Maine’s motto is “Dirigo”, which means “I lead” and its Attorney General (AG) Steven Rowe has led the way for law enforcement, by shutting down GWP in his state.
Former 17-year GWP members and Maine residents Judy Garvey and Jim Bergin first led the way by exposing the organization through their Web site “Wind of Changes,” which shared information about the group founded by John D. Miller and his companion Mary E. “Moe” Miller.
GWP sells so-called “healing instruments” based upon designs that allegedly came from the “Spirit World” via telepathic impressions received by John Miller
GWP has been called a “cult.”
Suggested donations for these “instruments,” which look more like plastic cards and hockey pucks than anything technological, range from $250 to $7,800.
Maine’s AG filed a lawsuit against GWP for both unlawful mismanagement of charitable funds and making deceptive health claims about its paraphernalia.
Rather than go forward and take their chances in court the Millers chose instead to settle, but the terms of that settlement were withering and will likely be devastating to GWP.
According to a published consent decree released this week by the AG, GWP has “agreed to pay civil penalties and costs and to an injunction that prohibits them from making certain health and research claims about the ‘healing instruments’ or from serving as fiduciaries or advisors for any other Maine nonprofit. The parties have also agreed that GWP will be dissolved, and its remaining assets distributed by the Attorney General as restitution to consumers who purchased a ‘healing instrument’ since 2003 and to a Maine charity whose charitable mission is to provide services to those with mental health disabilities.”
Rowe told the press that GWP “damaged the public’s trust and it should not be allowed to continue.”
The Millers must pay civil penalties of $20,000 for violations of the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. And GWP’s directors agreed to pay the $30,000 cost of investigating the group and related attorney’s fees.
Included in the agreed upon liquidation of GWP’s assets is a building in Kittery, Maine assessed at $440,500, and another property in Durham, assessed at $879,500.
The Millers attempted to put their own spin on the settlement.
In a public statement Mary Miller claimed, “People around the globe” would continue to benefit from the “healing instruments” GWP sells.
Miller also claimed that GWP directors were “the victims of…classic cyber-smear campaigning.”
The “campaigning” she refers to was essentially the information posted through the Internet by Judy Garvey and Jim Bergin. The couple launched their Web site as an effort to inform the general public and also GWP’s “instrument keepers” about what they knew regarding the practices of the group and its leaders. That effort ultimately paved the way for further investigation, which led to the current shutdown.
Garvey/Bergin were sued by GWP in an apparent attempt to silence them, but the couple stood firm and fought the Millers through the courts in a battle that began in 2004.
Other Internet sites that provided information about “cults” were also either threatened with legal action or sued by GWP for posting information about the group.
Some settled quickly by deleting that information, while others stood firm.
The Ross Institute of New Jersey (RI), sponsor of CultNews, was threatened and then included in the Garvey/Bergin lawsuit after refusing to remove a single link to the Wind of Changes Web site and a brief remark posted at “Flaming Websites” in response to allegations made by the Millers.
RI was dismissed from the GWP litigation last year.
Responding to the settlement announced this week Judy Garvey told the press, “It shows that we were telling the truth,” reported Foster’s Sunday Citizen.
Garvey and Bergin’s lawyer Jerroll Crouter said, “Now we see the Gentle Wind Project has admitted that claims about the healing instruments are false. The damage to their reputation was caused by their own misrepresentations. We believe the defamation claims should be dismissed.”
Mary Miller seemingly is clinging to the idea that GWP will somehow continue its litigation against Garvey/Bergin.
However, the Miller’s lawyer Daniel Rosenthal of Verrill Dana seems to have other ideas. A motion has been filed by the Portland law firm to vacate the case as counsel, and a reliable source has told CultNews this was probably the result of the Millers not paying their legal bills.
Apparently Verrill Dana may become one of those standing in line for money dispersed by the AG through the liquidation of GWP assets.
Mary Miller boasted that GWP would continue, albeit outside the state of Maine, reported the Portland Press Herald.
“We have a very large group of volunteers all around the world,” she said.
Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Silsby lamented, “We would love to see Gentle Wind stop making their claims everywhere, but we can only enforce the laws of the state of Maine.”
Perhaps with Maine leading the way other state attorney generals will follow suit through similar actions across the United States, especially given the admissions the Millers have made in the consent decree, which is now a matter of public record.
According to the AG of Maine GWP distributed “more than $500,000 in so-called medical grants to patients who were asked to use and advocate for the instruments” reported Foster’s Sunday Citizen.
Robert Lang, a doctor in Connecticut and reportedly an associate professor at Yale University’s School of Nursing, touted GWP publicly and says that he hands out the Miller’s plastic paraphernalia to his patients.
“I thought they were doing a very honorable thing,” Lang told the press.
However, the AG’s investigation concluded otherwise and that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support GWP claims concerning its “healing instruments.”
GWP declared assets of $1.3 million in August 2004 and John Miller received a salary of $70,270. The supposed nonprofit charity seemed to have become something like a “cash cow” for the Millers, which they milked for their personal benefit.
GWP has become an example of how the “Information Age,” has changed the study of groups called “cults.”
So-called “cults” often rely upon the control of information, but the Internet has increasingly made that impossible.
GWP was once a relatively obscure group, but now information about the Millers and their “healing instruments” has become ubiquitous through the Internet.
Anyone with Internet access can now instantly learn why the Millers were shut down in Maine. And also read their tacit admissions of wrongdoing through the court’s consent decree and order, which they signed as part of their settlement agreement.
CultNews reported previously how the Gentle Wind blew it by suing Judy Garvey and Jim Bergin.
If the Millers had not initiated that litigation GWP might have gotten by unnoticed and not drawn the attention of law enforcement. But by filing a lawsuit against their former followers and others the Millers provided a platform for grievances against them and drew increasing media attention, which ultimately paved the way to GWP’s demise.
Phil Malone, director of the Clinical Program in Cyberlaw at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, provided help to Garvey and Bergin.
“One of our priorities is to work to protect free speech on the Internet, particularly speech that discusses matters of important public interest or seeks to expose questionable or fraudulent activities. Gentle Wind’s lawsuit was particularly troubling to us because it tried to use the legal system to stifle such speech,” Malone told the press.
In the end what the Miller’s accomplished unwittingly was not only their own undoing, but also an expansion of freedom of expression and information about “cults” tangentially through the Internet.