1st document re “jfexposed” accusations re John Friend of Anusara Yoga: Pension.

Via elephant journal
on Feb 6, 2012
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Update, via a reader below, regarding the gray area that is using anonymous sources, which I choose only to do if I have independent corroborating sources:

“here’s the guideline NPR uses:
“The grant of anonymity should be a last resort. When NPR journalists use anonymous sources to obtain information necessary for a story, the editor or producer of that story has an obligation to satisfy him/herself that the source is credible and reliable, and there is a substantial journalistic justification for using the source’s information without attribution. This obligation also pertains to situations where individuals ask that their real names be withheld. The editor or producer has a twofold responsibility to (1) make a judgment about whether it is editorially justified to let the person speak anonymously, and (2) satisfy him/herself that this person is who the piece says s/he is. An editor should never be in the position of having to verify these things after a story has aired and a question is raised about it. We should not grant anonymity if a person makes pejorative comments about the character, reputation, or personal qualities of another individual, or derogatory statements about an institution.”

~
Update: we’ve received additional documents. Because the source prefers to remain anonymous, we won’t publish those documents. But suffice to say, everything regarding the pension issue has been straightened out now (see original document below). Previously, things had gotten messed up or confused for a long time. That said, (even according to “Former Employee,” anonymous person who is not a fan of Mr. Friend but who claims not to be behind the jfexposed site), it was a case of ongoing negligence or incompetence, not deliberate greed, theft or corruption.

If I have this wrong, feel free to email me. We will only publish sourced facts, nothing anonymous.

As I mention below, I am not here to litigate the case. That’s not my role or skill. elephant is here to provide an opportunity for fair and honest dialogue, which will hopefully help enable all of us to then move forward.  ~ ed.

~
1st document pertaining to “jfexposed” allegations re John Friend of Anusara Yoga: Pension.

I interviewed John Friend—only recently on the cover of the Sunday New York Times where he was called “the Yoga Mogul”—just this afternoon.

It’s been a looong four days for the yoga community, and particularly John’s once-mighty Anusara Yoga community, or kula.

Over the last few months, several of Anusara’s senior teachers have resigned, citing vague differences. Then, on Friday, an anonymous, internationally-hosted web site was posted accusing John of various affairs, financial corruption, and more.

I’ll have our interview, which asks what I regard as the five tough, pertinent, yet fair questions regarding the anonymous web site’s accusations. This first post addresses the issue of whether John Friend and Anusara Yoga engaged in financial corruption through a pension plan.

That interview will be posted, along with John’s first public statement, as soon as possible.

This is how we, as a mindful community, do this. We don’t react to rumor—we look deeper, and find facts, non-anonymous sources, and explore issues, however painful. We seek to combine transparency and compassion. In the meantime, I have only commented about why we were letting the biggest scoop of the year, from a media perspective, fly by. Now that we’re securing some legal documents, and firsthand answers from John, we’ll begin.

May it be of benefit.

Note: comments, supportive and otherwise, are welcome. Name-calling and such will be deleted. Here’s our official, long-standing “Mean Comments Suck” comment policy. ~ ed.

Letter to JF from Loren Stark Co (.pdf)

I received this document from Dave Kennedy, a colleague of John Friend. This document itself is a letter from Anusara’s Third Party Plan Administrator. If anyone has any questions of a private nature, or doubts about the above, please email me. ~ ed.


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Comments

87 Responses to “1st document re “jfexposed” accusations re John Friend of Anusara Yoga: Pension.”

  1. Former Employee says:

    Would you be interested in posting other documents from Anusara employees that show that they didn't pass out the proper notice regarding the freezing of the pension and just recently came into compliance as of last month? Or do you just want to post the CURRENT status of the pension?

    Are you really interested in fair and balanced reporting of this or just being a PR mouthpiece for Anusara?

  2. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks, anonymous. As I said above, if you have questions, please feel free to email me. I am interested in the truth, aren't we all!?

    PS: we are not a PR mouthpiece, as you'll see from my interview when it goes up. We're here to be fair, but also honest. It's journalism's goal, which we aspire to but do not often reach, to do both. ~ ed.

  3. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks: I linked it above, but it's [email protected]. The more info the better, so we can all understand the past, where we're at, and then and only then move forward.

    Please note: I need sources, names, or can not post or share. If you're afraid of lawsuit, we need to find a way to share this with verifiable source or legal documents. I will only put out there what I can back up. Thanks! ~ Waylon.

