Jason E. Cobb
1101 Menlo Oaks Dr
Menlo Park, CA 94025
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
JONATHAN D. COBB, AND
W. ARLEN ST. CLAIR
ERNEST BREDE, LUIS
CONTRERAS, PAUL KOEHLER,
LARRY LAVERDURE, DONALD
SHOWERS, AARON LUCAS,
STEVE MISTERFELD, ALAN
SHUSTER, RICHARD ASHE AND
Civil Action No. C 10-03907 MEJ
COMPLAINT FILED: AUGUST 31, 2010
1. This declaration is provided in an effort to provide a focused commentary on the matters prompting this action in a factual, and informative manner.
2. My name is Jason Everett Cobb. I am a member of the English Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Menlo Park, CA. I am the Chairman and CEO of The Menlo Park Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. (Corporate Entity Number: C0983980).
3. In 2008, representatives of the Spanish Menlo Park Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses contacted me to express their desire to begin using the meeting facility or Kingdom Hall located at 811 Bay Rd, Menlo Park, CA, to which the Menlo Park Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. holds title. Discussion of the proposal ensued and it was eventually determined that this request could not be accommodated at that time. The representatives of the Spanish congregation were disappointed with this conclusion and advised that they would express their concerns to representatives of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. located in Patterson, NY.
4. Thereafter, representatives of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. reassigned Paul Koehler, one of their traveling field representatives to the San Francisco bay area.
His initial visit to the Menlo Park congregation occurred during October 2008. From the beginning, he seemed angry and resentful. In particular, he appeared to have an agenda that involved the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall. Based on his comments and actions, I believe that this, in part, was the direct result of and in direct response to the complaints from some members of the Spanish Menlo Park Congregation, as discussed above. When Paul Koehler attended the initial renovation planning meeting with representatives of Regional Building Committee #7 held in November 2008, he expressed a desire to have the Spanish congregation meet in the Menlo Park meeting facility. During a subsequent meeting, members of the Regional Building Committee or RBC expressed the idea of somehow using the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall as a means of addressing varied needs within the area for meeting facilities etc. In short, a plan was forming regarding the desired use and/or sale of the property and Paul Koehler, the RBC and members of both the Spanish and Japanese Menlo Park congregations were in alignment as regards said plan
and gradually began building momentum toward laying the groundwork to execute it. However, none of them owned the property. The Menlo Park Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. owned the property. George T. Stock, W. Arlen St. Clair, Jonathan D. Cobb Sr. and I occupied spiritual positions of oversight within the congregation and, with the exception of Jonathan Cobb, legal positions within the corporation. Further, we were not in favor of the idea of selling the property as it is centrally located within our locale and preaching territory. Also, we and our members, who shoulder the expenses, were not in favor of a major renovation to the property but rather a modest one that addressed the primary needs to a sufficient degree. Needless to say, our collective view was not well received by Defendant Koehler et al and in time the scheme to displace us went into effect since we were essentially standing in the way of progress. Generally speaking, the Defendants and other non-party co-conspirators sought to acquire the building by any means necessary.
5. By comparison, the Catholic Church, which is perhaps the quintessential example of a hierarchical religion, structurally speaking, typically owns the church properties. Consequently, they have no need of schemes to acquire property. If they want to effect change in some regard, they do it, period. Conversely, in the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, theoretically speaking, making similar decisions may not be quite as simple in every case due to the reality of legal considerations as not all Kingdom Halls are owned by one of the corporations employed by the religious organization known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many Kingdom Halls (church buildings) in the United States are owned locally by congregations and their respective corporations which are separate and distinct legal entities.
6. This is not to suggest or say that Jehovah’s Witnesses, as an organization, employ or sanction schemes regarding the surreptitious acquisition of property by trick, deceit, chicane or overreaching. In discussing the fundamental structure, considerations and constraints it can provide some insight into how and why such a scheme might be conceived by a group of misguided individuals who deviate from bible principles and organizational policy pursuant to their own frustrations, reasoning or convictions.
7. On the topic of property ownership, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that all Kingdom Halls whether directly owned by a corporation employed by our global religious organization or not, ultimately belong to Jehovah God and his son Jesus Christ as local congregations are organized for the purpose of furthering our preaching and teaching work. Like the Plaintiffs, I share this belief. However, this belief does not undermine our general regard for law and in this case, corporate and property ownership laws. Actual organizational directives establish this fact.
