Promotion of Prem Rawat in the United States
The founding of the US Divine Light Mission Incorporated provided the material base upon which all of Prem Rawat's subsequent success was built. The combination of a large cash rich group of followers and the felicitous legal arrangements for US charitable religious organisations made the US DLM Inc. the ideal vehicle for the rapid development of a programme of promotion suited to the authoritarian but still adolescent Prem Rawat. Re-named Elan Vital Incorporated, the organisation served Prem Rawat's purposes for nearly 40 years until it was announced in 2010 that Elan Vital Inc. was to be replaced by Words Of Peace International Incorporated which is described as an educational organisation.
In December 1971, just four months after Prem Rawat first arrived in the US, the Internal Revenue Service granted Divine Light Mission Incorporated exemption from Federal Income Tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code, this exemption remains in effect. The incorporation was registered in Colorado and the terms of the IRS classification recognised DLM Incorporated as a 'church', this recognition released DLM Incorporated from any requirement to publicly disclose its financial affairs. The role of Prem Rawat in this 'church' was, that of 'Chief Minister'.
With Prem Rawat's adoption of the US as his preferred base from the end of 1972 onwards, DLM Incorporated became the effective controlling entity of the global 'Mission'. Although no formal legal arrangements were put in place defining the relationships of the various national Divine Light Missions, the US organisation became Prem Rawat's primary promotional machine, the source of communication both to his wider hoped for audience and to the other Divine Light Missions.
The pre eminence of the US organisation provided for a number of its officials to become key contributors to the development of the promotion of Prem Rawat both within the US and world-wide. The first of these was Bob Mishler who held the position of President of DLM Incorporated from its inception until 1977. Mishler became the first vocal critic of Prem Rawat, famously speaking out in a Radio broadcast in 1979. It is indicative of the nature of the organisation that Mishler's primary role was to provide personal support to Prem Rawat and to add organisational authority to Prem Rawat by travelling with him on his various promotional tours.
The infamous 1973 Millennium event (see also Wikipedia) placed DLM Incorporated in severe financial crisis, made even more acute by an unfortunately timed appraisal of the organisation by the IRS. It was at this point that Bob Mishler brought Michael Dettmers into the heart of the then Denver based organisation, Dettmers taking effective day to day control while Mishler was on tour with Prem Rawat. It is probable that without Michael Dettmers' interventions the organisation would have collapsed under debt and poor administration at some point during 1974 or 75. While Mishler continued as President until 1977, it is clear that under the patronage firstly of Mishler and then of Prem Rawat, that Michael Dettmers was primarily responsible for the reshaping of Divine Light Mission in the US into an entity that could sustain both the demands of Prem Rawat and the expectations of his followers. The US model ultimately informed the structure of the various other national DLM's developing around the world.
In 1976 Prem Rawat, without any obvious legal or constitutional power removed Mishler and Dettmers from their positions within DLM Incorporated and immediately instructed Dettmers that he (Dettmers) was to be his, (Rawat's) 'personal manager'. Dettmers became in effect the organisational voice of Prem Rawat both within the US DLM Incorporated and in his dealings with the other Divine Light Missions, Dettmers even being described on occasion as 'assistant international director' although no such position existed.
Like Bob Mishler before him Michael Dettmers eventually became a critic of Prem Rawat and it is due to his candour that details of the otherwise closed world of the DLM and EV 'church' and Prem Rawat's role in it, have been made public. In addition to turning DLM Incorporated into a viable organisation able to sustain its charitable status in the eyes of the IRS, Michael Dettmers was instrumental in three other major developments:
1. The personal acquisition by Prem Rawat of assets that would otherwise be the possession of Divine Light Mission Incorporated.
2. The separation of Prem Rawat from having responsibility for or to Divine Light Mission Incorporated while maintaining Prem Rawat's controlling influence over the organisation.
3. The creation of the Elan Vital Foundation as a 'no supervision' hub for the transfers of monies between the Prem Rawat supporting organisations.
In October 2000 Michael Dettmers provided the following explanation of how Prem Rawat came to take personal possession of assets that might reasonably be considered to have been the property of DLM Incorporated.
"My [Michael Dettmers] other priority was to continue dealing with the [IRS] audit. To help me with that challenge, Maharaji instructed me to fly to London and meet with a premie named Aubrey West, (Aubrey passed away a few years ago) and to tell him about our problem. He was confident that Aubrey would be very helpful in dealing with the situation. His daughter had introduced Aubrey to knowledge and Maharaji came to know him because he was the principal architect of the strategy that successfully wrested control of DLM in the UK from Maharaji's mother. Aubrey was one of the most brilliant and interesting people I have ever met. In 1976, he was probably in his late 50's. He was educated in the law at Cambridge and had established a very exclusive and successful investment banking practice. He was also a published and world-renowned calligrapher.
