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Union 111197

Ananda portrayed as victim, cult

By Will Holbert - Tue, Nov 11, 1997

REDWOOD CITY - A San Mateo County jury Monday started its journey toward deciding if Ananda is the victim of an obsessed ex-member determined to destroy it or is an exploitative cult out to control minds and bodies.

Attorneys for both sides gave their opening statements in the case, which now is before a jury after a three-year legal and publicity battle between a former female Ananda member and Ananda, its founder and one of its ministers. Ananda Village is a worldwide religious community with a village on the San Juan Ridge. The former member, Anne-Marie Bertolucci, is from Palo Alto and filed the suit in San Mateo County.

The seven-woman, five-man panel heard attorney Michael Flynn depict his client, Bertolucci, as an innocent spiritual wanderer convinced to give up her independence and body.
Defense attorney Gordon Rockhill described Bertolucci as a spurned seductress out for revenge after a senior Ananda minister, Danny Levin, cut off an extramarital affair.

"This is the first time in her life that Anne-Marie didn't get what she wanted, especially when it came to getting a man," Rockhill told jurors.

Flynn provided frequently graphic illustration of Ananda as a place where adherents were taught that Ananda Church founder J. Donald Walters, known as Kriyananda, was a living link to God and one in a line of great gurus stretching back to Jesus Christ. Walters was a swami who had taken vows of celibacy, Flynn repeated.
Bertolucci, impressed with Walters' spiritual credentials, joined Ananda believing it was a valid religious organization, but instead was taken advantage of, as were several other women, Flynn told jurors.
"The evidence is that clergymen were seeking sex from totally obedient female disciples. It wasn't a safe place," Flynn said, later adding,"Kriyananda held himself out as a swami, and he wasn't."
Rockhill countered that Walters publicly renounced his celibacy in 1981.
"Everyone in the Ananda Church knew Kriyananda was no longer a swami by 1991," Rockhill said.

This will become a key point in the trial, during which Flynn plans to produce about a half-dozen former female Ananda members who will testify about lurid sexual encounters with Walters stretching back to the 1960s. Bertolucci's case claims she was the victim of fraud, emotional distress and sexual harassment.

Walters, 71, has in depositions already admitted to past sexual encounters, including one instance involving two women at once and one with a married woman. The same depositions were cited by Flynn last summer and were unsealed with the seating of a jury Friday.

Flynn gave jurors an example of the tone of testimony expected from his witnesses. The women allege that massages often turned into sexual encounters, Flynn said
Flynn related to jurors that at least one woman was told that performing certain sexual acts was "just God's energy going from one place to another."But Rockhill told jurors the case centered on the extramarital affair between Bertolucci and Levin in the early 1990s at Ananda Village on the San Juan Ridge. Both were married and worked at Crystal Clarity Publishing, one of several Ananda businesses.
"What the evidence will show is that what happened with Kriyananda and several ladies back in 1981 and 1982 had absolutely nothing to do with what happened between Anne-Marie Bertolucci and Danny Levin," Rockhill said, characterizing the affair as "a love story that shouldn't have happened."

Levin is now 42 and Bertolucci is 34. While Flynn concentrated on Walter's character, Rockhill focused on Bertolucci's motivations. He described Levin as one of numerous ministers at the Ananda Village. Rockhill told jurors Bertolucci, who left her husband to join Ananda, seduced Levin, who was having his own marital difficulties. Both would go through periods of wanting to end the relationship, but they kept seeing each other during chance and planned meetings, Rockhill said. In one instance, Bertolucci went to Levin's home at 4:30 a.m. while his wife was out of town, Rockhill said.
Levin eventually ended the relationship, and Walters told Bertolucci she would have to leave the village.

Rockhill described Ananda as an open organization in which members are free to come and go, in contrast to Flynn's description of members being subject to mind control. Bertolucci herself took trips to the Bay area and her native New Zealand while an Ananda member, Rockhill said. "There's no fences at Ananda, other than fences to keep hordes of deer out of your garden, your roses, or parsnips, or whatever," Rockhill said, later describing Ananda residents as "folks like the rest of us."
But Flynn told jurors Bertolucci was trained at Ananda to separate her thoughts from her feelings through meditation techniques which he said expert testimony would reveal as mind-controlling. A "purification ceremony" involved devotees such as Bertolucci kneeling in submission in front of ministers such as Levin, according to Flynn's opening statement.

After Walters told her to leave, Bertolucci felt severely emotionally disturbed and even suicidal, Flynn said.

Rockhill told jurors Bertolucci saw therapists after leaving Ananda, one of whom referred her to books that discussed "mind control and sexual abuse in a very particular way."

"She reads these books ... and she decides she is a victim," Rockhill told jurors.

Jurors will begin hearing Bertolucci's case Friday .
Flynn said he plans to call either Walters or Bertolucci Friday.