Audubon may be heir to guru's Bedford estate

Bedford Record-Review/March 12, 1999
By R. J. Marx

A legal battle is ensuing between followers of a deceased man named Frederick Lenz III, known as "Rama" to his followers, and the National Audubon Society. The battle figures around the will and testament of Mr. Lenz, a.k.a. "Rama" and "Rama Lenz," who died last April 13 at the age of 48, in the waters off his Long Island home in Old Field, near Stony Brook.

Among Mr. Lenz's estimated $18 million worth of assets is a home at 28 Baylis Lane in Bedford, which he purchased in 1997 for $2.4 million, and which he listed as his "principal domicile."

According to Lenz's will, he left his money "to a charity created by me that has the primary purpose of disseminating Zen Buddhist teachings, meditation and yoga in the context of what I have taught as American Buddhism."

Mr. Lenz made a proviso in the will that significant steps toward creation of this charity had to take place during his life, otherwise all money would go to the National Audubon Society.

The Bedford Audubon Society is not involved in this matter, said John Askildsen of Bedford Audubon.

Mr. Lenz's will, which was notarized in August 1994, "shall be conclusive unless such opinion is contested by any executor or is clearly unreasonable," according to the document.

Lawyers may have an opportunity to debate the wording of the will in court. Mr. Lenz also stated that he was bequeathing "the balance of my estate to charity to promote Buddhist teachings."

Mr. Lenz set a caveat for himself, however, stating in the will, "If I have not created or taken significant steps to create such a charity or if the creation of such charity was begun during my lifetime but my Executor determines in his absolute discretion that it is not reasonably possible to complete the creation of such charity after my death as provided above, then my Executor shall distribute the residue of my estate to the National Audubon Society Inc., New York, New York."

While stating this week that it could not comment on matters in litigation, the National Audubon Society, based in New York City, did not deny a report first mentioned by Bill Varner of The Journal News earlier this month that the society was planning to file a Surrogate Court motion for a summary judgment that it should inherit Mr. Lenz' estate.

If the motion is denied, Mr. Varner reported, the Audubon Society may press its claim with a lawsuit.

How the court would decide whether Mr. Lenz met his proviso of taking "significant steps" remains to be determined, as does the exact nature of Mr. Lenz's assets.

The executor of Mr. Lenz's estate, affiliated with the accounting firm of Ernst & Young in Century City, Calif., did not respond to phone calls this week, nor did his lawyer in New York City.

In the meantime, the Bedford property -- which remains as one of Mr. Lenz's assets -- could assume a legal limbo.

Who is Frederick Lenz?

Newspapers and magazine throughout the country have chronicled the life and times of the San Diego-born, Stamford, Conn.-raised Mr. Lenz, a.k.a. "Zen Master Rama," who was known as the "yuppie guru" and wrote such books as "Total Relaxation: the Complete Program for Overcoming Worry, Stress, Tension and Fatigue," "Surfing the Himalayas" and "Snowboarding to Nirvana." Mr. Lenz was included in a list of group labeled cults in the Congressional Quarterly Researcher.

According to information filed in his will, his mother, Dorothy Lenz, died in 1963, and his father, Frederick Lenz Jr., -- a former mayor of Stamford -- currently lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The younger Mr. Lenz was divorced from Pamela Lenz in a Haitian court in 1973.

Frederick Lenz described himself as a businessman engaged in consulting and software, as well as a CEO and author.

Herbert Nieburg, Ph. D., director of behavioral medicine at Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, said he was involved in consultations with people involved with Mr. Lenz's organization at the "heyday" of Mr. Lenz's presence in the region, the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990's. "There were numerous members all through the country. He was doing his workshops at Purchase. There was always a group that would get together there."

"The people who tended to join "Rama" were computer people," Dr. Nieburg said. "Most looked like ordinary people and probably were."

During his lifetime, Mr. Lenz led a life marked by conspicuous consumption and contacts with the rich and famous. A "Psychology Today" profile of Mr. Lenz states his 1982 base of operations was the rented Malibu home of Goldie Hawn. Later, Mr. Lenz rented the Malibu home of the singer Sting. One of his programs was entitled "Lifestyles of the Rich and Enlightened."