In 1980, California amended its Corporations Code in several regards. These changes prompted a letter dated January 1, 1980 addressed to all Congregations in the State of California regarding the New Non-Profit Filing Requirement. This policy letter and others, in accord with bible principles establish the collective regard that Jehovah’s Witnesses are to have for law in general and in these particular areas. It is also interesting to note that in the year 2000, when members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses decided to relinquish their legally held corporate positions in order to focus primarily on matters of spiritual instruction and oversight, this transition was performed not by some religious process or ritual but rather in full accord with New York State law as each of them resigned according to law to ensure their compliance with such. (See Exhibit A)
8. Repeatedly, the Defendants have endeavored to legitimize their actions under the color of religious right by stating that they have acted within the scope of their organizational stations as specifically appointed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This can be an oversimplification as well as a fallacious appeal to authority. While it is true that the Defendants have or had appointed roles within the organization, this in no way constitutes an endorsement of their conduct to whatever extent such is actually known by members of the Governing Body.
Notably, the Plaintiffs have alleged a scheme that has been devised and executed in a clandestine manner. Suggesting that the actions of the Defendants necessarily establish a basis of knowledge and, further, approval from the Governing Body is analogous to the surreptitious actions of a “dirty cop” necessarily implicating his entire department, precinct or city. To put it directly in the courts language, clerks have a measure of autonomy within a defined role. Nevertheless, it is
fairly common knowledge that in some cases clerks can and do take liberties whether it’s providing a slanted synopsis of a document presented to the actual Judge for signing or producing and “rubber stamping” a written response to a motion with the judges’ signature that was actually never presented to the judge, and perhaps is more reflective of the clerks’ views and feelings then that of the actual Judge. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are God fearing men with a full allotment of Holy Spirit and intelligence. Per Exhibit B, they are capable of speaking for themselves. Further, they should be spared any misrepresentation by a group of self-willed individuals and schemers on the wrong side of the law who evidently are looking to legitimize their alleged criminal activity at the expense of those good brothers and men.
9. So, pursuant to these points, a scheme covertly devised by a select few individuals, was needed in this case to essentially move us out of the way. Once this was accomplished the Defendants then sought to assume operational control of the property and meeting facility by and through a seizure of the corporation. In their minds, this in turn, positioned them to assume control of the corporate banking accounts as they endeavored to proceed with the building project that, collectively speaking, they wanted, over and above what the members had already said that they wanted and/or could afford. Their seeking to commandeer the banking accounts by, as will be discussed further on, is significant in light of the current allegations of bank fraud, providing false information to a financial institution, identity theft, providing false financial reports to corporate members and money laundering. All of this, occurred, per the allegations, pursuant to our removal since the Defendants, in particular Defendants Shuster and Ashe, would have had the basis to know from prior experiences that we would never engage in such conduct.
10. At this point we clearly step beyond a simple disagreement over what to do with the meeting facility, the Kingdom Hall that might be represented by Defendants as a so-called “church dispute,” an internal matter barred from court review and progress to the deeper and more sinister layers of the overall alleged scheme at the most basic level: criminal activity. This helps us to appreciate that there are considerations and issues in these matters that clearly encompass far more than matters of faith and religion and such are without question subject to
review by the court. This is amplified when considering that the opposing counsel and Defendants alike have fought vigorously to prevent the bank records from seeing the light of day. In doing so, they have as much substantiated the allegations by virtue of their behavior.
11. The scheme to affect our removal was born from and predicated on the doctrine of abstention and the supporting case law. In Watson v. Jones, the United States Supreme Court developed a framework for the judicial review of so-called ecclesiastical disputes that has persisted essentially unchanged to this day. The Court held that «whenever the questions of discipline, or of faith, of ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law have been decided by the highest church judicatory to which the matter has been carried, the legal tribunals must accept such decisions as final, and as binding on them….»
12. With this in mind, the Defendants felt that they could arbitrarily remove us presumably with impunity in order to further the overall scheme. When Defendant Koehler failed to find a legitimate basis to push us all out of the way he proceeded to manufacture a charge of convenience relative to the S-21 card (membership card), as discussed in the complaint.
(See Exhibit C for comments made by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses that establish that no basis for disciplinary action exists in such regards as family heads and/or single adults are at liberty to make such decisions for themselves)
13. This brings us to the topic of Serbian, which has been a recurring reference through these proceedings.
14. Pursuant to Watson, the court mentioned a possible exception to the Doctrine of Abstention. In Gonzalez, the Court prohibited civil court interference in the determinations of ecclesiastical bodies regarding the qualifications of clergy-even if “civil rights” are involved-absent fraud, collusion, or arbitrariness.