  4. > Still lacks information

    Apparantly you just want to be 1st to break out a story! And this will be on reddit soon, the elephant brigade will be posting this…hmmmm

  5. A Kridati says:

    i support EJ's decision to address this issue with patience and compassion. those who are emotionally invested have spoken up anonymously, just as "Former Employee", and should not expect to be the only voice in the discussion. Sunlight is one thing… a witch hunt is another. let's let both sides speak before condemning anyone.

  6. drunkandfull says:

    This document is as meaningless as the document posted exposing JF. These 3rd party corps work with people like JF to make sure he gets the most money in the pension and everyone else gets the minimum requirements. If the plan was brought into compliance, penalties could have been paid with no "action being taken." Wicca Wicca Wicca…This is really a tough start to a long conversation. JF seems to like to tell the truth and be reasonably open….let's hear his voice!

  7. Disappointed. says:

    I cannot believe that John is putting this out to Elephant Journal before even talking to his teachers. I cannot believe that WAYLON is getting answers from John before any of the Anusara TEACHERS are getting answers from John.

  8. elephantjournal says:

    PS: I'm already seeing someone has downarrowed Former Employee. Let's just wait for the facts, and not spend our time clicking symbols. We can keep this civil and uplifted, constructive at the least, or we can not do this at all.

  9. I agree. Love that perspective–shine a light, without a witch hunt. People who are just interested in gossip will gossip with whatever they can get their hands on. People who are interested in the truth are willing to wait until they get it.

  10. swf says:

    I agree with Former Employee. Accusation were made that pension froze in 2010. Can the direct question be answered, "did you freeze your employees penion w/o telling them in 2010?" Of course in compliance now after being reported to Department of Labor. Enter text right here!

  11. Former Employee says:

    The documents have been sent along with a timeline of events regarding the reason the pension freezing was handled poorly. The letter above is technically correct, but does not tell the whole story.

  12. elephantjournal says:

    If I wanted to be the first, anonymous, I would have broken the story three days ago (and reaped a ton of traffic, which I love. I don't give up traffic easily).

  13. elephantjournal says:

    Dear anonymous Jamie,

    Well, the interview, when it's ready, was my best shot at getting real answers, honest and fair both. ~ Waylon.

  14. elephantjournal says:

    Well, to be fair, it's not like the other side addressed the Anusara community first, either.

    It's my understanding that John is delaying his answers to my interview until he addresses his community. That said, I'm not privy to his decisions.

  15. Concerned says:

    I think that "former employee" makes a valid point. If Elephant Journal really wants to provide comprehensive and fair reporting, they must be prepared to allow for the full story from all sides. If it is true that the pension was not in compliance until recently, then the original concerns about John's character still exist. In order for EJ to cover the full story others must be prepared to step forward with information and be prepared to reveal their identity. Given the passionate responses to the original YD posting, I can imagine that this is not desirable. Still, imagine how those identified in the original story feel. They have every right to defend themselves.

  16. Former Employee says:

    I blacked out my name/address from my documents, but if you can protect my name as a source I will provide it to you privately. You have the e-mail address I mailed them from. There are others out there who can also corroborate receiving the same documents. Every employee received the same documents I sent you. They are signed by Wendy Willtrout and were sent via certified mail.

  17. elephantjournal says:

    Got them and replied.

  18. Former Employee says:

    I am okay with giving my name to Waylon provided he keeps it in confidence, even from Mr Friend, and uses it as a barometer to gauge the accuracy of my claims and documents. However, I do not want to open myself up to being harassed by the people who find JF infallible. If what I've provided are forged documents, I would be okay with Waylon turning my name over to the authorities.

  19. elephantjournal says:

    Amen.

    We'll walk this as far as we can walk with this without non-anonymous sources, but I require someone to go on the record—at that point elephant is legally secure against charges of libel or slander—and just as importantly we'll only be putting certifiable information out there.

    Partially-blacked out documents with no names attached are interesting, but not yet news worthy of responsible journalism. Documents can be messed with by a 12 year old with Photoshop.

    As they say in All the President's Men, we need someone on the record to break a story.

  20. Former Employee says:

    So as I said, you can have my name. I can even give you the documents unaltered, but you have to my street address and my name when you do post them. That way you know they are real and you know who I am, but I am protected from the kula wrath.

  21. Former Employee says:

    *but you have to redact my street address and my name when you do post them

  22. legal frozen assets says:

    "I feel like it was a brag journal. And what a journal should be is a document of misery." ~Toni, of the Women And Women Bookstore.

  23. elephantjournal says:

    I'm most comfortable with all sources going on the record from both sides.

    If you can do that, I'll share your info. In any case, as you say, in a court of law I could be forced to give up your name.

    I'm here to be of service in telling as complete and accurate a story as possible, from all sides, and to figure how to move this forward as a community in constructive way. I'm not here to go to court to protect a source who isn't willing to go to court themselves by risking putting their name forward.

