Kabbalah Centre sued, faces IRS investigation; Madonna sued by former charity workers

The Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles and all of its entities are being sued by Courtenay Geddes, a wealthy heiress from Pasadena, California, reports Roger Friedman at Showbizz 411.

Geddes didn’t name Madonna as a defendant in her suit, but she named everyone else from the Berg family to John Larkin of Larkin Business Management. Larkin is the accountant for Kabbalah. (His firm was sued in 2009 by the Black Eyed Peas for failing to file a decade’s worth of tax returns.)

In a separate report Friedman also reports:

Madonna’s “religion” and the main object of her charity giving, the Kabbalah Centre, is being investigated by the IRS. […]

The targets of the investigation, sources tell me, are the Kabbalah Centre, Raising Malawi, and the Berg family—mother Karen and sons Yehuda and Michael, who own the company. Madonna, they say, is aware of the grand jury. The pop star has given millions—not “loaned” as some reports say—to the Kabbalah Centre and its offshoots SFK and Raising Malawi. In 2008-2009, she donated $2.5 million to them.

In addition, eight charity workers in Malawi are suing Madonna after the collapse of her $15m (£9.4m) academy for girls cost them their jobs.

The Guardian says:

The board of Raising Malawi was ousted after failing to start the building of an elite girls’ school amid allegations of financial mismanagement, including lavish spending on offices, cars and golf membership.

Madonna, who adopted a boy and a girl from the southern African country, loaned $11m (£6.9m) to the charity and now sits on the board.

Earlier The Guardian wrote:

The abandonment of the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls — backed by prominent Hollywood figures and Madonna’s associates in Kabbalah — was announced in January. This caught the Malawian government by surprise and caused anger among villagers who had surrendered their homes to make way for a 117-acre construction site near the capital, Lilongwe.

Raising Malawi’s executive director, Philippe van den Bossche, the partner of Madonna’s former personal trainer, left in October after criticism of his management style and spending at the school, according to the New York Times:

These [cost overruns] included what auditors described as outlandish expenditures on salaries, cars, office space and a golf course membership, free housing and a car and driver for the school’s director.

Most strikingly, the plans to build a $15 million school for about 400 girls in the poor southeastern African country of 15 million — which had drawn financial support from Hollywood and society circles, as well as the Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre International, an organization devoted to Jewish mysticism — have been officially abandoned.

Kabbalah Centre
The Kabbalah Centre has long been controversial. Kabbalah scholars have claimed that the organization promotes its own brand of beliefs, part ancient Jewish mysticism and part pseudo-science.

The organization is run by Philip Berg, a traditionally trained orthodox rabbi whose unorthodox interpretation of Jewish law gained prominence when Madonna credited it with “creative guidance” on her Ray Of Light album.

The BBC has said:

Genuine scholars of Kabbalah, which is a respected branch of ancient Jewish mysticism, reject the Kabbalah Centre as an opportunist offshoot of the faith with charismatic leaders who try to attract the rich and the vulnerable with the promise of health, wealth and happiness.

That statement came in a report on claims made by Eliyahu Yardeni, of the London Kabbalah Centre, who told an undercover reporter that Jews killed in the Holocaust brought their downfall upon themselves:

Talking about the wartime massacre of the Jews, Mr Yardeni said: “Just to tell you another thing about the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust: the question was that the Light was blocked. They didn’t use Kabbalah.”

The same report also revealed how Kabbalah Centre representatives claimed bottles of “healing” spring water sold by the group could help cure cancer – and how they sold a batch to a sufferer for hundreds of pounds.

In 2002 the Evening Standard wrote:

[D]espite its claim to be “motivated by no other desire than the spiritual growth of humankind”, an Evening Standard investigation can reveal growing international concern about its fundraising methods, extraordinary mystical claims and what former members say is its cult-like ability to split up families and undermine marriages. […]

[P]ast followers have told the Standard [stories] alleging relentless pressure to donate money, threats that “bad things” would happen if they left, and an expectation that they would change their names and abandon partners or families at the centre’s behest.

One London woman – who, like many we spoke to, was afraid of being identified – attended centre meetings regularly between 1998 and 2000, spending almost £4,000 on classes and merchandise before her scepticism got the better of her.

“If you say you can’t afford something, they keep asking you for postdated cheques,” she claims.

“They promise that donating money will get you closer to your goal, or that you are guaranteed to find your soulmate. The people they know to be wealthy, and the celebrities, get very special treatment.”

In another case, a successful businessman who regularly visits the London office was recently urged to leave his longterm girlfriend and introduced to the group’s choice of “soulmate”, according to his former partner. […]

Then there are the 250 products sold by the centre “to support and enrich the study of Kabbalah”, from £18 lengths of red cotton (to ward off the “Evil Eye”) to expensive astrology readings.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, minister of Mill Hill Synagogue, has twice been visited at home by Kabbalah Centre recruits selling the £350 Zohar books door-to-door. “These books are meaningless from a Jewish point of view, and vastly overpriced,” Rabbi Schochet says.

According to Roger Friedman, in her lawsuit Courtenay Geddes alleges the following:

“Geddes, while looking for spiritual enlightenment and personal growth and improvement, was manipulated by Kabbalah Center and the other defendants who advantage of her sincere, trusting nature to deprive her of her monies€¦Kabbalah Centre has a historical pattern and practice of defrauding people by soliciting monies for various projects that never come to fruition. Geddes is but one of numerous people who have been taken advantage of the by Defendants by leveraging their position in the community as spiritual guides.”

In a PS, Friedman writes:

Madonna and other Kabbalah celebrities like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are not Jewish, and have never converted to Judaism. The Kabbalah Center and SFK (Success for Kids) are businesses and have nothing to do with mainstream Judaism.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday March 29, 2011.
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