Yoga Group’s Leaders, Once Associated With Bikram Choudhury Arrested for Multimillion Dollar Tax Fraud
By ARUL LOUIS
NEW YORK, NY (IANS) – US federal prosecutors have charged three non-Indians who ran a nationwide yoga business with a multi-million-dollar tax fraud.
Announcing the filing of charges against them, prosecutor Damian Williams said they were arrested on August 24 in WA.
Gregory Gumucio, Michael Anderson, and Haven Soliman ran the organization called “Yoga to the People” (YTTP), which grew from modest beginnings in New York City to a multi-million-dollar outfit spread across six states, as well as with a presence in Israel and Spain.
They “operated a lucrative nationwide yoga business, which brought in over $20 million and netted them each substantial sums, permitting them to live lavish lifestyles”, Williams said, yet they “chose not to file tax returns, or pay income taxes, for at least seven consecutive years”.
YTTP was shut down in 2020 amid allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment by its operators.
Gumucio, 61, of Cathlamet, WA, had once been the right-hand man of
legendary yoga guru, Bikram Choudhury, creator of Bikram yoga, before founding
YTTP in 2006. Choudhury has also been accused of sexual impropriety with his followers and was ordered to pay millions in damages following several lawsuits.
Choudhury sued Gumucio in 2011 for copyright infringement, claiming Yoga to
the People stole his Bikram yoga poses, which Choudhury argued were his
intellectual property. Choudhury eventually lost the case.
Market Watch reported that the classes were a hit, drawing hundreds to each class, including celebrities like Mary-Kate Olsen and Hilaria Baldwin.
Gumucio has denied the allegations. The prosecutors did not make any mention of sexual misconduct but said that Gumucio “targeted and groomed typically young women and others to become nominee ‘owners’ of (yoga) studios”.
They said Gumucio also “manipulated subordinates into providing free labor”.
Founded in 2006 in New York, YTTP became popular because it adopted an informal style without a formal payment method which also facilitated the alleged tax fraud.
Most yoga centers not affiliated to religious organizations or non-profit groups are run like businesses in the US and charge fees upfront and even collect rent for using mats.
Participants in YTTP’s classes, on the other hand, were asked to put their “donations” in boxes that were taken away to Gumucio’s flat in New York without the nominal operators of the yoga studios making an account of the takes, prosecutors said.
Yoga teachers were paid in cash without accounting for taxes and from the collections, the YTTP leaders “enjoyed extravagant lifestyles, which included frequent foreign travel; expensive meals and clothing”, according to court filings.
While not reporting their income to tax authorities, the three of them reported six-figure incomes to other organizations for loans, housing, and banking and in some cases produced fake tax forms, the court papers said.
Around the time that YTTP closed several media reports emerged about sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and emotional manipulation there.
SFGate, an online media in San Francisco, for example, reported at the time that “hundreds of testimonials” about the problems with YTTP were posted on an Instagram account set up for complaint about it.