    That said, I understand there's a legal threat or possibility. I'd be happy to ask for a signed and sealed guarantee that they would not sue if your documents proved legitimate. If I get such a signed guarantee, would you come forward?

    I'm sure they're just as interested in you in telling the full story so there's no doubt of John's innocence regarding the pension question.

    Or if there's a lawyer versed in these issues out there, please feel free to offer advice re best way forward.

  24. elephantjournal says:

    Taking this offline.

  25. As long as you can personally verify the source, I don't think the sources should be asked to reveal their names and open themselves up to harassment. A journalist always protects his source. These former employees are very brave for coming forward and I think to black out their names and keep them anonymous is completely appropriate. As they have suggested, they can reveal their names to you, off the record, as confidential sources. That's my take. That said, obviously I don't know the legal ramifications for Elephant, but I imagine they would be no different than for any newspaper that protects their sources. But what do I know?! 😉

  26. Let’s give the process a chance to work.

    Not all sources are of the same quality. While in recent history there have been some notable problems with anonymous sources (yellowcake, anyone?), a journalist has to be able to use them from time to time. We trust the journalist to check truth claims. Among other things, we check them against sources which will stand up and be counted. Anusara, Inc. is neither the State Department, nor the Pentagon. What risks are there in coming forward?

    Is ej a journalistic outlet? I know I treat it as such. Or is it part of the blogosphere? I don’t know where we would have been these past eight years without a blogosphere to act as a check upon the incredibly shrinking print media. Given the fray that was, can we even have a mindful blogosphere?

    This site is in the middle of a storm. I like the way in which it is conducting itself thus far. This will be interesting to watch, because it is a true test of all of these questions and more.

  27. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  28. I like your last comment about ej being in the middle of a storm and conducting itself well thus far. A true test of patience and virtue!

  29. Anusour says:

    Regarding vindictive former employees: For a guy radiating such light, he sure seems to attract a lot of malcontents or is it rather that those people are privy to the real person and not the public persona?

  30. Sophia says:

    Well. I'm convinced. (Not)

  31. Lawyer says:

    Hi, lawyer here (and one who has litigated pension freeze cases to boot). As someone pointed out above, this letter proves absolutely nothing other than that the DOL inquiry went nowhere.

    Whether the Pension Plan was improperly frozen is an inquiry entirely independent of the Plan Adminstrator’s OPINION of whether the Plan was properly administered. The Plan Administrator is NOT an independent party. This fact is absolutely plain to anyone who understands the law, because under Federal law, THE PLAN ADMINISTRATOR can be sued for misconduct that impairs the value of the Plan. That means that the Plan Administrator could potentially be on the hook if the Plan was improperly handled. Note: I am not saying that the Plan Adminstrator in fact DID do anything wrong here, just that the law allows pension plan members to sue the Plan Administrator if it mishandled the Plan, and that means it is in the interest of the Plan Adminstrator to SAY that the Plan is in compliance with the law. So, we can’t really take this letter as anything other than a CYA (cover-your-ass) without further documentation.

    And the necessary documentation to determine that doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. In order for anyone (including a judge handling a case) to determine whether the freezing of the Plan was properly handled, or whether any past impropriety had been corrected, one would need to review the terms of the Pension Plan itself, and then determine whether the freezing was handled properly in conjunction with BOTH the terms of the Plan AND the Federal law governing pension plans, namely the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Neither review has been done here, at least not in public view, and so all we have is more speculation on top of more speculation, compounded by the opinion of an interested party with no actual verifiable information that any TRULY independent party could verify.

    In other words, simply saying the Plan is in compliance with the law doesn’t mean it always was, nor does it mean it is now. Sorry, Waylon, but this letter clears up absolutely nothing. It is a letter procured by John from another interested party, end of story. Without more, we’re all still in the dark.

  32. Lawyer says:

    Well, here's the thing: it is possible to issue a proper and legal freeze notice following an improper one, provided certain guidelines and timelines are followed, and a new freeze date is set in the future that complies with the timeline requirements. Again, however, this is dependent on the terms of the Plan and the applicable law. You would need a lawyer specializing in ERISA litigation to review all of the relevant docs, the notices and the law to determine if the second freeze was handled properly following what sounds to be an obviously mishandled first attempt.

  33. Ben_Ralston says:

    Totally agree with you Carol.

  34. just curious says:

    Do you think that we'll see those famous Anusura teachers publicly defend their beloved guru soon ?

