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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Baba Says Promoter Stiffed Him for $250,000

MANHATTAN (CN) - A Hindu teacher and author who says he spent months visiting remote ashrams in India eliciting support for a spiritual event in Central Park seeks $250,000 from the promoter, who canceled the event.

Baba Rampuri, aka William A. Gans, a U.S. expatriate, says defendant Edwin Stern approached him in September 2010, and asked him to secure the commitment of the Shri Panch Dashnam Juna Akhara religious society in a spiritual "Kumbha Mela" event to be held in 2012.

Stern owns of Ashtanga Yoga New York (ASNY), which operates a yoga business called the Broome Street Temple, in Greenwich Village, according to the complaint in New York County Court. The business conducts yoga classes, organizes events and publishes the magazine "Namarupa," among other things.

Rampuri says Stern's ultimate goal is to expand his operations and develop a Hindu temple at the Broome Street Temple. Hence the Central Park event, which Stern believed would draw thousands of Hindus to the city, and the need to enlist the aid of the plaintiff.

Rampuri says the Broome Street Temple's website cites the importance of "lineage" in defining and validating methods of yoga and spiritual practice, "including the methods promoted by Mr. Stern and ASNY".

"Lineage" refers to a succession of Hindu teaching whereby a method of practice is passed from teacher to disciple, sometimes for hundreds of years.

"For modern Western yoga business, such as the business operated by defendants Mr. Stern and AYNY, a claim to centuries-old traditions adds credibility and commercial value to the business," Rampuri says in the complaint.

The Juna Akhara is India's oldest and largest society of monks and yogis, whose lineages begin in or about the 5th century BC. Today the group is revered by millions of Hindus. Securing the Juna Akhara's participation would lend prestige and credibility to the Central Park event, Rampuri says.

Rampuri says that before he agreed to help, he cautioned Stern that organizing a Kumbha Mela gathering outside India was a "tremendously ambitious and complex project."

He says he advised Stern that "the Juna Akhara was a very serious organization, not to be engaged without exhaustive preparation and commitment."

Rampuri says Stern assured him he was well connected in New York City, "with personal access to celebrities and other wealthy and influential persons".

"Mr. Stern boasted [of] a close friendship with Madonna, claiming that he (Mr. Stern) was present at the birth of each of Madonna's children, as well as each time Madonna changed husbands," according to the complaint. (Parentheses and brackets in complaint.)

Rampuri says Stern agreed to pay him a $250,000 fee, plus expenses, for his assistance.

Thus assured, Baba Rampuri says, he began the exhaustive process of engaging the Juna Akhara.

"The enterprise required extended travel, overnight drives on unpaved roads, lodgings in primitive conditions, and long periods of waiting," according to the complaint.

To facilitate meetings, Rampuri says, Stern agreed to pay a fee, known as a Dakshina, of $1.3 million to the Juna Akhara, for their commitment to participate in the event.

Then came a succession of expensive meetings. At the first meeting, Juna Akhara leaders sought a Dakshina of $25,300 to be paid to 11 key officials of the society in exchange for arranging a second meeting, at which their participation in the New York event could be formally requested.

At the next step, actually two distinct meetings, Rampuri says, he paid more than $843,900 to the larger of two Juna Akhara bodies, and more than $441,900 to a smaller group of Juna Akhara leaders.

In the end, Rampuri says, the Juna Akhara agreed to participate, and appointed him their personal representative, with power of attorney.

Baba Rampuri says he worked throughout 2010 and into 2011 with professional media consultants hired by Stern to develop written material, presentations, logos, artwork, website designs and content.

Throughout this period, Baba Rampuri says, he inquired several times to reconfirm Stern's commitment to the event.

"If not for these reaffirmations, Baba Rampuri would not have risked his own hard-earned, 42-year reputation by confirming the Dakshina to the Juna Akhara and representing to the Juna Akhara that the Defendants were fully funded and committed to organizing and hosting the NYC event," the complaint states.

But on August 3 this year, the Baba says, Stern notified him that the event had been canceled.

Rampuri says Stern wrote to him that "the economic climate in America has taken a great downturn and it is a situation beyond any of our control that the US in on the brink of debt [sic], and to raise a large amount of money is untenable." (Brackets in complaint.)

Since sending the letter, Rampuri says, Stern has refused to speak or communicate with him in any way. He also failed to give Rampuri the materials the Baba created for the event.

Rampuri seeks actual and compensatory damages and court costs, for breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing and conversion.

He is represented by Ryan A. Becker with Hunton & Williams.

Baba is an honorific title that may be loosely translated as father, or grandfather, or wise one.

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