact.”

The group recruits foreigners by attracting young people into sports or photography clubs, but many become disillusioned when they realise SCJ’s role.

As with Scientology, Mr Downey said, the SCJ likes to go after people who post negative comments about it online.
He said: “Peace events in Korea are a regular occurrence, but they stage similar propaganda events all over the world, recently in the Philippines.

“They are just PR stunts to be seen alongside world leaders, with no actual peace agreements signed.”

The HPWL held a “Dialogue of Scriptures” in the Gurunanak Darbar Sikh temple in Jebel Ali Gardens, in Dubai, last Sunday.
Gloria Kim, a spokeswoman for the HPWL, said: “The World Alliance of Religions’ Peace Office (Warp) is where different religious leaders gather and make an effort to find the answers for peace through the Holy Scriptures they have.

“The first Warp was held in Dubai at the Sikh temple, with about 30 participants from different religions. They were all encouraged and motivated to continue on this global movement. The visit was very successful and it is expected to prosper as time goes.”

On claims the church was a cult, Ms Kim said: “Please look at those youth doing the peace work together with Mr Lee – are they the faces of people who are captured and separated from their families by force?

“Unfortunately, facts do not stop the lies online. People on the internet feel free to say anything when hiding their faces and names.”

The HWPL campaign began in 2013 with a small peace walk. Since then its following has increased to include an international peace youth group with 384 branches in 86 countries, and a women’s group with 100 branches in 16 countries.

In January last year, Mr Lee claimed a victory in the signing of a unity of religions agreement between Catholic and Muslim leaders to bring an end to a 40-year conflict in Mindanao, in the Philippines.

Dr Pamela Chrabieh, assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies at American University Dubai, has a doctorate in theology-sciences of religions. She said the SCJ should be carefully studied. “For its members, the leader Lee Man-hee is believed to be the returned Jesus.

“For its sympathisers, Man-hee is seen as a renowned Korean peace activist. For the anti-Shincheonji individuals and groups, he is a mad, self-proclaimed immortal.

“For some scholars, SCJ is a Christian denomination that offers free Bible courses and is just like any other denomination.
“In recent years, the South Korean press, families of Shincheonji members and confused expatriates have been trying to piece together what SCJ is, but the controversy appears to be far from resolved.”

May 28, 2015

Man Gets Prison For Inventing His Own Church, And It's Not Scientology

May 28, 2015
Robert W. Wood

A Utah man has been sentenced to two years in prison over a church the feds say was a tax avoidance scheme. Paul Ben Zaccardi plead guilty to one count of tax evasion, and five counts of filing false claims for income tax refunds. He transferred his house to a church he formed, and even tried to pay his tax bill with fictitious U.S. Treasury bonds. He isn’t the first taxpayer to figure out that church status is pretty good.

Churches don’t pay tax, and donations to churches are tax deductible. But what qualifies as a church can be debated. The stakes are high, as a Mississippi physician found out when he was sentenced to more than 6 years in prison. Prosecutors, the judge, and jury agreed that his church was a scam. Dr. Timothy Dale Jackson from Pass Christian, Mississippi was found guilty of four counts of felony tax evasion and one of obstruction of due administration of the internal revenue laws.

The orthopedic physician funneled his practice income through the “Church of Compassionate Service.” Dr. Jackson took a vow of poverty, claiming that as a minister, he was tax exempt. He had a successful practice but hadn’t filed tax returns or paid taxes since 2003.

Compassionate Service Church members “donate” to the church, renouncing all worldly possessions. They also hand over their assets to a Church trust. Ministers even sign over their paychecks to the Church. In return, the Church provides debit cards for living expenses. The Church even made mortgage payments on the homes it received where ‘minister’ were housed.

In reality, 90 percent of Dr. Jackson’s income was returned to him. On $1.8 million of income just between 2006 and 2009, the doc owed the IRS $650,000. When he was sentenced, the 50-year-old Dr. Jackson received 75 months of incarceration, and was ordered to pay taxes and interest of $806,983, plus a $12,500 fine.

The interaction of taxes and religion is strange. Take the so-called parsonage allowance, a tax break allowed by Section 107 of the tax code, dating to the 1920s. That was the era of my favorite fictitious minister, Elmer Gantry, a shallow, philandering hypocrite portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie. The parsonage allowance says an ordained member of the clergy can live tax-free in a home owned by his or her religious organization.

Alternatively, the clergy member can receive a tax-free annual payment to buy or rent a home. The parsonage allowance makes being in the clergy sound pretty good, as does this list of top ten clergy tax deductions. Yet religion doesn’t necessarily protect you from criminal tax charges. Also consider Phil Driscoll, an ordained minister and Grammy Award-winning trumpet player. He, too, went to prison for tax evasion.

Later, because of the parsonage allowance, the Tax Court ruled he didn’t owe federal income taxes on $408,638 provided to him by his ministry. The IRS appealed and the Eleventh Circuit reversed. Mr. Driscoll asked the Supreme Court to review it, but the Supreme Court refused to hear it.

The Church of Compassionate Service that got Dr. Jackson into such trouble is discussed in U.S. v. Hartshorn. There, the IRS got an injunction to silence Head Minister Kevin Hartshorn. Mr. Hartshorn had 50 ministers under his wing, telling them not to pay the IRS. When the IRS had enough it went to court to enjoin the Head Minister from preaching his no-tax mantra.

Mr. Hartshorn lost, appealed, and lost again when the appeals court ruled for the IRS. Thus, Mr. Harshorn failed to shake the injunction. Mr. Hartshorn’s claims about free speech didn’t help him either. Even if the church was legit, the court said, Hartshorn’s plan wasn’t. What’s more, Hartshorn’s knew his “you-don’t-have-to-pay-taxes” mantra was false. Even if he didn’t, he should have known.

There are many tax advantages of church status and an IRS determination letter. Even compared to other tax-exempt organizations, church status is the crème de la crème. For years, the IRS denied that Scientology was a church until lawsuits caused the IRS to rule that Scientology was a church. The New York Times claimed that the IRS reversed 30 years of precedent to grant Scientology its Section 501(c)(3) status.

Since then, some say the IRS should reconsider Scientology’s tax-exempt status, suggesting that the IRS had the wool pulled over its eyes when it granted church status in 1993. The film Going Clear, from HBO and director Alex Gibney is fueling those comments, as did a St. Petersburg Times series a few years ago.

If the IRS decides to take on Scientology for round two, the bout could be noisy. Churches reap a vast array of tax advantages. They even include special rules limiting IRS authority to audit a church. A “church” is not specifically defined in the tax code, but the IRS lays out buzzwords in its tax guide for churches and religious organizations, including these characteristics:

  1. legal existence;
  2. Recognized creed and form of worship;
  3. Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government;
  4. Formal code of doctrine and discipline;
  5. Distinct religious history;
  6. Membership not associated with any other church or denomination;
  7. Organization of ordained ministers;
  8. Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed study;
  9. Literature of its own;
  10. Established places of worship;
  11. Regular congregations;
  12. Regular religious services;
  13. Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; and
  14. Schools for preparing its members.
The IRS considers all facts and circumstances in assessing whether an organization qualifies. But unlike other exempt organizations, a church need not actually apply for tax exemption. Most churches do, but it is not technically required. The Nonprofit Risk Management Center reports that over one hundred 501(c)(3) organizations lose their tax-exempt status each year. The reasons vary, but in the case of Scientology, many wonder how it could have collected its church status in the first place.

