Foundation says it was unaware of ties to infamous sect
The Flora Family Foundation, an heir to the HP fortune, gave a Southern California charity with ties to an infamous evangelical sex cult $61,500 during the past three years, but a top foundation official said it never would have made the grants had it known about the connection.
The donations were made to the Family Care Foundation, which has extensive links to the Family International, formerly known as the Children of God.
“We were certainly troubled by the article,” said Flora Family Foundation President Stephen Toben. “We have never been aware of any connection between the Family Care Foundation and the Family.”
Toben said the Flora Family Foundation, based in Menlo Park and established by the family of HP co-founder William Hewlett and his wife, Flora, learned about the charity while searching for groups working on international development projects.
The group has an impressive Web site and didn’t disclose any cult ties on its tax forms, Toben said.
Family Care Foundation Executive Director Larry Corley flatly denies any ties to the Family sect.
Yet, The Chronicle investigation showed that all six of the foundation’s officers have links to the Family International. And according to former members, most of the “independent” projects getting foundation funds are run by members of the Family.
The religious sect was started in the late 1960s by Oakland native David “Moses” Berg, whose blend of Christian witness and sexual freedom attracted tens of thousands of devotees in the 1970s. The cult made headlines with controversial practices, such as using sex to recruit new members and allowing sexual activity between children, teenagers and adults.
The Chronicle story has also sparked concern at Milpitas High School, where two missionaries with ties to the Family visited a Spanish class last December.
Student Eric Day, a senior, said the two visitors sang Christmas carols and passed out “pamphlets about accepting Jesus in your heart” that included the Web address of the Family International.
“My classmates were put off by it,” Day said. “What’s up with all this church stuff? We’re a public school.”
Day then learned that the missionaries were affiliated with the Children of God. “I was completely shocked,” he said.
One of the missionaries, Ted Rudow III of Menlo Park, said his Dec. 17 visit to Spanish teacher Kim Marion’s class was “completely innocent.”
“It was to celebrate Christmas and witness to the birth of Jesus,” said Rudow, who said he had met Marion when they both worked as missionaries for the Family.
Rudow said the stories of child abuse in the Family in the 1970s and 1980s were being spread by “apostates” who were “slinging the mud of false accusations and evil lies” to “destroy this wonderful Family that I have known and worked with for 33 years.”
Marion did not return phone calls and e-mails requesting an interview.
But Milpitas High School Principal Chuck Gary said the school would take disciplinary action against the Spanish teacher.
“This was definitely inappropriate,” he said. “The materials handed out were explicitly religious. It was proselytizing.”
New attention has been focused on the Family International and the Family Care Foundation since a Jan. 8 murder-suicide in Tucson involving 29-year-old Ricky “Davidito” Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is the estranged son of Karen “Maria” Zerby, the chief prophet and spiritual leader of the sect, which says it has 8,000 full-time missionaries globally.
Police say Rodriguez murdered Angela Smith, a member of the Family Care Foundation board of directors and Zerby’s onetime personal secretary, drove across the California border and then shot himself in the head.
In a video made the night before, Rodriguez had said he had planned to use Smith to get information as to the whereabouts of his mother and other sect leaders, whom Rodriguez blamed for years of sexual abuse that he and other second-generation members suffered while growing up in the cult.
Internal Revenue Service documents show that the Family Care Foundation raised close to $10 million in cash and gifts from 1997 to 2003 for projects around the globe.
The Family Care Foundation has also received donations through the U.S. government’s Combined Federal Campaign, which allows federal employees to deduct money from their paychecks and donate it to approved charities.
An official with the program, which is run by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said her office was now reviewing complaints made about the Family Care Foundation.
The official, who asked that her name not be used, said the campaign did not keep statistics on how much money it funneled to individual charities.
In 2003, she said, the campaign raised $250 million for 15,000 participating charities.
Corley, of the Family Care Foundation, declined to say how much money his charity received through the federal program.
“We have participated in that for a number of years,” he said. “It is a source of income.”