A $5 million lawsuit has been filed charging a San Rafael-based international sect and its leader with false imprisonment, fraud, involuntary servitude and physical and sexual abuse.
The suit, filed in Marin Superior Court, was brought by a former member of the Johannine Daist Communion against the group and its leader, known as "Da Free John". In the legal action, Beverly Jacobs O'Mahony alleges that she was brain-washed, beaten, sexually abused and defrauded of property during the years she belonged to the sect.
She said Da Free John, whose original name was Franklin Jones, lives on a $2.5 million island in Fiji and that members turn over all their money and property to the sect.
She also named her former husband, Brian O'Mahony, who is president of the Johannine Daist Communion, and other officials of the group in the lawsuit.
Crane Kirkbride, official spokesman for the sect, said today that officials would only answer questions submitted in writing. He added that a "substantial libel action" was being prepared in response to the O'Mahony suit.
Beverly O'Mahony could not be reached today for further comment. The group's main office is in San Rafael. The communion operates the Dawn Horse Bookstore and Laughing Man Institute in San Rafael as well as the Big Wisdom Free School for children in Santa Venetia.
The communion is said to have about 1,000 members, 350 of whom reportedly live in Marin County.
O'Mahony's story, according to the suit, began in the mid-1970s when she was a "naive, impressionable and very lonely girl" attending a university in New York City.
The suit said she became acquainted with the "religious teachings" of Franklin Jones, who later used the name "Bubba Free John," and still later, "Da Free John."
She said that she was told that Jones was the "incarnation of God" and that spiritual bliss could be obtained through following his teachings.
She also said she allowed some of his followers to move into her home and after "prolonged psychological manipulation and intimidation" she was persuaded to join the group, turning her property over to the group.
Subsequently, Jones told his followers to move to San Francisco, she said. After coming West, she met and married Brian O'Mahony, financial coordinator of the sect.
They lived with six other couples, she said. In the suit, she claimed she was beaten regularly by her husband with the support and backing of the others.
In the sect, O'Mahony said, a woman's status was that of a "servant or a slave," a situation she said was encouraged by Jones.
She also said in the lawsuit that upon first coming to San Francisco in 1976 she was hired as a professional musician by the San Francisco Symphony, but that all her income was taken by the group.
However, after a short time, she said, she was "relegated to household chores" and no longer allowed to pursue her career. According to the suit, she soon became pregnant and was subject to such physical abuse that she spent the last three months of her pregnancy in bed. The child, she said, suffered "serious physical impairments" at birth.
After the birth, O'Mahony said she sought assistance from her father, who bought her a house and furnishings in Marin County. Members of the group also moved in, she said.
O'Mahony said she was forced to do work for them and received additional physical abuse during her next two pregnancies.
After the third child was born, she said, her father bought her a larger house, and commune members not only moved in but also opened an office there.
O'Mahony said she became their "house slave."
In 1982, she said she was forced against her will to go to Fiji with her husband. On Translation Island, she said, she was forced to consume alcohol and perform "sex acts with the master," Jones.
Jones reportedly was given the island by a disciple.
O'Mahony said she returned to Fiji in 1984, when she said she suffered "10 days of physical abuse" at the hands of two members of the sect.
During the eight years O'Mahony was "under the control" of the group, she said she gave up all her personal property and a promising career as well as suffered "severe physical and sexual abuse" at the hands of the members.
Other former members of the sect said today that Jones is 45 and that he was educated at Columbia and Stanford universities. In addition to the San Rafael facilities, the sect has centers on the East Coast and owns property in Hawaii and Lake County, ex-members said.