Creator of hit Scientology film tells Haaretz why he's no longer afraid

Haaretz Ruta
May 28, 2015

For years the Church of Scientology was wrapped in a thick cloak of secrecy. Even members were only told years after joining the church about the secret story of its creation — and that was also after they’d handed over almost all their assets to it. But anyone who sees Alex Gibney’s new documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” has to wait less than an hour before learning the biblical-like story behind this “faith.”
It seems that 75 million years ago a powerful alien named Xenu arrived on the planet Earth. The world was then exactly like the United States was in the 1950s, with people, houses and cars. According to the late founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard — who also completely by chance was a science-fiction writer — Xenu brought billions of his fellow aliens to Earth in a spacecraft that looked like an airplane, planted them around volcanoes, and destroyed them with hydrogen bombs.
The dead aliens’ “immortal spirits” become attached to living human beings, damage them and have yet to let go of them. Long-time Scientology members are still busy today trying to get rid of these spirits in various ways.
Gibney presents this whole fantasy in an entertaining visual montage, including commentary by himself and by screenwriter Paul Haggis, who was once a member of the church and is also interviewed in the film.
“Going Clear” is without a doubt the most talked-about documentary of the year. It paints a complex and expansive picture of the Church of Scientology which has relatively few members — about 50,000 people all over the world, including some in Israel — but has attracted a long list of celebrities, amassed a large amount of real estate, and accumulated enormous amounts of cash. Indeed, the film also exposes the inability of the U.S. tax system to deal with that situation.
But it is not just the movie itself which is fascinating. No less interesting is the fact that this extremely well researched and comprehensive documentary (two hours long) is actually just one of Gibney’s many projects in recent years. He has made documentaries about Wikileaks, Lance Armstrong, James Brown, Steve Jobs, Enron and Frank Sinatra, as well as working on a new Internet series at present.
Gibney, 61, was born in New York and was expected to follow in the footsteps of his journalist-father, Frank Gibney, who died in 2006 and was also an editor, author and vice chairman of Encyclopedia Britannica’s editorial board.
Alex Gibney’s parents divorced when he was 3 years old, and he grew up with his mother Harriet and his stepfather, the human rights activist Rev. William Sloane Coffin. After an undergraduate degree from Yale and then studies at the UCLA Film School, Gibney edited film promos and wrote for various publications, including The Atlantic.
In a way, Gibney found a way to combine the activities of his two fathers — by making documentaries. His 2007 political film “Taxi to the Dark Side” exposed the apparently accepted methods of torture used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo, and won him an Academy Award for best documentary feature.
Gibney’s production company, Jigsaw Productions, makes independent films, documentaries about musicians and music, and television mini-series.
Modern Greek tragedies
Many of Gibney’s movies, which involve an enormous amount of work and serious research, seem to be modern versions of Greek tragedies, with the subjects falling victim to their own hubris. As with many documentaries today, they are also entertaining thrillers with a plot, and the motives of the subjects are analyzed deeply. But Gibney is unique as a director in this genre in his ambivalent attitude toward his subjects and his quest for the truth.
By means of his interviewees in “Going Clear” — members who left the Church of Scientology after many years — Gibney exposes the way it works, the physical and psychological manipulations it wields, and its small size relative to its enormous financial assets. HBO, which recently broadcast the film, has prepared itself with an army of 160 lawyers to deal with the expected lawsuits from the church — but for now, it’s paid off with HBO’s highest rating in the past decade.
After the movie aired, the church responded quickly and, as in similar cases, sought to attack it and Gibney in every way possible.
“Look, I’ve been vilified,” he told Haaretz in a telephone interview. “But that kind of comes with the territory. Luckily for me, I’d already gone through the process of being vilified,” he added.
“I was ready for that ... a lot of legal letters coming across. But I think they [officials of the church] save the worst of their behavior for the people that are in the cult. And they came down on them [the interviewees] pretty hard … They hired members from the church to threaten them, sometimes physically… I noticed, in particular, they seemed to focus their ire on the women. There are three women in the film, but two in particular ... They went after them.
“[The officials] seem to focus their rage not just on the critics but on ex-members … The Church of Scientology is not just a prison of belief but in some ways it’s a real prison, because they try to prevent people from leaving. Even the Catholic Church doesn’t do that: If you decide one day you’re not going to go to Mass anymore, they don’t show up on your doorstep with a bunch of people with beards and masks over their faces.
“When I started the Scientology film, the most important thing was ... to understand why it was that smart, discerning people came to believe so intensely in this religion that seems, from the outside, to be the wackiest idea — that beings were dropped in volcanoes … And fragmenting spirits attached themselves to people’s bodies… A lot of it sounds pretty nutty.
“But to understand how people got into it was important to me because I never really got them [before]. And that ended up giving me an insight not only into Scientology but into all beliefs ... So, yeah, I think you want to immerse yourself in these worlds, if you can, to get a better understanding of what’s going on.”
What he found so amazing while making the film, he says, was how much time it took people to disassociate themselves from the church: “One of the things that was most interesting to me was how hard it was and how long it took for people — and I’m using this [phrase] in a perfectly ironic way — to disconnect their minds from the force of Scientology. The prison door was open; they refuse to leave. They don’t want to leave. And even those who decide to leave the religion — it took years and years and years to really reckon with the fact that they believed something that was just nutty, and crazy, and that they had trespassed their own boundaries.”
A lot of this behavior, added Gibney, is related to a sort “of psychology that I think is universal: that we have a hard time seeing or recognizing our own mistakes. .. You’re in the church for 15-something years, and you wake up one day and you’re like: Oh my god, what have I been doing? ... It was fascinating for me, how hard it was to walk out of the prison cell of belief.”
Celeb attraction
Tom Cruise, a high-profile Scientologist, receives quite a lot of coverage in “Going Clear.” The reason for this, the filmmaker explained, is simply because the actor is the “poster boy for the religion/cult.” Cruise alone has apparently attracted thousands of followers to the church, and must know about its deceptive means of operating, and the way it employs people for a pittance although it has enormous sums at its disposal.
“He doesn’t need Scientology’s money,” Gibney said of Cruise. “I don’t think that’s the nature of what he gets from them ... He’s a very powerful and wealthy movie star ... But I think there’s a sense of loving that privilege and the honor of being a great Scientologist. So, I think again, it’s not so much the money, it’s the psychology, and his tendency to look the other way in the face of … documents that are really appalling.”
I don’t think it’s by chance that a lot of actor have found themselves in Scientology. There’s something very glamorous about it, and I think there’s a lot of resemblance between Hollywood and Scientology. Is that true?
“I think there are a couple of things. First of all, Hubbard, I think, was brilliant in terms of putting the headquarters of Scientology in Hollywood, because he understood that the real religion, in America, the one thing that everybody believes in, is the corporate [world] of celebrity … When you ask people about Scientology, they say, the Tom Cruise religion? He’s a recognizable movie star, all over the world ...
“Actors, I think, are vulnerable people; they have to be vulnerable to have a role… and to be in Scientology is … kind of an acting class ... You have an acting school that is very well regarded ... It’s brilliant. And the beauty of Scientology, like Hollywood, is that there’s the belief that you can do what we do at anytime. And that’s pretty much the American [ideal], too: that you can be a janitor for most of your life and win the lottery.”
Gibney is directing a new Internet series for The New Yorker and Amazon, the giant online shopping enterprise that also produces shows now. He calls this project an attempt to bring the spirit of the New Yorker to cyberspace.
In the past you have said that the best documentaries are made for the long term, that they say something important. Which of your films have done that?
“Well, I hope many of them do. I mean, you look at a film like ‘Taxi To The Dark Side,’ it will hold up pretty well. It still has a lot to say about the power and the lies that politicians tell us, and also how we take advantage of our soldiers on the ground. A lot of my films deal with power and the abuse of power and the psychology of that. I always believed that you can’t really stop crime unless you understand the criminal.”
As to Gibney’s preference to make documentaries instead of regular feature films, he said he started in the latter realm and his production company has a few such projects, but he loves documentary work more.
“I think one of the things that’s important to me in making a documentary,” he said, “is that I get paid to learn.”

May 26, 2015

The ongoing legacy of the great satanic sex abuse panic

Radley Balko
Washington Post
May 26, 2015

From the Austin American-Statesman:

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday threw out the 1992 sexual assault convictions against Dan and Fran Keller but declined to find the former Austin day care owners innocent of crimes linked to a now-discredited belief that secret satanic cults were abusing day care children nationwide.

