Motivational speaker Ray hit with another lawsuit

The Associated Press/April 3, 2010

Flagstaff, Ariz.- An Arizona self-help guru charged with manslaughter in the sweat lodge deaths of three people has been sued by several people who contend they lost out on thousands of dollars paid in advance for self-help seminars that were never conducted.

A lawsuit filed late Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court contends James Arthur Ray and his Carlsbad, Calif.-based company, James Ray International, misled plaintiffs during sales pitches for the events and haven't responded to calls or letters requesting refunds.

Ray has been named in other civil lawsuits that accuse him and the owners of the retreat where he held a deadly October sweat lodge ceremony of negligence, fraud and other actions. Sweat lodge ceremonies commonly are held by American Indian tribes to cleanse the body.

The lawsuit accuses Ray of breach of contract, consumer fraud and unjust enrichment. It names three plaintiffs but estimates up to 1,000 people are similarly situated.

Susan Smyser of Las Vegas, paid nearly $8,000 for two events; Patricia Franklin of Mesa paid almost $3,350 for two events; and Kim Wilson of Los Angeles paid more than $12,500 for four events, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs contend Ray used prepaid fees to cover past events or fund his own wealth. They also say he lacked the assets or capital to conduct events or refund advanced fees without continued sales and collection of those fees.

A refund policy posted on Ray's Web site says buyers have three days from the date of a transaction to cancel. Event registration fees then are considered nonrefundable, though the policy doesn't address what happens when Ray cancels an event. Buyers can make a one-time transfer by paying an additional fee for an event held within a year of the one they initially signed up for, the policy states.

A representative for Ray said his attorneys haven't reviewed the complaint.

Ray stopped holding events shortly after the two-hour ceremony he led near Sedona in October resulted in the hospitalization of 18 people and the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, and Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn.

Prosecutors have said that Ray recklessly crammed more than 50 people inside the sweat lodge. His attorneys have called the deaths a tragic accident, and Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter. His criminal trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 31.

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