Commune founder suing for his fair share

Jeffrey Gross alleges core Ganas shareholders owe him more than $1 million

Staten Island Advance/December 01, 2008

Staten Island, New York - The Ganas commune was formed three decades ago on the principles of sharing resources and talking out problems.

But one of its founders contends the group isn't abiding by those rules.

Jeffrey Gross has sued the New Brighton commune and 14 current and former members, alleging they booted him out last year and won't give him his fair share of the group's assets.

Gross alleges he is owed more than $1 million, based on loans he made to Ganas and his cut of the small Staten Island real-estate empire owned by the community's core group, comprised of individual shareholders in the commune's corporation, Core Group Inc., along with other key members who are part of an overarching partnership.

Core Group Inc. was incorporated in 1983, court papers said; online New York Department of State records show it's presently inactive.

Gross, who now lives in Denver, also seeks to dissolve the commune partnership and get a full accounting of its books. Members run EveryThing Goes furniture, clothing and book stores on the Island.

Gross, then 52, gained notoriety when he was ambushed outside the commune's Corson Avenue compound on May 29, 2006. He and prosecutors alleged that former Ganas member Rebekah Johnson shot him six times, badly wounding him. Gross was the only witness.

Ms. Johnson had been kicked out of the group a decade earlier. In the following years, she allegedly waged a campaign against Gross, branding him a "rapist and a pimp" and calling Ganas a "cult group."

In August, a Staten Island jury acquitted Ms. Johnson of all criminal charges stemming from the shooting. She also was found not guilty of trying to extort money from the commune.

Two months later, in October, Gross filed a $20 million civil suit in state Supreme Court, St. George, against Ms. Johnson. That action is pending.

The latest suit by Gross also is also filed in that court.

Reached by telephone, Gross' lawyer, Mark Gimpel of Manhattan said the complaint speaks for itself and declined further comment.

Edward W. Hayes, Ganas' lawyer, said the suit is nothing more than a monetary dispute.

"It's a divorce, that's all it is," Hayes said. "It's a group that's together to provide emotional support for each other and it was just not working out" between Gross and Ganas members.

Court papers provide a brief primer on Ganas.

The community was born around 1981 when Gross and four others moved from San Francisco to an apartment on East 6th Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Their communal living arrangement called for those core-group members to pool their income to pay all living and other expenses.

The group soon needed more living space and bought residential property at 139 Corson Ave. on Staten Island.

It grew and added both core-group and non-core-group members, but only core-group members pooled their resources, court papers said. Non-core-group residents did not kick into the kitty, but were given all living essentials, including food, utilities and laundry in exchange for below-market rent, said court papers. Some core-group members also loaned money to the commune.

The understanding was that each core group-member was a partner in all the property the core group owned. Property shares and loans were to be paid back to individual members when they left the core group and partnership, Gross maintains.

Meanwhile, the commune's real estate holdings grew.

Over two decades, the core group bought 14 residential and commercial properties on Staten Island -- in New Brighton, Tompkinsville and St. George -- along with an apartment in Brooklyn and land upstate, court papers show. Most of the properties were bought in the name of an individual core-group member.

Gross contends that all the properties but one, a residence at 135 Corson Ave., were purchased with core-group money.

He allegedly loaned the group the cash for 135 Corson, which became Ganas' "geographic and operational center" and doled out other funds as well. Gross maintains he loaned the group a total of $400,000.

In 2004, Gross talked about leaving the core group, although court documents do not say why.

He continued to live at Ganas and in subsequent discussions and e-mails in 2005 and 2006 was told his share of the core-group's assets was more than $1 million, court papers said. That figure included $300,000 to repay Gross' loans.

Later, in October 2007, Gross alleges his "economic relationship" with the core group was terminated, and he was told he was no longer a commune partner.

Court documents do not state a reason for the sundering.

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