Holistic horror lawsuit

New York Post/September 4, 2005
By David Hafetz and Philip Rechhia

Julia Siverls was voracious, racking up advanced degrees in a dogged pursuit of knowledge that eventually led the Queensborough Community College education professor to a fateful spiritual retreat in the Arizona desert.

Dahnhak, a yoga and holistic-health group, offered to make her a master of its discipline if she completed one last test.

But that test cost Siverls, 41, her life, her family charges in an explosive $84 million lawsuit.

The suit calls Dahnhak a cult and alleges that it drugged Siverls, loaded her backpack with 40 pounds of rocks, gave her little food or water, then took her on a hike up Casner Mountain, near Sedona, Ariz.

She collapsed from dehydration and exhaustion in the desert heat but was forced her to go on and died halfway up the mountain on July 12, 2003, the suit says.

"It was total, total neglect," her sister, Veronica Siverls-Dunham, said. "This was a senseless death."

According to police reports obtained by The Post, an off-duty officer spotted the group on the mountain. The officer said Siverls was "hunched over" and had fallen.

An autopsy found the cause of death to be consistent with "acute heat stroke, dehydration and hyperthermia due to environmental exposure," the suit states.

Her family believes her meals at the retreat were laced with marijuana and methadone. A vegan, she never touched drugs, it says.

Siverls-Dunham, a high-school science teacher, called her sister, the youngest of 12 siblings, was the family's "pride and joy."

The suit says Dahnhak "lures" members with free yoga classes, then pressures them to attend pricey classes and retreats. Named as co-defendants are over a dozen allegedly related operations and Dahnhak's Korean leader, "Grand Master" Seung Huen Lee.

Chris Scanlon, a Manhattan lawyer for Mago Earth, one of the defendants, said, "The allegations of wrongful death are baloney."

A Dahnhak spokeswoman said neither Lee nor any other official could be reached for comment.

Seung Huen Lee, who also goes by the name Ilchi Lee, calls himself an "educational philosopher and world-peace leader" on a Web site that claims that Dahnhak teaches "the study of energy and how to use it to achieve mastery of mind and body and illumination of the spirit."

Dahnhak, based in Sedona, operates 50 centers in the U.S. and many more worldwide, according to the suit. There are at least 13 centers in New York, including locations on Sixth Avenue and a Dahn Yoga in Brooklyn Heights.

Arizona police say that the Siverls case is still open but that it's unlikely anyone will be charged.

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