Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970.

Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws
on official Fellowship publications and websites,
news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Financial Improprieties?

Ames Gilbert wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
Burton uses the supposed tool of ‘intentional insincerity’ to solicit funds quite frequently. One example among many is the raising of funds for the replacement of the “Bistro” restaurant building on the property, which burned down. Much money raised, but no building; however, lots of new suits and toys for his favorites.

Perhaps some readers remember the case of Roger Greene, a decent, sincere but naïve follower in London. Roger had visited Renaissance as it was then called, and seeing the awful living conditions for visitors at the time, conceived of the idea of building a lodge for them. Later, as he lay dying, he worked with his son to liquidate all his possessions and investments, and accumulated $250,000 or so in cash to realize the project, as a gift to his fellow ‘students’. Burton arranged for the transfer this money to this country via courier and it arrived in due course as a bundle of cash.

Burton immediately went on a wild spending spree. New clothes, new cars from the Toyota dealership in Yuba City, new gee jaws of every kind. I was told the money was gone in three weeks.

I wonder if this particular news ever got back to Roger’s son (not a follower, as far as I know), who agreed to give up his inheritance to please his dying father.

I have to confess, I have my suspicions that neither Burton or the Fellowship of Friends accountants remembered to tell the IRS about this or other bequests––or about any other ‘teaching payments’ that may have, and may still continue to arrive from foreign centers in the form of cash.

Posted by "Old Coyote" on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
!$! Account Ability or The Ark will be rocked !$!
Fellowship of Friend$ Inc. was established with the IRS as a Public Charity, 501c3 in 1971. Due to its classification with the IRS as a Church it is not required to file a Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.
!$! !$!
Friend$ of the Goethe Academy was established with the IRS as a Public Charity in 1992. Each year it files Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax. The IRS requires the exempt returns of public charities to be open for disclosure [previous 3 years] and available for public perusal.
On Form 990 2007 Page 3, Part III in response to the question, “What is the organization’s primary exempt purpose?” :
“Our mission is to present the finest works of the classical repertoire in opera, music theatre, and dance to audiences in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California”
Friends of the Goethe Academy Form 990 for years 2006, 2007, and Form 990-EZ for the 2008 year may be viewed online at:
On the 2008 Form 990-EZ for the Academy the figures for gifts, grants, and contributions are combined with membership fees. Total amount: $ 51,757. The gross receipts from admissions, merchandise sold, or services performed (program service revenue) total amount was $114,829.
For the years 2002 – 2007 the Academy filed the more informative Form 990. The public support for the Academy is broken down into three parts: gifts, grants, contributions (GGC) and membership fees (MF), and Program service revenue; gross receipts from admissions, merchandise sold, or services performed (GR)
2007 $ 9,974* $ 60,358 $ 87,828
2006 $ 30,484 $ 29,994 $ 206,998

2005 $ 29,994 $ 63,207 $ 279,451
2004 $ 51,354 $ 41,304 $ 206,855
2003 $ 129,185 $ 33,938 $ 202,973
2002 $ 41,872 $ 11,875 $ 173,695
The source for the above information, years 2002 -2005, is page 4, Schedule A of the Form 990 filed in 2006 and 2007.
* In 2007 there was no figure filed under gifts, grants, and contributions. The $ 9,974 figure was actually filed under ‘direct public support.’
The total program service revenue, that is gross receipts from admissions, merchandise sold, or services performed for the years 2002 -2008 was $ 1,272,629; pretty good revenue for 12 or so classical concerts and recitals, a few plays, and a ballet or two a year, don’t you think? Program, t-shirt, wine and dessert sales?
See Form 990 2006 Page 3, Part III,
Statement of Program Accomplishments:
Classical Music Concerts: 13 Orchestral and Soloist Events
Total Attendance: 3358
Ballet Performances ???: Ballets Total Attendance 7574
Theater Performances: 3 Plays
Total Attendance: 657
2006 Program Service Expenses:
Music: $ 41,942
Ballets: $ 21,792
Theater: $ 1,502
!$! !$!
Think the old IRS should check the old dog pen out?
How ’bout how all these various entities hook up and support each other? Ya got yer Fellow Ship, ya got yer Vino-Garden, and ya got yer Academy of Fine Music and Dance Hall.
Folks, ya gotta wonder, huh ?!$!
Old Coyote Know$
!$! !$!
Write the old IR$ at their department that classifies Exempt Organizations:
4910 DAL
1100 Commerce St.
Dallas, TX 75242-1198
$top yer whinin’ ya’ll, and $end in yer $uspician$ and complaint!$!