Along with the Baylis Lane property, over the past two decades Mr. Lenz had homes in Stony Brook; Del Mark, Calif.; and Santa Fe, N.M., and owned Prosches, Mercedes and Range Rovers.

Frederick Lenz III was not married at the time of his death, had no children and left no money to his ex-wife. The total $18 million of assets was said to contain $4.8 million of real estate in New York State. Approximately $6 million of his assets were in treasury bills and another $6 million in "closely-held companies."

History of a property

The 18.7 acre Bedford property is situated on the eastern side of the Mianus River, the northern side of Baylis Lane and west of Quarry Lane. Currently, the entrance is defined by a large black gate, fencing around the property and a security system.

When the property's development process began in 1983 it was known by the subdivision name Mianus River Estates. In the process of subdivision approval; the Bedford Planning Board sought and obtained a 10-foot-wide trail easement and a scenic easement located within an area 400 feet of the Mianus River. In approving the subdivision, further subdivision was prohibited of the proposed lot, as well as any development within 100 feet of the water.

A conservation easement was signed on Jun 20, 1983, "due to the beauty of this parcel."

The property was developed in the spring of 1984 by Irving O. and Jean M. Farber, who purchased the parcel in Dec. 1983 for $149,000. Ms. Farber, a Realtor in Bedford Village, said she and her husband purchased vacant land and build a house. She described the property as "gorgeous," situated on an old working quarry. "The house sits high on a ledge overlooking the water," she said, "It's very dramatic."

The home was sold to Mr. Lenz on Aug. 6, 1997, for the price of $2.4 million. At the time, Ms. Farber said she had no indication of Mr. Lenz's status as "the yuppie guru."

"In 1997, the house was on the market," she said. "He came over with another agent; he fell in love with it and made us an offer."

Ms. Farber said Mr. Lenz was accompanied by a qualified agent/broker and "certainly had the means."

"He presented himself to us as a very decent person, just a little eccentric perhaps," Ms. Farber said. "I had no knowledge of what has come out since, absolutely no knowledge of that. He was presented to me as he was in computer software in California and that's where most of his money had been made. He had a doctorate in English and he scuba-dived."

She said Mr. Lenz was "very interesting." "Nothings of what came out since was ever indicated. He was lovely and a gentleman, and I never got any of the vibes that came out since."

The house on Baylis Lane is now on the market, Ms. Farber said, although she is not the listing agent. The property was originally listed at $3.9 million and is now being offered at $2.9 million. Any conflict over the will would not affect the sale of the property, she said, which would become part of the assets of the estate after a sale.

The house was valued at $3.5 million at a recent probate hearing.

Death still a mystery

According to police reports, Mr. Lenz's body was found in the water off Long Island Sound. Mr. Lenz was dressed in a suit and tie. Around his neck was a dog collar with a dangling rabies vaccination tag. Police told reporters that Mr. Lenz and a female companion had made a suicide pact two nights before. The pair had drugged their dogs with Phenobarbital, taken "fistfuls" of Valium (at least 1650 pills by Lenz alone) and stepped off the pier. While the dogs and his partner survived, Mr. Lenz did not. "'Rama' left his physical body" sometime between April 10 and April 12, 1998, according to his followers. Authorities place the date of death as April 13.

Among the stipulations in Mr. Lenz's will, was a request that "all pets owned by me at my death be put to sleep within a reasonable time after my death and that my Executor dispose of their remains at the expense of my estate." His own body was cremated.

Even after the death of Mr. Lenz, Rick Ross, a media commentator who has studied Mr. Lenz and his followers, stated: "The group is still active, and it seems there is new leadership."

Mr. Lenz's followers continue to maintain an extensive presence on the World Wide Web, including several Web sites. They have cited Mr. Lenz as a major patron of National Public Radio in Connecticut as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the National Museum of Women and the Arts, Shotokan Karate, B'nai B'rith, the Cousteau Society, the Sierra Club -- and the National Audubon Society.

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