The Kellers spent more than 22 years in prison after three young children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in satanic rituals at their home-based day care.

No evidence of such activities was ever found.

Freed from prison in late 2013 as the case against them crumbled, the Kellers asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to declare them innocent, arguing that they were the victims of inept therapists, shoddy police work and “satanic panic” that swept the nation in the early 1990s.

A unanimous Court of Criminal Appeals instead overturned their convictions based on false testimony by an emergency room doctor whose hospital examination had provided the only physical evidence of sexual assault during the Kellers’ joint trial.

Dr. Michael Mouw later admitted that inexperience led him to misidentify normally occurring conditions as evidence of sexual abuse in a 3-year-old girl.

The nine judges did not provide an explanation for why they rejected the Kellers’ innocence claim except to say their decision was based on the findings of the trial judge “and this court’s independent review of the record.”

The panic actually began in the 1980s. It was instigated and perpetuated mostly by groups of fundamentalist Christians who saw Satan in every heavy metal album, “Smurfs” episode, and Dungeons & Dragons game, along with a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis. What they did instead was shed some light on just how potent the power of suggestion can be. Remarkably, children were convinced to testify about horrifying — and entirely fictional — violations perpetrated on them by care workers and, in some cases, by their own parents.

But it wasn’t just children. As the Kellers’ conviction shows, the panic was so overwhelming, it could convince trained medical professionals to see abuse where there was none. Some defendants were convicted of gruesome crimes such as the aforementioned dismembering of babies despite the fact that there were no corpses and no babies missing from the immediate area.

Ultimately, the panic and power of suggestion was pervasive enough to dupe our entire criminal justice system, as dozens of innocent people were sent to prison for crimes for which there was no evidence other than the coerced testimony of kids, and for which those same defendants would later be exonerated. Here’s an excerpt from the concurring opinion of Judge Cheryl Johnson, who would have declared the couple innocent.

This was a witch hunt from the beginning. The allegations in the indictment were based on the testimony of a three-year-old child who, even before she sporadically attended the applicant’s day-care facility, was in therapy for numerous psychological and behavioral issues. In accusing applicant, she asserted that applicant had come to her house and had cut her dog’s vagina with a chainsaw until it bled, that she was taken to a cemetery, where, after a person dressed like a policeman threw a person in a hole, Daniel Keller shot the person who had been thrown into the hole and cut up the body with a chainsaw while all the children helped, and that she had been put into a swimming pool with sharks that ate babies. She also alleged that applicant served blood-laced Kool-Aid, forced the children to have videotaped sex with adults and other children, sometimes wore white robes and lit candles before hurting the children, and forced the children to watch or participate in the killing and dismemberment of cats, dogs, and a crying baby. According to the complainant, bodies were unearthed in cemeteries and new holes were dug to hide freshly killed animals, an adult passer-by was shot and dismembered with a chain saw, Frances Keller cut off the finger of a gorilla at Zilker Park, and applicant had performed a satanic bone-replacing ritual on one child. And the children were taken on several plane trips, including one to Mexico, where they were sexually abused by soldiers before returning to Austin in time to meet their parents at the day-care facility. In spite of such fantastical claims, which should have produced total incredulity in the police investigators and prosecutors, charges were filed.

And here’s the “expert” who sealed the Kellers’ conviction:

The state presented a witness, Randy Noblitt, who claimed to be an expert on satanic cults and rituals and who testified that the complainant had described such rituals. Applicant’s brief on appeal noted that Noblitt had parlayed his testimony into a business opportunity, giving lectures and writing a book on the evils of ritual abuse, and that pointed to “a Noblitt-sponsored 1995 conference as providing an eye-opening look into his world view.” That conference included speakers who “revealed” the FBI’s cover-up of a satanic cult in Nebraska that had White House ties, the existence of more than 500 satanic cults conducting eight sacrificial murders a year in New York City, and that then-President Bill Clinton was the anti-Christ.

That the highest court in Texas still can’t bring itself to declare the couple innocent, in spite of all that we know now, shows just how difficult it can be to undo the damage caused by a moral panic and junk science in the courtroom.

This didn’t just go on in Texas. It was all over the country, from conservative, law-and-order spots such as Kern County, Calif., to liberal strongholds such as Middlesex County, Mass. One of the best treatments of the panic is the movie “Witch Hunt,” which focuses on Kern County, arguable the epicenter of the panic. Here’s a trailer:

The entire movie is now available online. See the end of this post.

Here’s an observation from the panic that I don’t think has been fully explored: These kids didn’t make up these stories. In this case and dozens of others, the kids were telling tales with details about geography, history and current events about which kids of their age couldn’t have known. That’s likely what made their stories seem somewhat credible. But the fact that it all was fictitious reveals a particularly unsettling truth: These sick, lurid, unimaginable abuses could only have been a product of the imaginations of the therapists, social workers, cops and/or prosecutors who interviewed the children. If the memories were implanted, those are the only people who could have implanted them. That means that the same people entrusted to protect these kids, and in whom these communities trusted to police the streets, prosecute crimes and administer therapy, were ultimately the ones capable of dreaming up detailed sexual fantasies that put children in bizarre rituals involving violence, animals, corpses and so on.

There’s a lot to be learned from these cases. For one, there are lessons about professional accountability: Not only were the vast majority of the prosecutors who put these innocent people in prison in these cases never sanctioned, but also most went on to great professional success, sometimes because of their role in these high-profile cases, and sometimes even after it was widely known that the people they prosecuted were innocent. There are other lessons here about how we screen “expert” witnesses, and how bad science gets into the courtroom. There are lessons about the power of suggestion that could be applied to eyewitness testimony and how we conduct police lineups.

But the drawing of lessons is something we typically do once a crisis is over. This one still isn’t. There are still people in prison awaiting exoneration in these cases.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."

May 25, 2015

Man convicted in 1985 cult killings dies in Nebraska prison

Yahoo News
May 25, 2015

TECUMSEH, Neb. (AP) — A man who had spent three decades on Nebraska's death row for the 1985 cult killings of two people, including a 5-year-old boy, has died in prison, officials said Monday.

Michael Ryan died around 5:45 p.m. Sunday at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institutional in southeast Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services said in a news release Monday. Tecumseh prison spokeswoman Jessica Houseman did not have a cause of death but said an autopsy would be performed.

At a hearing in March about legislation to repeal the state's death penalty, state Sen. Ernie Chambers said Ryan had terminal brain cancer. Houseman would say only that Ryan was being treated for a long-term medical condition.

Ryan was convicted in the torture and killing of 26-year-old James Thimm at a southeast Nebraska farm near Rulo, where Ryan led a cult, and in the beating death of Luke Stice, the 5-year-old son of a cult member. Ryan has been on death row since Sept. 12, 1985.

Over three days, Thimm was beaten, sexually abused, shot, stomped and partially skinned while still alive. His fingertips had been shot off on one hand.

The Ryans and about 20 cult members lived on the farm. The group hated Jews and stored weapons in preparation for a final battle between good and evil, authorities have said. Ryan told his followers that he heard the voice of God and that Thimm had angered God.

Ryan's son, Dennis Ryan, and cult member Timothy Haverkamp were sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder in Thimm's death. Authorities said Dennis Ryan delivered the gunshot that killed Thimm after days of torture.

The younger Ryan was later released from prison after winning a new trial and being convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Haverkamp was released from his prison in 2009 after serving 23 years of a 10-years-to-life sentence.

Nebraska has only carried out four executions since 1973, partly because of repeated legal challenges. Ryan's case came up repeatedly as the state debated its death penalty and method of execution.

Michael Ryan was sentenced to die in 1986. The state Supreme Court rejected his first appeal in 1989 and his second appeal in 1995. When he was sentenced, Nebraska's sole means of execution was the electric chair. But after the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that death via electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment, the Legislature changed Nebraska's method of execution to lethal injection in 2009.

