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Sac Bee 11297

Church-financed trash raid disrupts sex-abuse lawsuit

By Wayne Wilson

Bee Staff Writer

(Published Nov. 2, 1997)


Hearings in a lawsuit against Ananda Church of God Realization have been rocked by revelations that church-hired investigators launched a covert raid on the opposing counsel's trash and made off with a pile of confidential documents.
Attorneys for Anne-Marie Bertolucci, who claims she was sexually exploited and then dumped by Ananda leaders, have asked a San Mateo County judge to enter a default judgment in her favor, claiming it is the only effective remedy to "rectify the contamination created" by the church's acts.

Ananda is a 29-year-old spiritual movement founded in the woods outside Nevada City in 1968 by a  self-described swami named J. Donald Walters. Walters, 71, and one of his senior ministers are named, along with the church, as defendants in the lawsuit, which accuses the men of sexually abusing Bertolucci, wrongfully firing her and committing other wrongful acts, including fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Bertolucci's suit was scheduled to go to trial in late September, but it was about that time that one of her attorneys, Michael J. Flynn, learned that a 1995 theft of trash from his property in San Diego was  commissioned and paid for by Ananda.
An investigator who was caught pilfering Flynn's garbage refused for two years to identify her client, but when the court ordered her to do so in September, she revealed that Ananda had ordered the garbage run.
An attorney for Ananda, Jon R. Parsons of Palo Alto, argued that the taking of the trash was a "relatively benign act by Ananda, an attempt to gather information legally."
But Judge Lawrence T. Stevens, who is presiding over the trial in Redwood City, said the revelation left him with a "smell of something . . . sinister."
The judge said the issues raised by the garbage-grabbing incident could have an effect on the trial "if it can be established that one side . . . went so far as to violate the law . . . by breaking .. . into their (opponents') trash bin in order to further their cause."
A ruling on the matter is expected Monday. According to court transcripts, a member of Ananda's legal team hired a private investigator to seize trash from

Flynn's law firm in September 1995, and there was some discussion about the legality of such an act. Trash is fair game if it is abandoned on the curb, but it is illegal to remove it from private property.
The investigator testified that it was always his intention to obtain the trash legally, but Flynn said it was kept inside a secured, six-foot-high gated compound off a private alley and could only be reached by trespassing on private property.
After getting away with one box of documents, the private investigator was caught, but resisted legal efforts by Flynn to learn the identity of her employer.
At one point, the investigator's attorney assured the court that the trash incident was not relevant to the Bertolucci case and succeeded in having a subpoena quashed, court documents show.
But the truth emerged in September, after an appeals court ruled that the investigator had to reveal the identity of her client.