Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Group’s tax refund request shot down

[ed. - The Fellowship of Friends' claim that the Galleria, founder Robert Burton's residence and focal point of the Fellowship's Apollo headquarters, is used exclusively for "religious worship" is laughable. Burton's residence (and any member would be remiss in regarding it otherwise) has for four decades been the site of sexual escapades described in these pages. Believing he is above mere mortal laws, Burton has fostered a culture of "gentle" disregard for society's rules. From the earliest days, his organization largely ignored Federal laws prohibiting private inurement in tax-exempt religious organizations. Burton has always been the chief beneficiary of his "congregation's" largess. It is interesting to note that the Fellowship is endeavoring to elect a more sympathetic supervisor to replace Mr. Stocker, who voted to deny the request. Supervisor Vasquez, who is comfortably on board with the Fellowship, voted to approve the refund. See also, this 116-page document submitted to Yuba County Board of Supervisors on behalf of The Fellowship of Friends. See also Ames Gilbert's earlier post. See also, a 1991 court ruling on the Fellowship's attempt to have the Galleria, then the Goethe Academy, exempted.]

From the Appeal-Democrat:
By Eric Vodden/ evodden@appealdemocrat.com

For the second time in 2 1⁄2 years, Yuba County has rejected a property tax refund request from the Fellowship of Friends.

County supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday to deny the group's request for refunds for each of the past four years and part of 2009-10. The group claims it is entitled to religious and welfare exemptions.

The Fellowship's claim does not specify an amount. But based on estimates of $30,000 a year for real property and $100,000 a year on personal property, the refund would total about $520,000, said Assessor Bruce Stottlemeyer.


Supervisors John Nicoletti, Roger Abe and Hal Stocker voted to deny the refund, saying there was no reason to reverse past county assessor rulings. Supervisor Andy Vasquez voted in opposition, saying the group merits an exemption. Supervisor Mary Jane Griego was absent.

Vasquez, after a long discussion of the pros and cons involving Fellowship and Yuba County lawyers, noted the matter will end up in court.

"I don't know why we are continuing this," he said of the discussion.

The Fellowship has described itself as followers of Mystical Fourth-Way Christianity based upon the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. It was founded by Robert Burton in the 1970s and is based at a 1,250-acre site in Oregon House.

A similar 2011 refund request sought more than $572,000 for taxes paid from 2006-09.

Then-Assessor David Brown rejected it on grounds the Fellowship property wasn't exclusively used for an exempted purpose, such as for religious grounds.

Stottlemeyer said the Fellowship asked him to review Brown's decision. But that process was halted when it was found the Fellowship doesn't have a conditional use permit for a religious institution, which Stottlemeyer said is required to claim an exemption.

"The property has to be permitted for its use," Stottlemeyer told the board. "This notion that just because they are a church they are entitled to an exemption doesn't hold water."

Fellowship attorney Jan Fleener told the board the Fellowship is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax exempt church. She also said the assessor is legally precluded from denying an exemption based on use permit grounds.

"It has been quite puzzling to the Fellowship that it has been denied," she said.

Fleener said the refund request is only related to the use of a building known as the Galleria for religious worship. She noted a use permit was granted for that building to be used as a museum in early 1990s, but that never happened and the permit expired after 18 months.

However, County Counsel Angil Morris-Jones told the board the use permit granted was not for a temporary use and is still intact.

"Currently the use is as a museum," she said. "It runs with the land and does not expire," she said.