I met with Aubrey over the course of several days where he interrogated me over every detail of my findings when preparing for the audit. Eventually, he latched onto a single detail that I had never given much thought to. When I first came to Denver, the person who had been handling the finances handed over to me all of his files and records. Included in the transfer was a small endorsement stamp with the facsimile signature Prem Pal Singh Rawat aka Guru Maharaj Ji. It had been the standard practice at DLM to deposit all checks into a DLM bank account including all of the checks that had been made payable to Guru Maharaji. Those particular checks were recorded on a separate deposit slip and endorsed over to DLM with the endorsement stamp bearing Maharaji's legal signature. Aubrey made that fact the cornerstone of his strategy to deal with our problem. In Aubrey's opinion, there was a fundamental and legal difference between gifts of love made out of devotion to one's guru, and donations made to an organization created to spread the guru's message. He argued that those two different and distinct sources of funds should never have been co-mingled within DLM donations.
Aubrey, through me, instructed Maharaji's lawyer and accountant to re-classify all of the checks that had been made out to Maharaji, but deposited into DLM's bank account, as Maharaji's personal funds that were simply being held in trust for his personal use by DLM. When the financial records were re-categorized in this manner, the records clearly showed that Maharaji had more than enough funds to personally pay for the Malibu residence, the cars, and his personal expenses with his own money. During the audit, we acknowledged to the IRS that, after consulting with our lawyers, we realized that it was not a good idea to have had DLM act as a trustee in this manner, and that we were in the process of transferring all of the assets that were rightfully Maharaji's into a separate structure that properly reflected his beneficial interest in them. The IRS was completely satisfied with this explanation, confirmed the principle that Maharaji and DLM were two distinct entities, and that gifts to Maharaji qualified as such under IRS codes. With that issue settled, we sailed through that audit without difficulty or incident." - Dettmer's internet posts, October 30, 2000
This splitting of personal assets from the assets of the Divine Light Mission 'church' remains a point of significant discontent among many now former followers of Prem Rawat. That payments were indeed made directly to 'Guru Maharaj Ji' is undoubtedly true however that such payments were made with the intention of enriching the individual 'Prem Rawat' is far more debatable. It is also clear that very few of those who were followers of Prem Rawat understood the ramifications of this split of personal and 'church' resources and this action remains a source of puzzlement to many even now.
The 'ecclesiastical' nature of the early US Divine Light Mission is demonstrable in that from its creation in 1971 until the 1976 IRS audit, residents of its ashrams were considered to be legally monastics and therefore not required pay income taxes. Those who held jobs completed IRS W4 forms to provide for no income tax withholding by their employers. Following the 1976 changes, the IRS reassessed the position of ashram residents and many who been resident but who had subsequently moved out, found themselves personally liable for the costs of back taxes on salaries which had been contributed in full to Divine Light Mission Incorporated.
At a point prior to 1985 the name Divine Light Mission Incorporated was changed to Elan Vital Incorporated, in all other respects the organisation remained unchanged. In 1985 an application was lodged with the IRS for Elan Vital Incorporated to become re-registered as a Private Foundation and the organisation seems to have been treated by the IRS as a Private Foundation until the application fell in 1989 due to a failure on the part of Elan Vital Incorporated to file the relevant paperwork. Elan Vital Incorporated remained registered with the IRS as a tax exempt church until announcing that it would cease operations in 2010. As a church Elan Vital Inc. was not required to make its financial activities public and no firm information is available regarding income, the application of expenditure or the ownership of assets. In 2001 Elan Vital Incorporated did publish some unsupported information on its web site; percentage figures were given for income sources, 33.33% from sales and 66.67% from voluntary contributions, and expenditure percentages of 59.67% on promotion, tours and events, 33.33% on production and 7% on administration. In the financial year ending March 2002, Elan Vital [UK] transferred £519,325 of Charitable funds to EV Incorporated [US].
In the early days of DLM Incorporated numerous subsidiary businesses were incorporated and registered with the IRS, most of these were quickly wound up. Visions International has been in existence since the 1980s (defunct since circa 2010) being the successor organisation to the DLM Shri Hans International Publications. Shri Hans International Publications and Visions International have been the main trading arms of the DLM/ Elan Vital 'church'. Visions International has been responsible for the production and distribution of recorded media featuring Prem Rawat, aspects of its production activities are carried out via a commercial relationship with the Dunrite Group a company with which several of Prem Rawat's children have been associated (now defunct 2015). Production now covers both satellite television and net radio broadcasting, European distribution and funding of satellite services has been handled through a Spanish subsidiary of Visions International operating under the name Eurcommunications.
