Augusta — The Maine Attorney General’s Office has succeeded in putting The Gentle Wind Project out of business in Maine.
Once based in Blue Hill, the nonprofit group now headquartered in Kittery was accused in July of violating Maine’s Unfair Trade Practices Act by claiming that “healing instruments” it manufactures can be effective in treating ailments ranging from high blood pressure to Alzheimer’s disease.
The group claimed its instruments were based on designs that came from the “spirit world” via telepathic impressions received by the charity’s founder, John Miller.
The complaint filed against the group contends there is no objective or reliable scientific evidence that the instruments are effective. It also accuses the group of mismanagement of funds it collected as a charity.
Through a consent decree and order approved Tuesday in York County Superior Court, Miller and five others named in the consumer fraud complaint agreed to collectively pay $50,000 in civil penalties and costs.
They also agreed that the organization will be dissolved and that any remaining assets will be made available by the attorney general as restitution for consumers who purchased a “healing instrument” since 2003.
“We haven’t worked out yet how that will happen,” said Carolyn A. Silsby, the assistant attorney general who has been investigating the group for nearly two years. “I suspect it will take a period of time for a receiver to find their assets and to liquidate them. At that point, we’ll notify the public.”
According to the group’s most recent federal tax filing, annual revenue for the budget year that ended Aug. 31, 2004, was nearly $1.2 million.
“By dissolving their corporation, we have put them out of business, but we have jurisdiction only in Maine,” Silsby said. “We can’t prohibit them from doing this elsewhere. I wish we could.”
It remains uncertain how this week’s action will impact a civil lawsuit by The Gentle Wind Project against a Blue Hill couple.
In that suit, former project advocates James Bergin and Judy Garvey are accused of making false and defamatory statements about the group on their Web site. The case is scheduled to come to trial this fall.
“The individuals involved have now admitted there were misrepresentations regarding the effectiveness of their healing instruments and the research done,” said Jerroll Crouter, the Portland attorney defending Bergin and Garvey. “Those were the kinds of things being discussed on the Web site that they claimed were defamatory. It appears that a number of the statements they considered false and defamatory are true.
“We believe it will be very difficult for them to maintain their defamation claims in light of their admissions in the consent judgement.”
Calls by The American to The Gentle Wind Project were not returned.