"Barbara" posted the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 6, 2014:
THE TERRITORIAL DISPATCH ~ April 2, 2014 ~ Yuba County CA
Fellowship of Friends Tax Refund Request Fails.
By Elden Fowler
At the March 25th meeting, the Yuba County Board of Supervisors denied a request by the Fellowship of Friends for property tax refunds totaling over $520,000.
The Oregon House based group claims it is en titled to religious and welfare exemptions. JanFleener, attorney for the Fellowship, explained to the board the group is a tax exempt church and has been granted tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.
In further defining the group’s religious status, Fleener said “The principles of the Fellowship are based on universal mystical religious teachings that transmit the art and science of recognizing and experiencing divine presence.” She continued “As an inter-denominational church, the Fellowship draws upon all major religious traditions including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.” She added “The teaching of the Fellowship is also based on the works of eminent philosophers, writers, and artists including George Gurdieff and Peter Ouspensky.”
Fleener said the property taxes in question were levied against the Galleria which sets on a small parcel of land and is used exclusively for church purposes. She argued the County’s tax assessor cannot deny the exemption.
However, Assessor Bruce Stottlemeyer countered saying the group has not obtained a Conditional Use Permit for the property; therefore, no exemption can legally be granted. He explained “just because they are a church they are entitled to an exemption doesn’t hold water."
Stottlemeyer further explained the Fellowship has never applied for a use permit for a religious
facility. He said “The property must be permitted for its use.”
Feener countered saying the Fellowship had obtained a use permit for a museum in the early 1990s but it had expired after 18 months.
County Counsel Angil Morris-Jones countered Feener’s statement with the explanation that the permit was not temporary and “It runs with the land and does not expire.” The Galleria is permitted as a museum, not a church for religious worship.
In her written advice to the board, Morris-Jones recommended the supervisors “Deny all the claims for refund of Property Taxes of Fellowship of Friends, Inc.” In her letter she stated “As to date, the Fellowship has failed to comply with the provisions of the Yuba County Code relating to their Conditional Use Permit. The Assessor has given them written notice that they must comply before he can consider any claim for refund.”
When it became time to decide, Supervisor and Chairman of the Board John Nicoletti, along with Supervisors Roger Abe and Hal Stocker, voted to deny the Fellowship’s claim for a property tax refund. Supervisor Mary Jane Griego was absent.
Supervisor Andy Vasquez, ignoring the advice of County Counsel, cast the lone vote in favor of the Fellowship’s request.
This is not the first time a Fellowship property tax matter has come before the board and suffered the same results.
In October of 2011, the Fellowship asked for a roperty tax refund totaling over $570,000. In that case, the group was asking for an additional two weeks to substantiate their religious exemption claim.
Supervisor Vasquez defied the advice of County Counsel Morris Jones and made a motion to grant the extension. The motion died for lack of a second.A motion to deny the claim was initiated by John Nicoletti and the supervisors voted the claim down by a 4-1 margin.
Vasquez accounted for the lone dissenting vote in favor of the Fellowship.
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"Tim Campion" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 6, 2014:
Thanks Barbara and Associated Press [bloggers].
 
In today’s Appeal-Democrat, Harold Kruger, the local journalist who has long reported on the Fellowship, offered this glimpse into the past:
Following the Fellowship
The recent coverage of the Fellowship of Friends’ request for a $520,000 property tax refund from Yuba County brought back some fond memories of strange things past.
Anybody remember the amphitheater the Fellowship built in Oregon House? The one that didn’t have any permits?
Yes, it was called The Theatron, and it went up without the county knowing about it. It was, at the time, the largest building ever built in the county without benefit of permits, county officials said at the time.
“The Fellowship wants to be a real good citizen and help out any way they can,” the late Abe Goldman, the Fellowship’s attorney back then, said at the time. “We can’t afford to make this a public structure because it would cost millions of dollars more in roads and things if the public could come to it. The Fellowship would be happy to share, but can’t afford it. It’s for members only. If there’s any way the county or the city wants to enlist our assistance in some fashion, we’re always open to that.”
The Fellowship of Friends has always had their Yuba County friends and neighbors’ best interests at heart. (And if they can find a way to elect a more sympathetic supervisor to Hal Stocker’s seat, they may yet have a chance at that refund. Steven Dambeck, Charles Sharp, and Greg Holman  are working that angle.) [ed. - I would add Nicholas Spaulding to that list.]

The duping does continue.

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