In 2012 Ryan challenged how Nebraska obtained one of three drugs that would have been used to execute him. A lower court denied Ryan's request without holding a hearing, and in April last year the state Supreme Court rejected his appeal.

But Nebraska had no means to execute Ryan because one of three drugs needed for lethal injection expired in 2013.

On May 14, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that state officials had obtained all three drugs required for executions. But less than a week later, the Legislature gave final approval to a bill abolishing Nebraska's death penalty. The governor has said he intends to veto the bill on Tuesday and has been searching to switch enough votes to sustain his veto.

May 24, 2015

Ex-Jehovah's Witness schoolgirl exposes organisation as a religion that 'destroys lives'

The Independent
May 24, 2015

A schoolgirl who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses after learning of its alleged failure to protect vulnerable women has blasted the organisation in a powerful speech to her classmates.

Holding back tears, she recalled her personal experiences as a member of the church and how she was taught everyone outside the religion, including her father, would be sent to Armageddon.

She also highlighted women’s lowly position in the hierarchy of the organisation and how they are viewed as inferior to men.

“They cannot teach men. They cannot even speak at a podium in front of men as I am doing now,” she said. “They are not to question any decision made by a men. That is slander.”

Dissenting from the orthodoxy on church doctrine and practices is forbidden as a Jehovah's Witness and those who do are shunned by religious leaders. Independent thought is discouraged and is thought to have been introduced by the devil.

The most shocking allegations relate to women the girl spoke to, who were members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and wished to remain anonymous.

One, she called Jane, was allegedly interrogated by the church elders after she was raped, while at work as insurance salesperson.

The elders apparently said she tempted men by the way she dressed and that men were “only human”.

In order to be forgiven and not be excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped,” Jane was forced to dress more conservatively, quit her job and worst of all drop the charges against her attacker.

Another, called Donna, was allegedly molested by a man in her congregation when she was a young girl, but did not tell anyone because she knew nothing would be done.

It is claimed Donna was then abused physically and emotionally throughout 14 years of marriage and when she went to the church elders for support she was told it was her fault and should be a better wife.

Eventually Donna secured a divorce from her husband, but her torment did not end there. She was “disfellowshipped” from the organisation, which meant she was unable to speak to her friends or family members in the church.

“To make matters worse her children were taught not to speak to her because she was evil, they were isolated by her ex-husband and know nothing other than this religion. They are also terrified of disappointing their father and their god,” the girl said.

“The religion is separating a capable and loving mother from her children. Nothing could be more devastating for a mother.”

The church has battled with previous allegations of silencing victims of sexual abuse, to avoid embarrassing the church, but have always vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

In 2015 a Californian court ordered the Watch Tower Society, the company which runs the Jehovah's Witnesses, to pay $2.8m in damages after failing to disclosure the past abuse of a congregation member, which led to the sexual abuse of a nine-year-old girl.

After learning all the religion has hid from its members the girl finished her speech by saying she wanted “no part in it”.

“It is a religion that preaches love and acceptance, but the reality is everything is conditional. Love and acceptance is only extended as long as members practise absolute obedience and question nothing, ever,” she said.

“This religion destroys lives, destroys families and they do it largely unchecked… because they are really good at silencing the people who leave.”

The Jehovah's Witnesses were not immediately available for comment.

May 22, 2015

Boy, 7, taken away from his parents after judge rules he has been damaged by his Jehovah's Witness mother's religious beliefs

Daily Mail
May 22, 2015

A Jehovah's Witness' seven-year-old son has been taken into care because she damaged him with her 'religious beliefs and practices', a family court judge has ruled.

Judge Clifford Bellamy concluded that the boy had suffered 'emotional harm' from his mother and decided he would be better off with foster parents.

The young boy had been disruptive in school during lessons touching on Christianity, destroying projects and calling bible stories lies, a court heard.

Social services also believed the unnamed little boy was also at the centre of a rift between his parents so will no longer be living with either of them.

Detail of the case has emerged in a written ruling by the judge following a family court hearing in Leicester but Judge Bellamy said no-one involved could be identified.

A member of staff at the youngster's school had told how the boy had said he 'could not be with people who didn't believe in Jehovah', said the judge.

The little boy had cutp materials his class was using in an exercise about the 'Crucifixion story' and had said, 'nobody's telling the true stories about Jehovah', the judge heard.

He had also 'presented as contemptuous, grimacing somewhat theatrically' when speaking about the 'non-Jehovah's Witness Bible'.

'I am satisfied that (he) has suffered emotional harm,' said Judge Bellamy.

'I am satisfied that the fact that (he) has been immersed by his mother in her religious beliefs and practices has been a significant factor in causing that emotional harm.'

The judge said there were also concerns about the boy's relationship with his father.

He said the youngster had spoken of his father being 'really mean to me' and had said: 'I don't love daddy at all.'

Social services staff had also thought the boy was being harmed by 'conflict' between his parents.

Judge Bellamy said he was satisfied that 'change' was required and that the youngster should be placed with experienced foster carers.

He indicated that he would review the case later in the summer.

The boy's mother had not accepted that he had been harmed by 'immersion' in her religion and had denied introducing him to her religion in a bid to alienate him from his father.

May 20, 2015

The Life and Tragic Death of Racer Steve Bovan

Written by Hot Rod Archives on May 20, 2015
Drag Racing, Drug Running, Kidnapping, the Mob, and Murder

Drag racing is dangerous, but there are worse things out there—things besides a bad crash that can get you killed. Funny Car pioneer Steve Bovan couldn’t have known what dangers lay outside of drag racing, but the sensational end to his life might have been avoided had he stuck with the danger he knew, instead of the danger he couldn’t have imagined.

Bovan was a barnstorming drag racer in the 1960s and early 1970s, something most racers dreamed of doing. Who wouldn’t love to have been a touring drag racer from that golden era?

Bovan raced his Junior Stock Corvette in the early 1960s with Dick Castro, winning NHRA C/Stock in 1964. He also raced a 1956 Chevy in Modified Production, and later in 1964 he was running a Max Wedge Mopar. But he wanted something faster.

Says fellow Blair’s Speed Shop alum Robbie Robison, “He was a tough kid out of a tough area: El Sereno, California, just east of downtown Los Angeles. He had gotten into trouble, but once he was at Blair’s he straightened himself out and even got married.” Working in the engine room at the famous Blair’s in Pasadena, California, he built most of its race motors at a time when the shop was pumping out straight-axle conversions and altered-wheelbase stockers. “It was an altered wheelbase assembly line,” says Blair’s Pete Poland. “And we built a lot of gassers; if you were into drag racing, Blair’s was heaven.”

“Bovan didn’t do drugs, wasn’t a womanizer, and was pretty fair with everyone, but you didn’t want to get him mad,” Robison says. One day a guy stole one of Bovan’s intake manifolds and went around to the front counter to try and sell it back to Blair’s. Someone recognized it and got Bovan. “When he saw this guy with his intake, he dropped him so fast I couldn’t believe it,” Robison says.

A quiet, big guy, Bovan’s success came from running first-class cars, instincts to win a few races, but also how to book match races, market himself and his car to snag sponsors, keep the car running, not wreck it, and then have something left to actually travel around from track to track.

“Back when you could cut a zero [reaction] time, he was consistently cutting zeros,” says Pete Eastwood, who, as a kid hanging out at Blair’s, would accompany Bovan with his Camaro Funny Car to local SoCal tracks like Irwindale and Lions. “He raced a lot in those days because he was good.” He would occasionally wrench and shoe for other racers, piloting the Samson Dart Funny Car, Nelson Carter’s Charger Funny Car, Al Vanderwoude’s Flying Dutchman, and other classic Funny Cars.

Bovan talked Don Blair into letting him and Blair’s fabricator, Mike Hoag, build and sponsor a big-block Chevy II to take on Jack Chrisman and his fuel-burning Comet in late-1964. Bovan built the 396ci, supercharged big-block running 100 percent alcohol. Says Hoag, “That was the first crate big-block on the West Coast.” Poland says, “We had a backdoor at Chevy through sprint car driver Sam Hanks, who was a good friend of Blair’s. Once we got the engine, all the Chevy guys like Bill Thomas and Hayden Profitt came by to see it—nobody had ever seen a big-block on the West Coast.”