More than any other of the 'national' DLMs, the US organisation was subject to the greatest stress of meeting the competing demands of providing for Prem Rawat's personal requirements as well as acting as a promotional organisation. This split, testing many of the individuals involved to near destruction is well illustrated by the DECA project which set out to provide Prem Rawat with a Boeing 707 for his personal use. The financial basis of this project remains unclear however it is certainly the case that the organisational resources of the Divine Light Mission Inc. were dedicated to the project. The acquisitions of further aircraft were also achieved with the organisational assistance of DLM/EV Inc. through ad hoc creations such as the Jets Acquisitions Committee which appear to have piggybacked on the 'church' organisation.
In 2001 an entity called The Prem Rawat Foundation was created, primarily having an Internet presence and providing for the sale of downloadable excerpts of Prem Rawat's speeches, musical compositions and other 'art' works. The Foundation is registered in California as a charitable Trust and as such is required to publish details of its finances. The Foundation claimed income of US$ 2,754,210 in 2007.
TPRF was a departure in style and its board membership reflects an intention to set the Foundation in the context of US tax deductible philanthropy. The 2001 directors were Linda Pascotto (President), Stephen Sordoni (Vice President) and Scott Mazo, Karen Pearse and Brad Griffin. Linda Haldan Pascotto and her husband Alvaro Pascotto, who are both long time followers of Prem Rawat, have their own charitable foundation through which they have donated significant sums to TPRF. Alvaro Pascotto has held directorships in private corporations involved in managing Prem Rawat's aircraft. In 2009 changes were made to the TPRF board, Linda Pascotto remained as President while Stephen Sordoni stood down as Vice President but remained a Director while the other 2001 directors were replaced. Prem Rawat's younger daughter, Premlata Rawat Hudson became the new Vice President. Kenneth Delaski was assigned the role of Treasurer, Delaski was the son of Don Delaski, the founder of the Deltek Corporation, shares in which were beneficially gifted to Prem Rawat via the Onae Trust. The TPRF Secretary is listed as Edward Hanzelik, Dr Edward Hanzelik is the clinical partner of Dr John Horton who has served as Prem Rawat's personal physician.
The closed world of the organisations that promote Prem Rawat is by its very nature, not readily open to examination although the roles of certain individuals and their inter relationships do provide some insight into the functioning and objectives of the business structures that surround Prem Rawat. The personal ownerships that Michael Dettmers was able to establish for Prem Rawat in 1976 have largely been vested with a company called SEVA Corporation of America, President of SEVA is Mary E. Holle and its registered agent is John K. Bale, both are long time followers of Prem Rawat. Holle and Bale are directors of a SEVA subsidiary called Premo Marine which until 2004 held the legal ownership of the 33 meter long yacht Serenity, President of Premo Marine is Kathleen Gliebe while another director is Robert A. Jacobs. Jacobs was Prem Rawat's personal lawyer and who acted for Prem Rawat in the 1976 financial arrangements initiated by Michael Dettmers. Another SEVA subsidiary, Prime Resources owned the Gulfstream IV jet previously used by Prem Rawat. Listed as managers or members of Prime Resources were Stephen Sordoni, Kenneth Delaski and Alvaro Pascotto. Stephen Sordoni is a Director of TPRF while Alvaro Pascotto is the husband of Linda Pascotto, President of TPRF. Alvaro Pascotto has a brother, Valerio Pascotto who has acted in a variety of management support roles in Rawat promoting organisations, not least having involvement in the IRCC project in Australia. Also having had a substantial role in the IRCC project is Brad Griffin, also previously a TPRF director. Kenneth Delaski is now Treasurer of TPRF. Robert Jacobs introduction to Prem Rawat was apparently facilitated by his then colleague, Linda Gross who was and still is a follower of Prem Rawat. Gross, who is also a lawyer has represented Prem Rawat personally, she has also been president of Elan Vital and was acting as its spokesperson at least until 2001. The Pascotto brothers were followers of Prem Rawat in Rome before coming to the US, Alvaro is a lawyer and Valerio a psychologist, who now has a partnership with motivational speaker and long time follower of Prem Rawat Tim Gallwey.
It should not be assumed that these personal links preface anything untoward, however charitable, philanthropic and religious organisations are expected to take especial care to ensure objectivity where either intentional or incidental benefit may be conferred. The situation where individuals who have a personal deferential attitude to Prem Rawat as well as having responsibilities which place their philanthropic position in potential conflict with Prem Rawat's personal financial interests, might be considered to be organisationally 'unfortunate'.