"Joseph G" [posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 19, 2007 at 7:45 pm:
I have been thinking about integrity.

Integrity – adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty
The 900 lb gorilla in the room is how Robert coerces (coerce – to compel by force, intimidation, or authority, esp. without regard for individual desire or volition) heterosexual followers to have sex with him. The way we tended to rationalize this disturbing behavior in the FOF was by calling the sex consensual, but if something is “compelled” can it still be consensual? And though Robert as far as we know has not used physical force to coerce sex, it is well documented in this Blog and elsewhere that he regularly uses intimidation and his spiritual authority to convince his trusting young students to have sex with him. He makes them an offer they cannot refuse. (Basic reality check: what if it were your own 23-year-old son?)
Back to integrity. In the FOF the words “ethical” and “moral” are usually only found in the same sentence with the word “formatory” (a word that is not in the dictionary BTW), but common sense (the sense common to all centers?) tells us that coercing sex does not reflect adherence to any human “ethical and moral principles” in any culture all the way back to the caveman. Let’s face it, sexual coercion is what animals do, and what men who act like animals do. But in the FOF we are very clever about using our own special language to redefine things, so the bird we see swallowing a worm is not simply that: a bird swallowing a worm. In this instance the bird is eating a whole can of worms and we call it consensual because the worms seem to be wriggling with enjoyment on the way down.
So can we agree that coercing sex from young hetero followers reflects a lack of integrity?
In my experience a lack of integrity in any one area tends to permeate many others as well. Here is where it gets interesting for me, because it explains why so many things have been bothering me for the last few years: why things are the way they are. Some examples…
1. You are waiting in line for a meeting. A woman approaches. She asks for $50 to buy a gift for Robert. You ask if it is mandatory and she says yes. You see a student in front of you raise his eyebrows at this, so you say “no, thanks, I do not have the money today.” Unperturbed, the woman moves to the next student in line, who is visiting from Mexico and obviously has very limited resources. The Mexican student does not understand what the woman is saying, so the woman asks you to translate for her that Robert wants her to donate $50 for a gift. You say in Spanish: she wants $50 but you do not have to do it. The Mexican student thanks you and shakes her head at the woman. Later there is an auction. The tone of the auctioneers reeks of what from your earliest days in the school you were taught to recognize in yourself and others as false personality. One of the auctioneers is the woman from before the meeting. Robert sits in the back of the audience, smiling paternally, proudly. Some people make sly jokes about themselves. You were taught to call this vanity. The cheerleading up front continues. You grimace. Something in you vows: never again.
2. You are at a dinner celebrating your 30th anniversary in the school. Around the table are 80 or so students who joined in American centers in 1976. The theme is an arcane Egyptian festival connected to the number 30. The numerology is mind-numbing. The numbers 30, 7, 6, 12, and possibly 36 and 72 are all given special significance. Numbers divisible or multiple by any of these important numbers are also implied to have special meaning somehow. At one point there is a quotation describing five steps in a process. Robert’s comment on this points out that yet again we can see the number 6 woven into so many examples of ancient wisdom. You grow a little frustrated at this. Photographic images are shown throughout the meal by young men who have seemed to be frowning at you whenever you took a bite of your food. Two of these men were recently caught soliciting ménage-a-trois sex from married women in the community. You have heard that these servers frequently make comments in the kitchen about how much food has been consumed by individual diners, after they remove their plates. You have heard that the photographic images have been photo-shopped to better fit the context of the keys they are meant to illuminate. You see Graylin looking at you warmly but quizzically. People like him are the reason you have always loved this place. How could this beautiful place have changed so horribly. Something in you vows: never again.
3. You just filed your taxes and your FOF donations last year were close to $20,000. Spring donation is due: $750 plus your $1200 monthly. People in other countries pay about $300 per month plus a small seasonal donation, but this has never bothered you because you are proud to be able to support the school that has given you so much. Has made you who you are. You used to live at Isis and commute 120 miles each way to a job down in the valley, but your employer told you this was not acceptable so you were forced to move. You have young children. It is hard to visit Isis and you cannot often afford $100 for a meeting because your teaching payments are usually running late, but this weekend you will make the effort. The meeting is led by Asaf [Asaf Braverman]. You notice a strange ritual as Asaf enters the tent. He is a young good-looking man who seems unable to do anything but smile. He walks slowly, solemnly, from his pre-meeting stroll around the fountains. Some older students embrace him as he arrives at the tent. He beams at them with that special inner circle look. They beam back at him with collegial goodwill. They are “keys” specialist. Nevertheless, you stand in the back of the meeting and try to remember yourself by way of keeping an open mind to the knowledge being shared. The talk is focused on the esoteric meaning of “grass.” Many quotes about grass from throughout history. You feel faint but are going to get through this thing. Almost every quote seems to mean the same thing. The king of hearts leads to the steward who fights imagination with the sequence, defeats the devil / lower self, and achieves higher states when the master comes. All is clear, nothing is in doubt or has any alternative interpretation. After the meeting you are relieved to be with some old friends, but careful not to get entangled with certain people. Later you are strolling with your small children around the idyllic lawns and fountains. The kids are laughing and running around, people are smiling and happy. A student approaches you. He photographs your children’s behavior. You were dreading that something like this might happen, again. Previously you have observed this man treating his own children with neglect bordering on abuse. You thank him and move on. Something in you vows: never again.
Is integrity such a big word? We used to say we valued consistency. This meant “being the same person.” Is the school “the same school?” I’m not talking about the form here, but the substance…the level of being. Did I leave the school, or was my teacher the one who left it, years ago? Have we stopped being friends, you who are reading this? Do you think I am lost now? Can you really risk judging my decision, my perceptions? Is this who you wanted to be, who you want to be? Is this the teacher you loved? My personal answer is self-evident.
With love.
Joseph G.