15. In SERBIAN ORTHODOX DIOCES V. MILIVOJEVTCH, 426 U. S. 696 (1976), the Court repudiated its 1928 ruling in Gonzalez to the extent that “arbitrariness” is no longer an available basis for civil court review of ecclesiastical determinations. However, it left open “fraud” and “collusion” as possible grounds for review. In doing so, the Court in Serbian severely
limited the availability of “fraud and collusion” as grounds for civil court review by limiting their use to those occasions “when church tribunals act in bad faith for secular purposes.” The mere assertion of fraud or collusion thus cannot invoke civil court review of ecclesiastical determinations regarding church discipline. A plaintiff also must establish that the alleged fraud or collusion was motivated by “bad faith for secular purposes” as the Plaintiffs have in this current action. It is this statement and line of reasoning that effectively coin the terms Serbian Collusion and Serbian Fraud.
16. In this case, upon information and belief, our judicial meeting or tribunal hearing occurred in bad faith. Defendant Misterfeld had prejudged the matter which is a generous assessment since the whole idea from the beginning was to displace us by whatever means. Furthermore, the seminal events and circumstances that prompted the hearing were manufactured pursuant to acts of collusion. Exhibit C sheds further light on this. These observations in conjunction with points already stated in the complaint, establish that there was a basis of intent toward us before the hearing, during the hearing and even after the hearing as well as discussed in state action CIV 508137 as detailed in the complaint for such which I believe has been filed with the court.
17. The hearing concluded on 2/27/2011 when Defendant Misterfeld advised us that he and Defendant Koehler would be recommending our removal as elders. As described in the complaint and during my recent deposition, the ruse extended into the next day where Defendants Misterfeld and Koehler induced the perception that the meeting, recommendation, everything had been a hoax, a practical joke of some kind. Defendant Koehler’s intimations and references specific to the lack of any reference to the hearing and decision on his report form as reviewed on 2/28/2011, and the intended implications of such contributed to this as we relied on the fact that any serious matter would have to be included on the report. Since his report, as represented materially to us made no mention of the hearing and decision then they had either had a change of heart or the whole thing was a ruse from the very beginning. This point of deception is significant because it caused us to feel that there was no need to appeal the judicial decision, which was
inherently hard to believe anyway being highly improbable and outrageous, since it essentially had not been rendered, in actuality, per the report, as materially represented. Our not appealing the judicial decision within the primary window of time for such simplified the task of finalizing our removal, per the scheme.
18. At any rate, while this action may more directly hinge on the range of Civil RICO charges and allegations than on Serbian, it is interesting to note that the prerequisites to invoke this possible exception to the Doctrine of Abstention, as defined by the Supreme Court, for the very first time in U.S. history definitely exists within this action, pursuant to the allegations as stated.
19. This brings us to a point that has required clarification for some time. At every turn, the Defendants have endeavored to characterize the situations and circumstances that prompt this action as a “church” or religious dispute. That is a completely false assertion born of the Defendants desperation to seek the virtual equivalent to diplomatic immunity by virtue of the Free exercise Clause. However, this is not a church or religious dispute. The Plaintiffs are not suing to regain their spiritual positions of oversight, to become elders again, as the Defendants have asserted time and again specifically to misrepresent these men. Such a privilege of service is not for secular authorities or courts to give. Even if the court had some basis to reinstate us, I would not accept it and I’m sure that George Stock, Arlen St. Clair and Jonathan Cobb feel the same. Our being removed as elders has been referenced only to service the overall narration and illumination of a multifaceted and phased scheme. Our being removed was simply one particular phase of the scheme that triggered a sequence of events and a range of egregious acts. The scheme could not advance with us in place and so the change was made by trick, deceit, chicane or overreaching pursuant to a premeditated intent to execute a very specific plan, with a view to a secular purpose, per the allegations.
20. Pursuant to Defendants’ filing of a 12(b) motion to dismiss in October 2010, which cited the Free Exercise Clause as a basis for immediate dismissal with prejudice, Plaintiffs’ filed their opposition to said motion drawing upon Employment Division V. Smith (1990) to the end of
detailing suspicions concerning fraudulent activity including a money laundering scheme. Of course, the motion to dismiss was denied.
21. That theory and allegation, that initially struck me as inconceivable, has gained plausibility pursuant to the efforts to subpoena the bank records and local financial records. In speaking with law enforcement officers including Jeff Keegan of the Menlo Park Police department and varied FBI agents, their input has helped to establish the legitimacy of concern in these regards. Apparently, bank accounts associated with non-profit religious corporations can be and often have been leveraged in money laundering and tax evasion schemes.