Blair’s Jim Bishop handbuilt the intake manifold for the 6-71 blower and then had Doug Robinson at Horsepower Engineering finish it because Blair’s didn’t have a Heliarc welder. Besides exhibition racing, the car ran CC/FD in NHRA competition.

The car was initially built with a T-85 three-speed from a Pontiac but that transmission could not hold up to the torque of the bad, blown big-block. Next came an in-and-out box built at Henry’s Machine in Bellflower, California, running as a high-gear-only car. It wasn’t long before the automatic A/FX cars started running quicker, so Bovan went to Art Carr for one of his automatics and an adaptor plate. Robison remembers, “Once it got that automatic, it went a lot quicker.”

One of the unique features of the Chevy II was its Morris Minor torsion bar suspension. Hoag says, “It got everything out of the way. This was early on when those [Funny Cars] were just starting. I had never built anything like that before.” Considered the first and one of the most fondly remembered blown Chevy A/FX Funny Cars, it ran a best of 9.29 seconds at 160 mph.

Jay Lindsley was running an Anglia Gasser out of Blair’s and worked with Bovan. “His Chevy was a high-gear-only, smoke-the-tires, exhibition match racer. It was a booking car, where you booked into a three-race deal with a group of match racers,” Lindsley says.

Poland left his senior year of high school early to go barnstorming with Bovan in 1966 and 1967. “We’d start with a couple of match races somewhere on the East Coast, then go from there. It would be ‘Jungle’ Jim Liberman with his Nova and Lew Arrington with the Brutus GTO from San Jose, Claire Sanderson with Limefire, Dick Brannan and Paula Murphy.” Bovan was friends with Jack Nicholson, another pioneering drag-racer friend from Temple City, California, and copied down all of his drag-racing contacts from a black book. “Then he’d start calling and booking races with [locally known] Funny Car guys,” Poland says.

At the time, they would experiment with different timing or bigger blower pulleys. “Nothing was on full kill, 100 percent,” Poland says. “We could get $200 for three runs and that would last a week, then the other bookings for the week were profit. We ran 100 percent alcohol and would tip in 10 to 15 percent pop [nitro] when we needed it.” Adds Lindsley, “But later when he built the Camaro, he got much more serious.”

The Camaro was a state-of-the-art, flip-top Funny Car. Mike Hoag again built the chassis, running a blown and injected big-block 427ci Chevy first on alcohol, then nitro. “We were just going by the seat of our pants,” Hoag says. “The chassis was more like a sprint-car chassis, but with a dragster cage. I used Indy-type cross-bar torsion bars because we thought we could load the car easier, but it didn’t work. Don Borth and I did the tin work inside.” Hoag built shock towers into the chassis for the long, Logghe-type coilovers in case Bovan wanted to change, but he didn’t until around 1970.

Another unique feature was the driver’s door. “That body was thick and heavy,” Poland says. “Antique Fiberglass in Pomona built the body from a new, stripped Camaro. It took two people to lift it and another to prop it up, so that’s three. With the door, we didn’t have to lift the body for Bovan to get in.”

Again Bovan and Poland went match racing. “We took off in June and came back in September. We’d take a spare block, crank, some heads, two sets of rods and pistons, a trans, axles, and go.”

“He even raced the car in Hawaii,” Eastwood says.

“Steve was the nicest guy, and very mild-mannered,” says Ed Justice Jr., whose father’s company, Justice Brothers, sponsored Bovan’s Camaro for two years. “He was a local hero in SoCal, and I encouraged my dad to get involved with sponsorship. In fact, he sold petroleum products for us for a time, and everybody liked him.”

Says Lindsley, “He was a charismatic guy, but he wasn’t afraid to manhandle [somebody] if he needed something, and he was sort of secretive of his personal life.”

“Money was always a problem, so Bovan never wanted to break the car,” Poland says. “He wanted to go fast, but didn’t want to pay to go fast. Nobody had sponsors back then, except the big guys, so you had to make it work from your match-race winnings.”

By 1970 his winnings were dwindling and there were rumors of multiple, simultaneous car owners Bovan promised to split winnings with, plus other sketchy dealings. Says Eastwood, “He didn’t live extravagantly at all, but he went through a lot of money. He always needed more money.” By the end of 1970, Bovan was living in expensive Newport Beach, California. Says Hoag, “I feel Steve took advantage of Don Blair. He’d go on tour, win a few races, and when he came back, he’d always be broke. I don’t know what happened to the money.”

“He needed money to keep racing, but the money started corrupting him. He should have done like Jim Liberman where he would take his earnings, put a little aside, and put the rest back into the car so he could win some more,” Poland says.

Bovan’s best time on nitro and with an automatic was 7.10 seconds at 204 mph. Looking to increase the shelf life of his Funny Car, he went to friend Hoag, now with his own race-car operation called M&S Welding in Irwindale, California, to help him rework his Camaro to adapt a new second-generation Camaro body and a 426 Hemi/Art Carr Clutchflite transmission combo. Bovan also found new sponsors that included DA Custom Oil Distributors and a middle-school teacher from Phoenix.

Then in 1971 Bovan sold the Camaro. He moved to less expensive Costa Mesa, California, just up the coast a few miles from Laguna Beach and started working first for a VW repair shop and then for Delthic Auto Designs, a car-customizing shop in Costa Mesa. His transition from drag racer to drug dealer must have happened around this time, because he was on probation from an Arizona conviction for selling 1,200 pounds of marijuana. “Once we heard about Bovan’s drug stuff, I could see the connection to money,” Poland says.

At this point, our story takes a detour through a dark journey stemming from drug manufacturing and distribution taking place in Orange County, California, in the 1960s and 1970s, culled from Orange County Grand Jury and Orange County Superior Court testimony, as well as Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD) and Orange County District Attorney interviews of the time. Though some or all of this seems like something out of a movie, rest assured it’s all been testified to under oath.

Delthic was one of many small companies owned by Prasadam Distributors Inc. (PDI), an amalgam of businesses purchased with cash by Joseph Shelton Davis III or “Dritavarata,” as fellow Hare Krishnas religious followers called him. His companies were donating more than $2 million to a Hare Krishna temple in Laguna Beach, according to the NBPD.

The temple, known as International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, was an unorthodox devotional Krishna organization loosely based on the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. The bulk of its assets came from Hindu-related products and fruit juices it sold; from a Laguna Beach restaurant called Govinda’s, a Krishna health-food restaurant; and other less conventional methods.

To the uninitiated, the image of Hare Krishna came from their ubiquitous presence in airports, where young pilgrims cloaked in robes wearing ponytails offered books, incense, and paper flowers to travelers for a donation.

This temple had an illicit drug history going back to the 1960s when Timothy Leary, the long-time proponent of the hallucinogen LSD, and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a gang of hippie surfers affiliated to and led by Leary who espoused a communal, free-love lifestyle based in Laguna Beach, were cooking the stuff in the Laguna Beach canyons just down the road from ISKCON. LSD was sold through the temple, it was said, because Leary liked their association with Eastern spirituality [Greg Lynd testimony to Orange County Grand Jury, 1973]. Leary would ultimately be arrested in Laguna Beach in 1968 and sentenced in March 1970 to prison for possession of marijuana, LSD, and hashish.

By the mid-1970s, ISKON’s financial portfolio ran the gamut of enterprises, with at least one revenue stream from the distribution and sale of hash oil. They used pilgrims as drug mules, smuggling “honey oil” hidden in typewriter cases from Pakistan through international airports, based on trial testimony. A $1,000 liter bottle could be sold for $11,000 in the United States—a tenfold profit. Once through customs, pilgrims would fly from Pakistan into Canada, mail their luggage and typewriter cases home, then travel back to Laguna Beach.

