Lawsuit: Cultlike motivational seminar turned lewd

Las Vegas-Review Journal/August 30, 1998

Reno -- A veteran Washoe County employee has sued the county, claiming he was forced to take part in personal growth seminars that included watching the then-county manager dance in his underwear.

In his federal lawsuit filed last week, Charles "Beau" Wiseman claims nearly all participants were "required to engage in sexually seductive and gender-inappropriate vignettes" in front of others. The lawsuit contends then-County Manager John MacIntyre performed "a sexually seductive striptease as if he were a Chippendale stripper.

"Mr. MacIntyre stripped down to his underwear and moved his pelvis and gyrated sexually until the group clapped and applauded," the lawsuit adds. MacIntyre, who recruited county employees to participate in the sessions put on by Vistar Integrated Program International, declined comment on the advice of his lawyer.

His role in the motivational seminars is one reason why he was fired in May after 21 years on the job, county commissioners confirmed. "I would truly love to respond to you," MacIntyre told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "There's a lot of serious stuff in there. It's going to trial and will be decided there."

His lawyer, David Grundy, denied the allegations. But when asked whether his client had danced in his underwear, Grundy would not respond. "We feel strongly we ought not to litigate matters in the media," he said.

Wiseman, a 24-year county employee and collections division manager, and his lawyers declined to discuss details of the case. Wiseman, 52, is seeking more than $50,000 in damages for emotional and mental distress from the county, MacIntyre, local Vistar executive director Richard Baldo and former local Vistar director Dean Hinitz.

He also accuses the county and Vistar of negligence, false imprisonment, discrimination, civil rights violations and religious and sexual harassment. Vistar officials also declined comment on the lawsuit.

"It's painful," said Hinitz, a Reno psychologist. "I can't talk to you and clear the air. Context is very important. Human behavior taken out of context looks very inexplicable."

In his lawsuit, Wiseman claims he risked being fired by MacIntyre if he didn't take part in the "quasi-religious and cultlike" program. Vistar encourages participants to experience "a profound emotional and spiritual catharsis ... in much the same ways as participants in a charismatic church are expected to be born again," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims Wiseman was forced to recall the faces of those he had killed as a Vietnam War soldier, driving him to the brink of suicide and relapse into alcoholism after 14 years of sobriety. Group members took him by force from his home to Lake Tahoe for a weekend seminar, the lawsuit claims.

Wiseman was one of 32 county employees who attended Vistar sessions this year and last year at a cost of $21,139 to the county. The city of Sparks paid $2,195 for five employees to attend such sessions, and the city of Reno paid $3,500 to partially reimburse nine employees.

Jean Atkinson, strategic planner with the Reno city manager's office, said the Vistar sessions made her a better person. A shy person, she recounted singing a Tina Turner song out loud in front of a group.

"It enables people to get outside themselves," she said. "It was such an experience ... It showed me I have a reason for being here. I didn't feel that way before." Wiseman said he's now sober and regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

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