Ellenville - The parent company that owns the Honor's Haven Resort and Spa, BR Consulting, Inc., is being sued by a number of people who are alleging fraud, and that the company's Dahn Yoga program is actually a cult - allegations that are being roundly rejected by the defendants.
"Their complaint is full of false statements and distortion," said Joseph Alexander, the Vice President of communications for Dahn Yoga. "Obviously these claims are very sensational and very interesting to anyone...but if you look at it more closely, they don't really have any substance. There's no facts, there's no substance, and it can't stand up to regular scrutiny. I'm very confident that we're going to win in court."
The civil suit was initially filed in May of 2009 in Arizona, and 27 plaintiffs allege that the Dahn Yoga corporation, a subsidiary of BR Consulting, uses practices to fleece people out of their money and to make them break ties with their families and their former lives. One plaintiff even alleges that the company's founder and leader, Dr. Ilchi Lee, sexually assaulted her while she was working with him in Korea.
"At these Dahn Yoga retreats, there're these extended periods where they're subjected to thought-reform practices, and basically they're brainwashed," says Ryan Kent, a California-based attorney who is representing the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit. The suit cites the statement of Cathleen Mann, a professor of psychology, who was retained as a consultant to the case because of her expertise and experience in researching "high demand, totalistic, authoritarian groups," which the case uses as a definition for cults.
"She [Cathleen Mann] found that it was a cult group, and that they practiced fraudulent and deceptive recruiting, and subjected them to these thought-reform programs, and they basically took all of their money. When the kids didn't have money because they're students, they would coerce them and induce them to go take out student loans. And often time the Dahn instructor would cosign the student loans, or they'd find other young Dahn members to cosign student loans.
"Every single one of them ended up taking out loans, maxing out credit cards, opening up credit card accounts, and all of the money went to their Dahn yoga training. And then once they were employed by the organization as Dahn masters, working in these Dahn yoga centers, they were induced to donate their own money to the organization - not to purchase any classes or programs, but just to give it, so that they could 'make the vision.' "
The company on the receiving end of the lawsuit has been quick to react to the allegations, categorically denying them.
"It's a lie," said Alexander. "Calling this organization a cult is like calling your local karate studio a cult, or calling a gym a cult."
The defendants assert that, in actuality, the suit has been orchestrated by one of the plaintiffs, Lucie Vogel, a former employee who coerced many of the other plaintiffs to join the suit when a money-making scheme she perpetrated while employed with the organization fell through.
"A lot of this trouble started when Lucie Vogel was employed by Dahn Yoga and came up with a scheme to become number one manager in the country in sales and membership, and also to make her region number one," wrote Alexander in an e-mail. "Most of the plaintiffs worked under her and were victims or participants in her scheme. By the time the scam was discovered, many people had lost money or gotten into debt and the company had to refund more than two hundred thousand dollars to members and employees."
In December, after Dahn Yoga moved to have the suit dropped, the case's judge dismissed all of the case's allegations except for the sexual abuse charge, the court ruling that the "Plaintiffs have failed to adequately plead [their] claims." This has prompted the plaintiffs to resubmit their allegations in far greater detail, generating a second amended claim document that comes in at 314 pages. Dahn Yoga then filed to have that amended claim dismissed, and Kent has until January 25 to oppose that motion, after which the judge will issue another order regarding what allegations will or will not be dismissed.
Honor's Haven, is owned by Ellenville Real Estate, LLC, a subsidiary of Ilchi Lee's BR Consulting. It is managed by Fallsview Hotel, LLC, a company owned by Jorung Sook "Jane" Lee, Ilchi Lee's wife. The Lees' son, Julian, is both the general manager and director of operations for the resort.
One of the plaintiffs, Chun Hwa Ha, who worked at the Honor's Haven from January through August in 2007 as Mrs. Lee's assistant, also claims that the resort employs illegal immigrants and pays them "under the table." Once workers attained legal working status, accounts were opened in their names to pay more illegal workers, the lawsuit alleges.
"The allegations regarding Mrs. Lee are that she was involved in the whole recruitment and indoctrination of people, and also involved in the visa and immigration and payroll violations," adds Kent.
The attorney for the plaintiffs also alleges that the Honor's Haven is "one of their compounds," saying that the site is used to "recruit and indoctrinate more members."
Dahn Yoga's Joseph Alexander, however, finds this assertion laughable.
"That's so ridiculous," he said, referring to previous times Journal reporters have visited the resort. "Where did you see a compound for recruitment? You know how many rooms we have there - we can't hide anything. Anything that we do there is going to be wide open. At times, the room space that we have at Honor's Haven is so limited that sometimes we have to shift staff quarters so that we can have room for guests. So where are we going to keep recruiting people? Where are we going to have a compound?
"Has Ryan Kent ever been to Honor's Haven? I don't think so," he added. "Again - speculation and distortion."
Alexander said that while Dahn Yoga may share core philosophies with the resort, the yoga company has always rented space at the resort like any other company scheduling a retreat.
Information regarding whether or not Julian Lee and Byun Gun Oh, the resort's assistant general manager, are practitioners of Dahn yoga was unclear as of press time. However, Alexander did confirm that Dahn yoga classes and workshops are made available to all staff of the resort. The resort also offers classes and membership to its wellness centers to members of the local community.
"The plaintiffs' attorney is trying the case in the media. He doesn't have any intention of winning in court," said Alexander.
And the case has certainly received its fair share of media attention recently. In December, an in-depth article was published in Glamour magazine, in which the plaintiffs' allegations of the Dahn Yoga organization's dangers are explored - and it should be mentioned that the article relies more heavily on the allegations of the plaintiffs in the case, lacking substantial comment from the defendants. The allegations were also the subject of segments on CNN's Campbell Brown show every day throughout last week, and another article in Rolling Stone is forthcoming.
The Dahn Yoga organization, however, is hitting back through the media as well, taking to the internet to defend their case through the website www.dahnyogavoice.com. The organization has written responses to CNN's coverage, and has even created a video attacking the claims of Jessica "Jade" Harrelson, who made the allegations of sexual abuse while in Korea.
"They want to use the media pressure to get us to settle. This is what they threatened in the beginning," said Alexander. "They said, 'If you don't pay us, we'll take this to the media. And we said 'no.' "