Though a completely different region today, back in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Middle East was a very open society, easy for carefree travelers to trek along what was called the “hippie trail,” a route running from England through Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. There were nomads on camels, scenic vistas, and travel was made easy with restaurants, cheap lodging, and Western food available all along the way.

The huge sums of cash from drug sales posed the typical problem of laundering it. Prasadam Distributors Inc. funneled ISKCON’s cash through its maze of companies in the classic money-laundering pattern. As PDI became more entrenched in the management and distribution of drugs, it even took on freelance “associates,” who gave a percentage of their profits in exchange for the front PDI afforded.

While PDI was taking in millions of dollars, its loose accounting allowed associates and small-time dealers to skim, including Bovan. He must have known the money’s source and the persistent rumor that PDI investor Alexander Kulik, a frequent visitor to PDI companies, kept more than $1 million in cash buried somewhere. Kulik was a Krishna follower and generous ISKCON donor. His “service” to them was curiously confidential, but enormously important and greatly appreciated.

Eventually, the organization realized Bovan was embezzling. Rather than confronting him directly, they chose to have someone outside take care of it. They contacted Frank Rossi, the brother-in-law of the wife of an ISKCON associate. With help from friends Anthony “Big Tony” Merone and Raymond Resco, Rossi was hired to facilitate Bovan’s quick return of the stolen money, according to Robert Emory’s testimony in court.

The United States Marshals Services newly formed Witness Protection Program had just relocated ex-mobsters Merone and Resco to Orange County after they gave testimony in New York against the mob. In exchange they got a new, clean life in California. Their lives and that of Bovan’s would soon intersect with tragic results.

Rather than resolving Bovan’s embezzling, they muscled in on the fast cash, bringing in Merone’s son, “Little Tony,” to help “manage” PDI’s businesses, squeezing Bovan out. Bovan was surely mad about his ouster, based on what he did next. Bovan assembled former Delthic employees Stan Kieffer and Robert Shea to help hatch a plan. Kieffer and Shea should have known better, having recently been roughed up by Rossi and ISKCON thugs over skimming suspicions themselves, from Newport Police interviews with a confidential informant identified only as “CI.”

Their plan was put on hold when the Huntington Beach Police Department arrested Bovan for drug possession with intent to sell. It wasn’t until August 1977 when Bovan was released and their plan could be hatched.

Bovan rigged Kulik’s car to run out of gas one night, where he waited with a .45-caliber automatic pistol to kidnap Kulik at gunpoint. Bovan shoved him into the back of a pickup, and with Kieffer driving, Bovan and a bound Kulik rode together in the small camper. Bovan tried to coax the location of Kulik’s cool cash with the butt of his loaded pistol. He denied he had a cash stash, but offered up $100,000 in a safe at PDI.

The next day, following instructions the kidnappers gave by phone, three cars were dispatched to the lookout on Interstate 5 just outside of San Clemente, California. Accompanying Big Tony was PDI’s Joe Fedorowski, known as “Gupta,” and Rossi in one car, Little Tony and Resco in the second car, and Joe Davis and another East Coast associate of the Merones named Jerry Fiori. En route, Little Tony and Resco helped themselves to an estimated $70,000 of the $100,000, assuming the kidnappers would not notice until after releasing Kulik.

When the rescuers pulled into the lookout parking lot and saw the pickup, out popped Bovan swinging his .45, crazy with rage, yelling and screaming at Rossi. One car in the trio blocked the exit while Bovan was calmed down and the cash could be laid on the truck’s seat. Then the kidnappers tried to leave without giving up Kulik. Rossi got out of his car and screamed at the truck to release Kulik or no one was leaving. As the kidnappers sped away, Kulik was kicked out the back, blindfolded with his hands taped behind his back. A car with Big Tony, Fiori, and Davis followed them down the interstate toward San Diego, where a cops-and-robbers-type running gun battle exploded.

Somehow the kidnappers successfully outran the gun-waving mobsters. No one was injured in the back-and-forth exchange of gunfire, according to trial testimony by Kieffer. Now Kulik and the ISKCON heads plotted their next move. Hoping to get revenge and eliminate three embezzlers in a single act, they offered Big Tony and Resco a $125,000 contract for the murder of Bovan, Kieffer, and Shea.

The plan was to capture the kidnappers and then kill them by injecting them with pure heroin, making it look like an overdose. Big Tony and his associates staked out Bovan’s home for weeks and just missed Kieffer and Shea, who were spotted by lookouts in a free food line at a Krishna temple in San Diego. Yet the kidnappers managed to elude their capture for more than a month.

Big Tony spread the word he would pay $1,200 to anyone who saw Bovan, according to testimony from Frank Rossi’s brother-in-law, Rick Willis. Finally, in the early misty morning hours of October 22, 1977, Bovan was seen at the bar of a Mexican restaurant in Newport Beach. Big Tony, Resco, and Fiori sped to the restaurant to complete their job.

As their big Eldorado pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, they spotted Bovan coming out of the bar. In Fiori’s own testimony, he said, “I ran over to his car and told him to put his hands above his head and not to move. He did and just looked at me. A car [Fiori’s Eldorado] made a turn, and he dropped his hands [and then he] came at me, lunged at me. I told him to stop at once, and he continued walking toward me and put his hand out to grab me. The first shot knocked him backward, and he was reeling. The second shot knocked him down. Then I fired seven consecutive shots at him. I think I heard him say after the second shot he had enough. Then I ran over toward my car, got in, and we left.”

Different witnesses interviewed at the time by the NBPD saw a lime-green Cadillac Eldorado convertible speed away. Bovan died in a pool of blood from what Orange County Coroner Walter R. Fischer said was “aspiration of blood due to gunshot wounds of the abdomen.”

Knowing they were next, Kieffer and Shea sought protection from the NBPD, spelling out the details of their scam. Within hours, Kulik was arrested in his Stutz Blackhawk with a pound of “China White” heroin in the back seat.

Kulik posted bail and was released the next day. The police followed him to the luxury apartment he shared with his wife, Elsie, under an assumed name, to arrest her as an accomplice. Kulik denied she was there, but when investigators searched the apartment, they found her hiding in a crawlspace. They also found a stash of marijuana and a bag of heroin with a street value of $1.5 million in 1977 dollars. Kulik was then rearrested, with bail set at $1.65 million.

Fiori’s conspicuous Eldo was not hard to trace, having been sold back to the Cadillac dealer he originally purchased it from. He was nabbed along with his two witness-protection buddies. He confessed to the murder and led investigators to the 9mm Walther pistol he used, which was recovered in Newport’s Back Bay with the trigger still cocked, according to Ray Resco’s trial testimony.

“We were surprised and shocked to hear what happened,” Justice says. “I think Bovan was so used to getting paid to race that a regular job just didn’t fit into his lifestyle. I think he was always looking for the easy buck.”

In the end, Fiori was sentenced to nine years in prison for second-degree murder, use of a firearm, and conspiracy to kidnap. Resco and Big Tony were sentenced to five years in prison for second-degree murder and conspiracy to kidnap. Their conviction was a black eye to the Witness Protection Program. Kulik got one year in prison to run concurrently with a separate five-year drug conviction. Davis was sentenced to six months in prison and three months probation. In 1979, he, along with 10 other devotees, was indicted on federal narcotics smuggling and income-tax evasion charges by the United States Attorney’s Office. Davis was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. In April 1979, Alexander Kulik’s brother, David Kulik, was arrested in London for possession of 65 pounds of hashish oil.

“[Bovan] was different after he went to Orange County,” Robison says. “You kinda knew something bad was going to happen to him.” Says Hoag, “When we were at Blair’s, we had a fantastic time—all of us there. Steve was a good driver, a good mechanic, and he loved driving and racing. I just don’t know what happened, he was a really great guy.”