"Janna" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 23, 2007 at 4:49 a.m.:
I can suggest where possibly is the money (at least some of it).
About a year ago me and a friend were walking through Galleria, just looking, admiring the beauty. I was showing him various rooms, kitchen, library… The door to the teacher’s room was wide open and I remember that it was OK in the past to simply walk in… So we did. There was no one there. I said: This is the teacher’s room…
And my friend noticed a bunch of brand new mens shirts laying by his bed… They were fancy looking, in their packaging… We noticed the price tags. Shirts were $ 1500 plus per each. We were… a bit shocked. These are the kind of shirts the “boys” wear…
Another true story: once at our house a “boy” got slightly drunk and carried away bragging to other students about his teacher’s many gifts to him. He was showing us his ring, tie, pants, shirt – and exclaiming: This is 1800 bucks, this is 900 bucks, this is 2400 bucks… He was going on and on. It was truly pathetic.
We heard enough and went away and my boyfriend said to me: This jerk over there is wearing 10 of my teaching payments!
Well if you think how many “boys” there are and the amount of expensive shirts, rings, pants, suits, etc they wear – it starts to makes sense where the Bistro money could possibly be.

"Vena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 19, 2008 at 4:04 p.m.:
As far as illegal financial maneuvers go, former center directors may have some facts. I have heard about these things but have no direct knowledge. For instance, I know from heresay that Robert had the Fellowship, through center funds, support the wife and children of a young man he had commandeered for his harem. I don’t know how long this went on but the check for this family’s support was one of the center’s monthly expenses and it came from teaching payments made by members.

"Old Fellowship" wrote in the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
Re: financial impropriety

I’m not even sure if it is literally legal in California to REQUIRE church members to meet certain “donation” minimums. It may even go against 501-c-3 Federal regulations? And, of course, we all know that if those minimums are not met the members are ejected from the church – and shunned. This alone may be a big point – and may go to the heart of the Fellowship of Friends non-profit status.

As to private inurement (and fraud) – on information and belief – there may have been and seems likely that there were a number of strange real estate transactions beginning perhaps in the late 80s / early 90s – possibly reversed recently – whereby members (some or all who could not afford this) “bought” houses in their own names essentially for Robert Burton’s private use. In at least one case, a student on salary was offered to have his salary raised to pay for the cost of the monthly mortgage. The down payments were to come from somewhere else – but I believe from the Fellowship somehow.

In other words, non-profit non-taxed donation revenues being diverted in a hidden manner for the private use by Robert Burton – as he would take his boys to these spots for “relaxation and recreation.”

By the way, this model (in the abstract) is ONE of the main kinds of ways that Robert Burton oversaw and directed the fraudulent schemes that literally permeate the financial landscape of the Fellowship of Friends. I’m wondering if RICO statutes apply given the systemic nature of the various frauds including likely immigration violations, sham marriages, financial frauds – all operating across national boundaries – and with likely money stashes outside of the U.S.