  35. elephantjournal says:

    We must be doing something right; which is a polite way of saying I am not enjoying this. We've received equal number of angry, righteous emails from haters and supporters. Here's my reply to one whom I respect, who said I'm doing PR for JF.
    ~

    I asked him tough questions. His answers are up to him. I'm trying to do truth, not rumor. I updated my initial release, which shows them legally free of issues, with context about them being negligent. I think I've been fairly accurate and while I understand this might be a lose-lose from the haters and supporters position, I'm neither. I'm simply trying to do the right thing, have transparency not agenda-driven anonymously-sourced rumor put out there, find a way to learn from this and move forward.

    yours,

    Way

  36. elephantjournal says:

    Carol,

    I asked him tough questions. His answers are up to him. I'm trying to do truth, not rumor. I updated my initial release, which shows them legally free of issues, with context about them being negligent. I think I've been fairly accurate and while I understand this might be a lose-lose from the haters and supporters position, I'm neither. I'm simply trying to do the right thing, have transparency not agenda-driven anonymously-sourced rumor put out there, find a way to learn from this and move forward.

    yours,

    Way

  37. elephantjournal says:

    Carol, think about it: you're asking me to put my legal future on the line for folks unwilling to put their legal future on the line. It is my direct experience that many people communicate very differently when cloaked in the warm cover of anonymity than when they have to speak openly. ~ Waylon

  38. elephantjournal says:

    Okay, Ben, why don't you do the interview, quote a bunch of anonymous sources, and we'll see how that plays out.

    Seriously, go for it. I'll put you in touch today.

  39. elephantjournal says:

    He has clearly made mistakes, as has the organization.

  40. elephantjournal says:

    We are not journalism, we are a blog. We don't have paid writers who have time to do a proper job. He do however aspire and hold ourselves to the ethics of journalism, and I look forward to releasing the interview.

  41. elephantjournal says:

    Not too many left, it seems. Another one quit yesterday. I think that's why I'm getting kicked around in comments, here…holding the "middle ground" is the closest thing critics can find to anyone supporting John, which I do not.

    I am not a partisan, here, my only loyalty is to transparency, fairness, and then moving forward.

  42. elephantjournal says:

    It's not my job or goal to convince you of anything. I shared "Former Employee"'s general sentiments in the updated intro despite him being unwilling to come forward, but happy for me to put my neck out there in lieu of his. I should be supported in trying to offer both transparency and fairness, not just one of the two…but I get that internet forums are too often about anonymous potshots, in such cases, not discernment.

  43. Ben_Ralston says:

    Take a deep breath please my friend.
    I don't think that Carol is saying that you should accept anonymous information – certainly, I don't.
    But I do think that if the above commenter ('Former Employee') is genuine (and judging by his comments, I'd say s/he is) then you should honor the offer of using whatever evidence he provides without publicly naming him or her. What is the danger in that? It's perfectly reasonable journalism, no? Otherwise to only publish the above letter does make you look biased.
    Please take this in the spirit of openness and friendship with which it is intended.

  44. elephantjournal says:

    Good morning, all. Went to sleep at 4 am, woke up to…more fun comment.s

    I'm see I'm getting little support here, which is fine and not surprising. That said, I'm not a supporter or detractor of John's. My job is to try and report the truth and hold the middle ground, give him a fair but honest hearing. I'm in touch with "Former Employee" and have updated the intro to reflect his still-anonymous concerns.

    I'm getting kicked around my doubters, here, who I think are wanting to kick John or his supporters, and I'm all there is left to kick. That said, please do not kick this process: I am not a partisan, here, my only loyalty is to transparency, fairness, and then moving forward.

    Yours,

    Waylon

  45. longtimeyogi says:

    OK, I'll stick my neck out among all the naysayers here (except for a few of you)…I think Elephant did and is doing the right thing. I think they understand that these allegations affect not only John Friend, but a LOT of other completely innocent people, and if they are to be made,they should be made in a responsible way.

    Maybe we all need to go the mat/cushion and take a few deep breaths…in the grand scheme of things there are many better things for us to be focussing our energy on.

  46. Good journalism relies on accurate non-anonymous, agenda-free sources. Fine if folks need some sort of protection or redacting, but without prior vetting, constraints and conditions as you say–it's a giant legal and ethical can of worms.

    Anonymity (as evidenced by the visceral nature of comments, jfexposed website, and any number of other sites) seems to bring out the worst in many. If you can't come forward and put your name behind your words, giving all parties a chance to know who is accusing them–you have no business coming forward.

    This is a real, if yet unfinished, story. How would it be more fair or more ethical if Waylon or anyone writing for elephant went on attack against John Friend? Especially with unverified accusations from an anonymous source?

  47. TCB says:

    Who was the latest teacher to resign?

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