Information for this article was culled from Orange County Superior Court testimony, Statement of Facts, and interviews for case # C 38901; People vs. Joseph Davis, Joseph Gabriel Fedorowski, Roy Christopher Richard, Gerry Peter Fiori, Anthony Marone Jr., Raymond Resco, Akexander Kulik, Elsie Caban Kulik; Newport Beach Police Department records from Don Foreman, Orange County District Attorney’s Office; the Orange County Register, and the Los Angeles Times.

May 18, 2015

Why Have So Many People Never Heard Of The MOVE Bombing?

A policeman stands guard on Pine Street in West Philadelphia near the remains of 61 row houses days after they were destroyed by fire on May 13, 1985, when police dropped explosives into a house occupied by members of the radical group MOVE. George Widman/AP
May 18, 2015

A policeman stands guard on Pine Street in West Philadelphia near the remains of 61 row houses days after they were destroyed by fire on May 13, 1985, when police dropped explosives into a house occupied by members of the radical group MOVE.

After my stories last week on the 30th anniversary of the MOVE siege in West Philadelphia in 1985, in which Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on a residential neighborhood, leaving 11 dead — including five children — we were surprised by how many people told us they'd never heard of the bombing.

At first, we thought the knowledge gap might be generational. My Code Switch teammate Kat Chow, who was born years after the MOVE incident, had never heard of it. But another NPR colleague who's about a generation older hadn't either.

Maybe it was regional. On Twitter, a few people told us the bombing never landed on their radars until they moved to the Philadelphia area. But even though Tasneem Raja, my editor on Code Switch, grew up 20 minutes north of Philly and attended a "hippie" (her words) Quaker high school where events like the Kent State shootings got a lot of airtime in class, she remembers hearing about MOVE only from her dad, never in school.

I grew up in Philly during and after the bombing. My elementary school was the kind of place where we we learned Afrocentric songs and teachers dressed in kente cloth, while my high school was overwhelmingly black. We never discussed it in class, either.

'm From Philly. 30 Years Later, I'm Still Trying To Make Sense Of The MOVE Bombing

What gives? It's seems incredible that so many people had never heard about the time American law enforcement bombed U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, which, on top of the deaths, left dozens of bystanders' homes destroyed in an uncontrolled fire that the police commissioner told firefighters not to put out right away. The details are so extreme, so over-the-top. How have we forgotten this?

I put the question to Robin Wagner-Pacifici, who teaches at the New School and has written books on MOVE and other fringe militant groups involved in bloody government standoffs, including the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. She has noticed that while those groups identified with each other to a degree, referring to each other in their manifestos as fellow victims of the state, they don't seem to feel the same way about MOVE. "They created this kind of genealogy," she says, "but none of them mentioned MOVE."

She thinks the reason was ideological: MOVE's quasi-Rastafarian, anti-technology, pro-animal-rights worldview doesn't neatly fit on any part of the political spectrum, while other militant groups she has studied had some degree of overlap. And you can't lump MOVE in with other black power movements of the time, either; black radical groups often bristled at their tactics.

In the universe of violent fringe movements that ended in deadly mayhem, MOVE occupies a lonely branch. To some degree, maybe this helps explain why the story of MOVE isn't better known: If few people feel like your ideological kin, few people feel cause to carry your torch.

Wagner-Pacifici also traces this relative obscurity back to the players involved. Unlike other fringe groups she has studied, MOVE's final confrontation wasn't with a big federal agency like the FBI or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They clashed with local Philly cops and some state police. So while the story of Ruby Ridge has been folded into the larger national debate on gun control and the limits of federal power, the political implications of MOVE were seen as more provincial and self-contained. And unsurprisingly, local politicians were all too eager to move on and leave those implications behind.

Of course, Ferguson protesters faced off against local law enforcement, too, and Ferguson city cops would have loved if Michael Brown's death had stayed a hyperlocal affair. But technology has changed everything in the decades since May 13, 1985. If the MOVE bombing were to happen today, bystanders would be furiously uploading videos to YouTube, spawning Twitter hashtags and interconnected protests in cities around the country. CNN would be camped out in West Philly for weeks, to say nothing of the countless think-pieces.

If MOVE happened today, it might be quickly folded into the classroom, as has happened with other recent incidents of police violence. Teachers have all the materials at their fingertips: clips from livestreams, links to mainstream news articles and personal blogs, embeddable tweets, and so on. Back in the mid-80s, you'd have to wait around for the inevitable Frontline documentary or for an academic to publish a book. History gets commodified and redistributed much more quickly today.

The MOVE story faded into relative obscurity partly because no one connects with their cause today, and largely because the mechanisms to preserve the story weren't in place yet. But had it happened now, it would be much harder to forget.

CultNEWS101 "MOVE" Collection.

Amway: 5 Realities Of The Multi-Billion-Dollar Scam

Carolyn Burke
Angelos Kyritsis
May 18, 2015

You've seen those "Make money from home!" banner ads or comments from spammers promising the same. Those are scams, as you can guess, but sometimes, well, they're sort of cults. Kind of like if you stripped the Xenu stuff out of Scientology and just left the part where you pay to be a member.

Amway is probably the most widely used of the "sell our products out of the comfort of your own home and be your own boss!" services, the ones that appeal to the unemployed with promises they'll get rich quick (and also encourages them to relentlessly recruit new members). And on the surface it looks fairly plausible, especially when you look at how much money Amway rakes in every year: in 2014 Amway sold $10.8 billion worth of products, so why shouldn't you try to break off a piece of that action?

Because it's pretty much a scam, and a creepy one at that. Angelos Kyritsis got wrapped up in the Amway pyramid scheme, and he's here to shed some light on the ugly -- and downright weird -- truth:

5 You Can Actually Lose Huge Amounts Of Money

We don't want to use the word "cult" lightly -- it's not like you'll get six meetings into Amway and find out it's all being done in service to the invisible space lizard Quixtar. But you've probably heard how groups like Scientology make their millions -- new members are roped in and told that the road to enlightenment runs through some very expensive course materials. Well, new Amway members ("distributors") are constantly promised there's a rocketship to success waiting just on the other side of the next $250 seminar. And then they're assured that those seminars are nothing without a $40 package of tapes and books to accompany them.

"Don't have a VCR because it's 2015? Don't worry; you can get an Amway(R) brand one for three easy payments!"

In both cases, the hook is the same, and it's targeted at the desperate: a little money now, a better life later. Only it's not "a little" money. As Kyritsis told us:

"The two years I was supposedly building my Amway business, I lost nearly $10,000 on tapes, seminars, books, gas, and traveling expenses for out-of-town seminars. My earnings? Less than $500 total. Since I was unemployed -- and pretty much unemployable for any nonburger-flipping job -- those $10,000 came exclusively from my grandmother, who was also my biggest (and only) Amway customer, buying expensive, 'concentrated' Amway products she didn't need, every month to support me."

"Put me down for another blender, then I'll have one for every day of the week."

Kyritsis got off easy. You can find stories online of people spending $192,000 to "make" $30,000 (shit, we think there are actual cults with a higher rate of return). It's impossible to know the exact "success" rate for Amway independent business owners (IBOs), but one case from 2008 showed that out of 33,000 IBOs, only 90 made enough money to cover the costs of their business. That's a failure rate of damn near 100%. But of course, to Amway, those aren't failures. Amway doesn't make its money selling the random household goods the distributors are handing out -- they make money selling a dream. Then once you've committed yourself and forked over serious cash -- and convinced friends and family to do the same -- how can you leave? At this point, you've got too much invested not to see it through.

Probably should have waited on the tattoo.

We should also note that Kyritsis lives in Greece, a country just coming through the other side of an intense financial crisis (see: "targeting desperate people", above). Amway is based in Michigan, but they do about 90% of their business outside of the United States. It's not hard to see why: Amway is increasingly well known as a scam in the U.S., and American citizens have an easier time suing the company for unethical business practices. In 2010, Amway settled with disgruntled American customers for $155 million.

This is why the moment you walk in the door ...

