LOS ANGELES (CN) - In two lawsuits, donors say the Kabbalah Centre International, an alleged nonprofit based in Los Angeles, defrauded them of a total of $904,000 by taking their money for projects that never happened.
Carolyn Cohen claims she gave the Kabbalah Centre $25,000 for a "Spirituality for Kids" program in San Diego, and $452,000 for a building fund the Centre's San Diego chapter.
In a separate complaint, Randi and Charles Wax claim they donated $326,800 to the same building fund. Both lawsuits are in Superior Court.
The donors claim the Kabbalah Centre portrays itself as a spiritual and educational organization, but that defendant owners Karen Berg, Michael Berg and Yehuda Berg allegedly train Kabbalah teachers to extract as much money as they can from people who participate in the Centre's events.
Two such teachers, defendants Yosef and Esther Shvili, gained the trust and confidence of Cohen and served as her spiritual advisers for many years, Cohen says in her lawsuit.
As Cohen became more involved in the Centre's activities, she was subjected to increased frequency and intensity of the Shvilis' requests for money, she says in the complaint.
"Over the course of Carolyn's participation at the Centre, she was pressured to give money until it hurts in order to merit the goodwill of the Berg family and to receive 'the light,'" Cohen says in the complaint. "The Shvilis pressured Carolyn to contribute significant sums for entertainment and food toward visits by the Berg family."
Under pressure from the Shvilis, who "wielded significant influence over her actions," Cohen took out loans and donated $25,000 to the Spirituality for Kids program and $452,000 to the building fund - and the donations were to be used expressly for those purposes, Cohen says in her lawsuit.
But she claims the Spirituality for Kids program was stopped without notice in 2007, and she learned this year that the termination was permanent. But the defendants have not returned any money to the donors, Cohen says.
Also this year, Cohen claims, she learned that the Centre is not going to construct a building for the San Diego chapter. Yosef Shvili requested that donors sign a letter allowing the Centre to use the restricted building fund for other purposes, Cohen says in the lawsuit.
After speaking to a Kabbalah Centre representative about her restricted donation, Cohen says, she was contacted by Esther Shvili, who tried to persuade her to sign the letter.
"Carolyn objected to this outlandish request only to be warned by Mrs. Shvili that asking for money back from the Kabbalah Centre was '...extremely dangerous for your spirituality.' Carolyn interpreted this warning to mean her life would be in danger due to Mrs. Shvili's numerous prior recitations of a story wherein another Kabbalah Centre student died soon after requesting and receiving monies he previous[ly] donated to the Kabbalah Centre," the lawsuit states.
With this, Cohen says, she began to "see the light," and realized that the Centre had no intention of using the money donated to the building fund for a permanent home for the San Diego chapter, nor was the money solicited for Spirituality for Kids ever used for the program.
Cohen claims the Kabbalah Centre has a history of defrauding people by using its position in the community to solicit money for projects that never come to fruition.
"Kabbalah Centre and the Berg defendants wield substantial influence over their followers to the extent that they have fomented the dissolution of marriages, the breaking up of families, and excommunication of Kabbalah Centre members when it serves their selfish purposes to do so," Cohen says in the complaint.
"Carolyn has, bravely, decided to not allow herself to become one of Kabbalah Centre's many silent victims and looks forward to resolving this matter at trial wherein she hopes to not only seek compensation for her financial losses but also looks forward to exposing the Kabbalah Centre's true nature to the world."
Cohen claims the civil discovery process will reveal where the disputed money has gone and will establish the Centre's "pattern and practice of misusing solicited funds."
Cohen and the Waxes seek restitution and punitive damages for fraud. Conversion, breach of contract, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, unfair business practices, breach of fiduciary duty and other charges.
They are represented by Alain Bonavida of Beverly Hills.
Also named as defendants are Kabbalah Enterprises Inc., Kabbalah Centres of the United States Inc., Spirituality for Kids International Inc., and the Kabbalah Children's Academy.
The Kabbalah Centre said in a statement that it "intends to vigorously defend itself against these frivolous lawsuits."
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