A lawsuit by a former San Francisco Symphony flutist says she was forced into sex orgies during her seven years as a disciple of American guru Da Free John in California and on a tropical isle in Fiji.
Former top-level members of the sect have also told The Examiner that the guru has nine wives, including a Playboy centerfold model, and that his inner circle privately partook in drunken sex orgies while publicly preaching the value of a meditative, highly disciplined lifestyle.
The $5 million suit filed in Marin County Superior Court by Beverly O'Mahony, former wife of one of Da Free John's top aides, alleges false imprisonment, sexual abuse, assault, brainwashing, involuntary servitude, and clergy malpractice.
Da Free John, named Franklin Jones at birth and formerly known as Bubba Free John, is the spiritual leader of a 13-year-old religious sect called the Johannine Daist Communion. JDC is headquartered in San Rafael, where it operates the Dawn Horse Bookstore.
Da Free John's 1,100 devotees are concentrated in Marin County, on an 800-acre ranch in Lake County, at a retreat center in Hawaii and on a 1,800-acre Fijian island purchased from actor Raymond Burr in September 1983.
Beverly O'Mahony, the estranged wife of JDC President Brian O'Mahony, said in an amended complaint filed yesterday that she was "compelled, over a prolonged period of time, to accept physical and sexual abuses, confinement, degrading acts, inadequate diet and the surrendering of her children" to Free John and other sect leaders.
Da Free John, 45, and his followers "were able through subtle sophisticated suggestion, trust and coercion to control her every thought and move," the lawsuit states.
Beverly O'Mahony said she was "forced to consume alcohol...and was required to partake in various sexual acts commanded by "the Master," defendant Franklin Jones."
Beverly O'Mahony, who belonged to the sect from 1976 to 1984, said the incidents took place in both California and Fiji. She married Brian O'Mahony in April 1977.
Brian O'Mahony, who joined the sect in 1975 and is one of nine defendants named in the 33-page complaint, denied the allegations yesterday in an interview with The Examiner. Da Free John is living a "reclusive" life on their Fijian isle of Naitauba, O'Mahoney said, and was unavailable to respond.
"Da Free John is not a public figure," O'Mahony said. "He lives a secluded and contemplative life (and) restricts his activity to writing and living a life of contemplation and prayer."
Several top-level defectors have told The Examiner, however, that the guru and his inner circle privately partook in drunken sex orgies while publicly preaching the value of a meditative, highly disciplined lifestyle.
Brian O'Mahony conceded the guru's rules were significantly relaxed when the group "experimented with various lifestyles" between 1974 and 1976.
"We freely used alcohol and cigarettes during particular periods of the year when we would have quite a lot of parties," Brian O'Mahony said. "There was a fairly liberal attitude toward sex. ...We were a lot looser then than we are now."
Marijuana was used by some members "for a brief period in 1976," he said, adding that "since that time we've had very strict rules."
According to former devotee Mark Miller, however, the wild parties and extravagant lifestyles among the leaders were continuing when he left the sect two years ago, in 1983.
"We were told that the books are for the public, but when you're with Bubba, it's different," said Miller. "It's all done under the guise of spiritual teaching."
Miller, now a 28-year-old biochemistry student at the University of California at Berkeley, said he and his girlfriend, Julie Anderson, joined the group in 1976. His girlfriend, then 19, had just appeared as "Playmate of the Month," in the September 1976 issue of Playboy magazine under the name Whitney Kane.
Anderson has stayed in the sect and is now one of nine wives living in Fiji with Da Free John, Miller said.
Asked about the guru's alleged polygamy, Brian O'Mahony said, "We choose not to make a public comment on his private life."
Beverly O'Mahony's suit also alleged that her husband "violently struck" her "Many times over a prolonged period of time, concluding in June 1984." Divorce proceedings are under way.
Her husband conceded that he "cuffed" his wife a half-dozen times "in the first couple years of our marriage."
"It wasn't a very heavy slap," he said. "I absolutely deny that I beat her."
Miller, who once served as the director of the sect's Laughing Man Institute, said Beverly O'Mahony's account "is just one example of abusive behavior among years of abusive behavior."
