Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Brouhaha Erupts for Control of Yogi Teas

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - The widow of the late Yogi Bhajan, former Sikh leader for the Western Hemisphere, claims that Bhajan's inner circle drew up false documents they claimed Bhajan signed that authorized that allowed them to wrest control of Golden Temple, the $150 million company that makes Yogi Teas.

The backdated documents allowed the board members to drastically raise their own salaries and let non-Orthodox Sikhs run the company, according to the complaint in Multnomah County Court.

Yogi Bhajan's widow and three children claim Bhajan's lawyer and the board of managers of Bhajan's companies used their newfound power to divert company profits from charities into their own pockets. They claim that one board member raised his own salary from $125,000 in 2002 to more than $850,000 in 2008.

And in 2009, a Golden Temple Management board member bought the company's Peace Cereal division at a discount and sold it for a much higher price, according to the complaint.

Bhajan's widow, Bibiji Puri and their three children sued Bhajan's former lawyer, who is also the trustee of his living trust, and board members of his companies, Unto Infinity and Siri Singh Sahib Corp.

Unto Infinity controls Sikh Dharma International, which runs Golden Temple of Oregon through its subsidiary, KITT. Unto Infinity also controls the Sikh Dharma Educational Institute, 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization, which runs 300 centers in 35 countries) and Kundalini Research Institute. KITT also runs Akal Security, a New Mexico corporation, according to the 59-page complaint.

Before his death in 2004, Bhajan was sole director of Siri Singh Sahib Corp., which he formed to "control various entities" after his death.

Upon his death, the company's management was supposed to fall to new directors designated in writing by Bhajan, according to the complaint. Bhajan's choice was to be held "in confidence" by the company's lawyer, defendant Roy Lambert.

Bhajan's family claims Lambert has such a document, and that their names are on it. They say he has refused to produce it or to tell anyone who Bhajan designated as the company's new directors.

In 2003, Bhajan formed Unto Infinity, a religious charity, and appointed several of the defendants - Sopurkh Khalsa, Peraim Khalsa, Ram Khalsa and Karm Khalsa - to the company's board of directors.

In 2004, Bibiji says, doctors diagnosed Bhajan with late-stage congestive heart failure.

She says his doctor prescribed heavy duty pain killers and sedatives, which caused Bhajan to suffer memory loss and lose coherence. She says her husband also had severe cataracts in both eyes, was unable to read, and needed others to explain documents before he could sign them.

During his last year of life, if Bhajan needed to attend a meeting, the family says his colleagues would ask his doctor to stop his medication for 24 hours beforehand. In September 2004, Bhajan's condition deteriorated. He died on Oct. 6, 2004.

Several months before his death, Bibiji says, Bhajan told Sopurkh, the trustee of the couple's living trust, as well as president of Unto Infinity and a member of the board of trustees for Siri Singh Sahib Corp., that he wanted his wife and children appointed to "the management boards of whatever business entities the family members wanted."

Sopurkh allegedly told Bhajan's longtime lawyer, Roy Lambert, about Bhajan's wishes.

In July 2004, the Unto Infinity board of managers added Bibiji as a fellow board manager "effectively immediately," the lawsuit states.

But Bibiji claims no one told her about the appointment.

Shortly after Bhajan died, Sopurkh allegedly sent a memo to a fellow board member communicating Bhajan's wish that his family be added to "the management boards of various related corporations and entities." But the family claims the board kept this a secret as well.

After that, board members asked Lambert to help them exclude Bhajan's family from the companies, according to the complaint.

In November 2004, Bibiji says, Lambert sent her an email claiming unanswered security questions were holding up her appointment to the board. She claims he did not mention that she already had been appointed, nor that her children should also be appointed.

One year later, the board allegedly claimed that Sopurkh's earlier memo reflected only the family's desire to work with the companies, not their actual or planned appointments to the various boards.

And in January of this year, an Unto Infinity board member tried to nullify Bibiji's 2004 appointment to the board, though it was never put into effect and the member in question was not on the board in 2004, according to the complaint.

The family claims that Soupurkh also did away with longstanding requirements that allow only active observers of the Sikh faith act as managers of Unto Infinity.

He also changed the articles of incorporation to limit the power of Bhajan's family, should they ever become active members of the board, Bibiji claims.

Lambert filed these changes in 2008, but included a statement that the board had adopted the changes several weeks after Bhajan's 2004 death, the widow says.

The plaintiffs are Bibiji and her children, Ranbir Singh Bhai, Kamaljit Kaur Kohli and Kulbir Singh Puri. They sued Sopurkh Kaur Khalsa, Peraim Kaur Khalsa, Siri Ram Kaur Khalasa, Kartar Singh Khalsa, Karam Singh Khalsa, Roy Lambert, Unto Infinity and Siri Singh Sahib Corporation.

They demand $150 million in damages, alleging fraud, conversion, unjust enrichment, RICO fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and other charges. They are represented by R. Scott Palmer with Watkinson, Laird, Rubinstein, Baldwin & Burgess.

Follow @@karinapdx
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.