In any case, back to the real estate, the two geographical areas where this may have occurred (that I heard about) in California were Graeagle (Plumas County – county seat Quincy) and Palm Springs area (Riverside County – county seat Riverside). And there may have been others, including outside of California – I would think Europe (but have no knowledge, perhaps others do).

It might be a little difficult to verify – as one would have to know the names of students and do the sleuthing, but these transactions and possible reversals would be a matter of public record. There may collective memory – meaning some of the students here may know more about this and might shed more light on the blog or to the Reporter ? It would also be interesting and characteristic that if the transactions related to these houses essentially purchased with non-profit monies were later reversed (or sold) for profit with the proceeds including profit finding their way quietly back to Robert Burton. The fraud squared.

At one point, a church member made a big score on a drug deal ($1M?) and was hiding from other drug dealers who apparently wanted to kill him. He hid on one of the properties near the Fellowship Property. To my memory, Robert allowed this – but asked for a donation based on the a percentage of the score.

Also, at one point – again on information and belief – Abraham Goldman – the person who became and may still be the main Fellowship of Friend’s lawyer (and who at one point for a time lost his ability to practice in California due to ethical infractions I believe) – administered a secret off-the-books fund from solicited student donations – whose primary role was to buy Robert Burton gifts or otherwise go to Robert Burton-directed projects. This was a long way back – does it still exist?

"Critical Mass" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 31, 2007:

Robert Burton regularly maxxes out his credit cards, and his personal bookkeeper, R_dney C_arter, continually has to deal with the credit card companies. This year Robert has been overspending so much that he can’t pay his cc bills at the end of each month. The Fellowship was partially audited late 2006, so it’s not quite as easy to redirect funds as it once was. The answer to this predicament? To get Al_s_nne, the most aggressive fundraiser, to phone a few of the wealthiest and most faithful longterm students and ask them to each donate $1000 towards a “gift” for Robert. When one of them, D_ana K, asked what the gift would be, she was told it was a gift, and that you don’t ask what your money is paying for if you’re giving a gift.

You may have noticed that the emails now request checks written to Robert Burton for the birthday, crystallization, anniversary of Isis gifts.and any other anniversaries that can be invented. In previous years, Robert graciously requested donations to the FOF special projects instead of personal gifts or personal money. Projects like the unbuilt bistro. I wonder where that money went.

Has it already been mentioned that when students pay in cash at potager lunches, that money is used to pay Robert’s boys when they take part in the more hardcore sex acts?

"WhaleRider" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 1, 2007:

Dear Critical Mass [above]:

...I will support you in your claim about the cash payments going to the Fellowship ‘boys’. It happened to me once. Back in the mid-80’s, I was invited to join others and travel with Mr. Robert Burton in his entourage. At the time, I was on salary, living at the Academy, and ‘intimately interacting’ with Robert. Making $200 of salary per month, I had no money of my own saved up for such a trip. (Let’s not forget that getting invited to live rent free at the Academy was like getting a raise, too.)

I don’t know if this is still the case, but sometimes these all expense paid trips to Europe were bestowed as a reward to hard working salaried individuals at Renaissance as a last minute surprise before Robert left. Presumably this was to inspire salaried followers to continue making lunatic efforts or others to like myself to get a little ‘closer’ to him. Sometimes people that Robert didn’t have sex with (like women) would be asked to go, although my impression was they were always in the minority, which goes without saying.

Just after we visited a particular center in Europe, I was handed $1500 cash in the currency of the country where the center was located. I was told by his secretary ‘du jour’ the money was a ‘gift’ from Robert Burton. Needless to say, I didn’t ask any questions. This enabled me to travel for the rest of the trip which lasted about seven weeks. Up to that point we had traveled as a tight group, and there was no stop over to convert that much cash into the local currency. It came from the teaching donations that were ‘gleaned’ from that center. So while Robert Burton travels Europe, he’s also skimming cash from the centers, having a gay ole’ time, buying stuff, eating, drinking, and paying off his dressed up sex slaves.
This is the conscious life Mr. Robert Burton has carved out for himself. What a deal! He spends boatloads of his followers’ money now, paying others to cater to his basic needs, as well as his every perverted whim, and his followers all agree to be paid back after death…? I agree with Old Fish In The Sea and Sharon, the fourth way is the way of the householder, which involves exercising common sense. (Let that be a lesson to you Mr Goodwin.)

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