4 You're Specifically Told Not To Use The Name "Amway"

People who sell for Amway literally have no idea what they are getting into because the training system bends over backwards through hoops of fire to try to keep any useful information out of the hands of their representatives. It's actually incredibly hard for most users to know where actual "Amway" begins and ends, because a cottage-industry of other scams have leapt up around Amway's business model like hallucinogenic mushrooms on cow shit. Kyritsis received all of his training through a group called Network Twentyone, who make a tidy profit charging people to teach them how to sell Amway:

"There are different training systems to build an Amway business (Dexter Yager Internet Services is another one) and they are separate corporate entities than Amway."

Although they are separate companies, Network Twentyone was founded by Amway distributors and, obviously, helps to drive Amway sales via its own borderline cultish system, which have included things like torchlight parades and advising distributors to threaten to hit customers on the head with Amway tapes, forcing them to take the tape to defend themselves. Obviously, Amway is quite aware of companies like Network Twentyone and is completely fine with them, as long as they drive business and never mention Amway's name. This is where things turn distinctly more Fight Club: Sellers are instructed to never say the word "Amway" while pushing their products.

Network 21
You can bet those aren't generic-brand torches.

"We were warned never to use the name Amway on the phone; even while showing the business plan, the name would be one of the very last things mentioned. The explanation from our 'sponsors' was that people in the past have misused the name 'Amway,' and people should get a chance to know the 'new Amway' without being prejudiced from things they might have heard."


Yes, apparently the only thing stopping most people from buying their knives and makeup from the same company is prejudice.

At that point, they were sent out into the world to try to rope in every single person they encountered, all without ever saying who they really represented:

"This was a textbook invitation: Speak quickly, as if you are in a hurry, make a very broad connection with something relevant the person might have mentioned in the past, involving money, a business, the Internet, etc., invite them to a one-on-one or house meeting, never give any more information over the phone, never mention the name Amway."

Mark Edward Atkinson/Blend Images/Getty Images
"Hey, Joe, remember how you did that history report on George Washington in fourth grade? Say, that reminds me ..."

That's a lot of trouble to go through to convince someone to be a part of your totally legit, not-deserving-of-that-prejudice-in-any-way company. "But that doesn't really sound like a cult!" you might say. "That just sounds like any ol' shady business selling door-to-door bullshit!" Well ... take a moment to watch one of their videos:

Yeah, it turns out ...

3 They Recruit Through Brainwashing And Lies

"The first part of the brainwashing," says Kyritsis, "was that 'there would be no success without the system.'" What's the system? The system is a series of seminars, recordings, and books that claim to be a guaranteed path to master salesmanship. Following Amway's guidelines successfully is seen as the only path to success, so if you aren't making money, it's because you're not "working the program" properly. Any success is due purely to their teachings, any failure is due to you not following them hard enough. Sound familiar?

And as we mentioned above, those materials promising you the skills to turn your financial life around are the product. "What most people don't know is that the successful members at the top of the pyramid were making way more money from promoting the tapes, the books, and the seminars, than selling Amway products."

"And if you're on the top of that pyramid, then you'll need to get our leadership tapes and books."

Proof of the company's overwhelming manipulation isn't hard to come by. All over YouTube you can find videos like this one where the intro song repeatedly claims these people have found a way to beat the recession and travel the world, with lyrics like, "Anyone with eyes can see we are successful" (we assume it flows better in its native language). If you sit through the song long enough you'll see Amway distributor Patrick Joe's epic introduction before he starts excitedly screaming and getting the audience to chant like he just found Jesus, or learned Rush finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

Most Amway videos are equally epic and once again completely devoid of any specific information whatsoever. That last video is nothing but pictures of smiling people set to a pop song about "wanting more out of life" ...

and occasionally interspersed with pictures from Amway conferences:


So maybe it won't be much of a surprise to learn that ...

2 Their Lies Start Ruining Your Life

Look, there's actually one really simple, easy way to tell the difference between a legitimate job and a scam. Just ask them, "How much will I get paid to work for you?"

If they quote you an exact salary or an hourly wage, it's probably a legitimate job. You can safely assume that you're the mark if they start using words like "opportunity" and "downline" or present you with completely unintelligible pie charts like this:

"That baby is pulling down $75K a year, post-taxes."

When a company like Amway does give you numbers, it's never what you can expect as a salary. And if they do mention specific numbers, it's usually something like this:

You can almost hear the copy editor laughing through the text.

But remember, any cult-like group works by surrounding you with people insisting that these obvious red flags are really just proof they can think outside the box. Can you? You don't see those boring squares out there paying cash up front for the chance to sell detergent and lipstick door to door! That's how you know it's a good idea!

So, after hearing the Amway rhetoric on an endless loop, recruits start to make disastrous decisions, and each one is applauded by their peers. In Kyritsis' case, his "friends" at Amway even encouraged him to give up on his education. "They would actually compare having an Amway business with getting royalties, like from a book or a song. That you build a network once, and it pays you forever, even if you stop working. So, why go to college when I can make a successful Amway business without any degrees? For me, as a 21-year-old idiot who never had a full-time job and lived with his parents, that was reason enough to drop out of college, and I never got my degree."

If I wanted the headache of debt and no degree, I could have just signed up for the University of Phoenix.

Of course, Amway doesn't actually pay "employees," so Kyritsis needed a real job in order to "afford" his Amway job. And he nearly lost that real job trying to convince his boss to buy into the fake one.

"The only job I had during that period was a part-time job at a government-sponsored program, where I would give a couple of hours of computer lessons to small-business owners. I nearly didn't get that job, because when I first met with the director that organized it, I thought I would give her a special tape for prospects. Because which time is better to try and recruit someone, if not when you are going to them for a job?"

"I assure you sir, I am the right fit for this job. Now, may I interest you in a $30 bottle of fabric softener?"

"After that, I would also show the business plan to the businessmen I was supposed to teach about computers. Because, of course I would."

See, that's the thing -- part of the wonderful Amway experience is relentlessly badgering everyone in your life to join Amway in one capacity or the other. And as you can guess ...

1 You Wind Up Making Everyone In Your Life Hate You

In Amway's eyes, your friends and family are all potential cash cows you should be milking -- you're trained to go after the people closest to you first (to rack up those sweet pity sales). "I was thinking that every friend that didn't join my network didn't want success for himself or me, that he was somehow against me." This crazy train of thought led Kyritsis to harass his loved ones in an attempt to better their lives. Desperate to convince someone of the amazing untapped Amway potential, Kyritsis pushed the Amway rhetoric on anyone who would listen, especially his girlfriend. He would tell her that her studies were pointless when she could be making so much more money, dragging her to seminars and showing her the Amway tapes like a really boring version of The Ring.

It's scary how much money they are about to make.

Worse than the girlfriend sabotage, Kyritsis burned a couple bridges with the one person on Earth most likely to put up with all this malarkey: his mother. Kyritsis got angry that she wouldn't buy any of the overpriced products and support his "success." When he started realizing everyone around him was done listening to his sales pitch, Kyritsis decided he needed to expand his market, which he did by inflicting himself on his parents' social circle, out of desperation.

"The worst thing that happened was the 'list.' My parents are both members of a nonreligious spiritual organization, and they volunteered to keep the other members up to speed regarding upcoming events and meetings. So, they had an extensive list, with hundreds of names and phone numbers. I had asked my mother for that list, and she understandably said no. A while later, having exhausted my personal list, I went behind her back, made a copy of her list, and started cold calling them. When my mother found out, she was furious. This led to a huge fight, and soon after I left home and went to live with my grandmother. More than a year passed before I spoke again with my parents or sisters."

The commission on Dolores' toothbrush wasn't worth it.

So there's the alienation of friends and family who aren't in the group, which is pretty much the final ingredient in the standard cult cocktail.

So, yeah, not exactly what you're expecting when you click a banner ad, hoping to maybe make some money on the side selling vitamins and skin cream.

Kyritsis failed miserably in "Network Marketing," but he still enjoys computer networks. You will find his detailed how-to guides about technology on Carolyn is the latest and greatest Personal Experience team member; send your crazy stories to or believe every word she ever says on Twitter.