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Financial Crime: Guitar cases and tissue boxes stuffed with cash: Yoga guru charged with not paying taxes while raking in $20 million

The leaders of a national chain of yoga centers that offered classes for free or for small cash donations, have been hit with major tax fraud charges for allegedly failing to pay any taxes for nearly a decade while taking in $20 million.

Federal prosecutors say that Yoga to the People’s controversial founder, Gregory Gumucio, and two other leaders of the group, financed lavish lifestyles with the money brought in at 20 yoga centers they operated around the country, but didn’t file tax returns at all from 2013 until 2020.   

In 2020, the group closed its centers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as allegations emerged against Gumucio in news and social media, accusing him of sexually and psychologically abusing staff members and adherents. Gumucio has denied the allegations.

Prosecutors in New York say the Gumucio and his co-defendants, 51-year-old Michael Anderson, the group’s co-owner and chief financial officer, and Haven Soliman, 33, its chief communications officer and head of teacher training, operated the business around donations from students, collecting cash at the end of class in tissue boxes handed around the room.

Gumucio, Anderson and Soliman were all arrested Wednesday in Washington state and were awaiting preliminary court hearings there. It wasn’t immediately clear if they had yet retained attorneys and they couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Gumucio, 61, of Cathlamet, Washington, had once been the right-hand man of legendary yoga guru, Bikram Choudhury, creator of Bikram yoga, before founding Yoga to the People 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.

The classes were a hit, drawing hundreds to each class, including celebrities like Mary-Kate Olsen and Hilaria Baldwin. Within a few years, the business expanded from its lower Manhattan headquarters to chapters all across the country, with cash donations growing into the millions.

But from 2013 on, prosecutors say Gumucio, Anderson and Soliman never filed any tax returns for themselves or the business, despite taking millions in salaries. According to court documents, the trio spent lavishly on regular trips abroad, expensive meals and clothing, NFL season tickets; and horse lodging and horseback riding.

Despite the company’s size, prosecutors say it had no real corporate office and that cash was stashed in guitar cases in Gumucio’s apartment, while teachers were paid off the books with cash-stuffed envelopes.

“The defendants operated a lucrative nationwide yoga business, which brought in over $20 million and netted them each substantial sums, permitting them to live lavish lifestyles.  Yet the defendants chose not to file tax returns, or pay income taxes,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the southern district if New York. “Thanks to dogged investigative work, the defendants now face serious charges for their alleged crimes.”

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