Today US District Court Judge Gene Carter dismissed a lawsuit filed in Maine by the Gentle Wind Project (GWP) against Rick Ross and the Rick A. Ross Institute For The Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements (RI).
The judge also denied the plaintiff’s motion for any further discovery, effectively ending the litigation in Maine entirely regarding both this “cult watcher” and the nonprofit RI database.
Previously, Maine magistrate David Cohen recommended that the suit be dismissed and the presiding federal judge agreed, ruling swiftly.
Judge Carter also refused to hear any oral arguments on the matter.
GWP is a nonprofit charity run by John and Mary Miller of Kittery, Maine. The group holds seminars across the country and sells “healing instruments” for suggested donations reportedly ranging from $450 to upwards of $10,000. GWP claims that its instruments are based upon a healing technology that is supposedly channeled telepathically from “spirit world.”
Some time ago I called the group “rather odd” in a Flaming Website award, which was given after GWP published a rant about me at their Web site. That rant was prompted by a link posted at the RI Links page to a Web site launched by former members of the group James Bergin and his wife Judy Garvey, which is critical of the group.
The Garvey/Bergin Web site describes the healing tools as modern day “snake oil” and claims that the group manipulates its members. The couple left GWP about four years ago after a 17-year involvement.
GWP’s lawsuit initially included several defendants, now only two essentially remain, Ms. Garvey and Mr. Bergin.
One defendant Ian Mander of New Zealand did not respond to the legal action and has been declared in default. He continues to carry negative information about GWP with a link to the Garvey/Bergin site. Mander warns that GWP is an “extreme New Age group. Believed by many to be a…cult/scam.”
Other defendants in the lawsuit Steve Gamble and Ian Fraser negotiated a settlement, which restricted the content and meta tagging of their Web site, and included deleting their link to the Garvey/Bergin site. That settlement allows them to retain some information about GWP, but within certain guidelines.
One defendant dismissed from the suit through settlement, noted anti-cult professional Steven Hassan, has complied completely with GWP demands by deleting any and all information about the group from his Freedom of Mind Web site.
The remaining active defendants Bergin and Garvey also received good news today from the court; one of the primary counts against them was dismissed.
Since the filing of the lawsuit GWP has garnered increasing media attention, which has largely been critical of both the group and its products.
“Our concern is that they are scamming people by selling basically pieces of paper and plastic,” attorney Carl Starrett of the Special Investigations Agency of California told a San Diego news channel last year.
Starrett later said, “The whole thing is ludicrous. They’re bilking people.”
“It seems the Gentle Wind Project is selling what Health Canada considers ‘risk class 1′ devices, something the group is not allowed to do without a license” reported Now Magazine.
Robert Baratz, president of the National Council Against Health Fraud in the U.S. said that GWP’s scientific explanations of their instruments are “high-sounding phrases that mean nothing.”
While doing a story about the lawsuit a reporter for the Ellsworth American dug into the publicly accessible financial records of GWP.
The group’s latest IRS disclosure shows assets of $2,077,324 as of August 31, 2003, up from $1,918,205 the year before. Revenue for the 2002-03 fiscal year totaled $1,969,923, with expenses totaling $1,810,804.
Direct donations, accounted for $1,889,227 of revenues.
Expenses during the 2002-03 fiscal year included $1,015,899 for “program services.” The project spent $358,995 in compensation to officers and directors.
As president of the corporation, Mary Miller earned $71,799 during the 2002-03 fiscal year, the same salary as the corporation’s treasurer and clerk.
GWP also spent $379,845 for other salaries and wages. Expenses also included $43,474 for employee benefits and $176,072 for “supplies.”
The project’s books also show that gifts, grants and contributions collectively totaled $4,112,751 during the fiscal years that began in 1998 through 2001. Total revenue for that same period was $5,593,033.
One filing notes a $231,660 loan to a GWP employee who is the brother of a corporation officer. No purpose for the loan is listed.
The Attorney’s General office in Maine is reportedly “looking into” GWP.
According to court records GWP has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Prominent Massachusetts attorney Douglas Brooks who was generously assisted by local counsel William H. Leete Jr. of Portland, Maine represented the Ross Institute pro bono.
GWP’s current attorney Daniel Rosenthal seems unfazed by the group’s latest legal setbacks. “It streamlines things and creates a tighter focus,” he told the Portland Press Herald.
However, it seems like Gentle Wind has blown its situation badly through all its legal wrangling and would have been better off as a quiet breeze.