"People are brainwashed into believing that these events occur as the guru's way of teaching," he said. "With that logic, anything goes."
Another former high-ranking JDC official, who left the group in late 1983 and asked that his named not be used, agreed with Miller.
"People who get abused are longstanding members, especially women," he said. "People come to Fiji to do the work, from laundry to grounds work, from security guards to construction. Some of the women who come with them, or come by themselves, get picked off by Jones, especially if they're attractive.
"They get paid by being allowed to be around the teacher. That's the greatest wealth and status you can achieve in a spiritual community."
Beverly O'Mahony's suit said she was beaten "with the support and backing" of other communal members of her Da Free John household. She alleges that, under the teachings of the guru, women in the commune were regarded as "servant or slave, compelled to follow the opinions or decisions of the men."
The damages she seeks are based, in part, on being "induced to forgo a career as a promising musician" and having "lost eight years of her life."
Josh Baran, the founder of Berkeley counseling center that helps those leaving religious cults, said he has dealt with around 50 "profoundly disillusioned" former devotees of Da Free John.
"Their principal focus is devotion to him as God incarnate," said Baran. "It creates followers who are like dependent children."
Baran said some of Da Free John's early books were incisive critiques of other East-meets-West religious movements. Over the years, however, "it became more and more based on him."
"They have the right to their beliefs, but when any man proclaims his Godhood, the possible excesses of abuses of power are enormous -- especially when they isolate themselves on an island in the middle of the ocean. ...We saw that in Jonestown," Baran said.
Brian O'Mahony said many people, including members of the church, misunderstand Da Free John's references to his divine nature.
"He is not God exclusively, but represents someone who has realized God," he said. Brian O'Mahony added that members of the group "profoundly respect" Da Free John and "revere him as a great spiritual teacher and honor him as such."
Brian O'Mahony said an Australian businessman, whom he wouldn't name, contributed the $2.1 million to buy the island, which contains a cattle and coconut farm, 16 staff houses, a school, a church and a dairy, in addition to Raymond Burr's previous home.
About 40 devotees live on the island, O'Mahony said, along with about 75 Fijians.
Most of the guru's followers live in rented communal homes in Marin County and on the sect's spread in Lake County. There are pockets of followers in New York, Europe, Australia and Hawaii, where Da Free John lived before the Fijian island was purchased.
JDC is a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation. Its other divisions include the Crazy Wisdom Fellowship, the Free Communion Church, the Advaitayana Buddhist Order and the Free Renunciate Order.
It has published 40 of Da Free John's books, along with a monthly magazine called "Crazy Wisdom" and a quarterly publication called "Laughing Man Magazine."
The lawsuit, filed by Sausalito attorney David Cunningham, alleges that JDC's non-profit corporate status is "a mere sham and shell organized as the alter ego of the individual defendant, Franklin Jones, for his personal benefit and advantage."
Brian O'Mahony also denied that allegation. "Da Free John lives in a one-bedroom beach cottage," he said. "He lives a very simple lifestyle."
He characterized his estranged wife's lawsuit as an "attempt to extend our divorce proceedings to the institution and the leadership of the church."
Other defendants named are sect members William and Patrician Tsiknas and Lynn Closser, who are alleged to have "formed a common plan and scheme to unlawfully hold and imprison" Beverly O'Mahony on the Fijian island for eight days in March 1984.
Brian O'Mahony, who said he was responding to the allegations for all the defendants, said his wife "could have left by boat at any time."
Also named in the suit are Vincent Goddard, Larry Hastings and John Andrews, who along with Brian O'Mahony are named as members of the JDC board of directors. They are accused of breach of directors fiduciary duty.
Lastly, the suit accuses Da Free John, a native of New York and former student of the late Swami Muktananda Paramhansa, of "clergy malpractice."
It states that the guru's writings "are directed at people seeking a new awareness or enlightenment, and geared to initiate an indoctrination" into the sect.
Once they are intitiated, the suit states, "the trap is sprung and ideological remodeling or thought reform begins to take place."
Brian O'Mahony said the group doesn't engage in any proselytizing. "We have never sought publicity," he said. "We have found that the more private we are, it serves our way of life."