22. Officer Jeff Keegan, who himself owns a Church, related an experience to me in April 2011 regarding an instance when he and other church members were approached by individuals who wanted to donate funds to the church. For expediency, we’ll say they offered Mr. Keegan’s church $100,000.00 to “hold” on their behalf. In a few months, the church would return $90,000.00, keeping $10,000.00 as a “donation” which sounds like a good deal for the church.
Mr. Keegan stated that they declined the offer as it constituted a form of tax evasion. He explained to me that in donating the funds ($100,000.00) to the church, the individuals would gain a tax break that would exceed the smaller amount, the $10,000.00 that was actually left with the church. I may not be explaining it properly but I’m sure the court and reader gets the idea. A variation would be for someone to “donate” funds to a local church, gain the tax break and have the local church return and/or “donate” the exact same amount back to them. It’s a way of moving money around. Another wrinkle could be having the benefactor send say, $150,000.00 to the local church prior to performing some service for the church, perhaps some repair work, that actually costs $50,000.00...only the local church “pays” $200,000.00 for the service. This would include the original $150,000.00 that had been “donated” plus the extra 50,000.00 that had been collected locally from congregation members under the fraudulent pretense of “raising money” for the “repair work” that they were told that they “needed” by their loving pastor pursuant to his agreement with the original benefactor.
23. Aside from such considerations, I can speak to the idea of the Defendants conspiring
with bank insiders. I actually encountered manifestations of this. A key instance occurred in March 2010. I visited Wells Fargo Branch in downtown Palo Alto, CA. In being assisted by Michael L. Gutierrez, I was advised that my name was not associated with account 87894705, which is strange as I had remembered being listed on this account in the past. I’d also remembered there being other signers as well. However, Mr. Gutierrez advised that only one name was on the account: Glenn M. Watson.
24. I learned in April 2011 that the information provided to me by Mr. Gutierrez was completely false. A business banking rep at another local branch advised me that my name and that of Jonathan Cobb had been removed from this account by Glenn Watson and Defendants Brede and Showers apparently on the same day when Mr. Watson added them to the accounts as part of the takeover, 7/12/2010, four months after I was repeatedly told by Mr. Gutierrez that my name was not on the account.
25. Based on my interactions with him, upon information and belief, I feel that Mr. Gutierrez is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or has some affiliation with a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, possibly the very same Spanish congregation that had expressed a desire to meet at the Kingdom Hall located at 811 bay Rd in Menlo Park, CA back in 2008, as previously discussed. The judicial meeting/tribunal hearing with Defendants Misterfeld and Koehler that concluded on 2/27/2010 preceded my visit to Wells Fargo Bank in March 2010. If Mr. Gutierrez is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or has some affiliation with a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by extension through family or some other tie, then he apparently was already aware that a recommendation for the removal of our elders had been made and that it was a foregone conclusion that it would be approved, essentially by Defendants Shuster and/or Ashe as they work in the department that would have received said recommendation. In short, the fix was in (Serbian Collusion, Serbian Fraud with a view to a secular purpose).
26. For Mr. Gutierrez to intentionally deceive me in an apparent effort to “keep watch” over the money until our removal became official, constitutes a deliberate act to further a fraudulent scheme, which in turn constitutes bank fraud as Mr. Gutierrez’s actions, and evidently
those of other insiders with a similar basis of affinity with the Defendants, have created financial liability for Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and the statute of limitations for a Civil RICO action is four years from the last committed racketeering act.
27. So here we have a religious matter that hadn’t even been formally decided and settled yet that had crossed over the boundaries and directly influenced and affected an established banking relationship, a business matter within a financial institution, and why? Because of religiously motivated action.
28. In this present action, the Defendants continue to assert that this is a religious matter that is exempt from court review pursuant to the Free Exercise Clause and the associated Doctrine of Abstention. However, if criminal activity has in fact occurred as alleged relative to the corporate finances and accounts, especially if such involves the establishment or expansion of a money laundering ring within an overall tax evasion scheme that crosses state lines, then the Free Exercise Clause ceases to have any relevance. Again, this is true pursuant to the court’s decision and reasoning in Employment Division V. Smith (1990) which refocused constitutional law on the fact that the Free Exercise Clause "embraces two concepts- freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute, but in the nature of things, the second cannot be." - Cantwell v. Connecticut. 310 U.S. 296, 304 (1940)
29. In Reynolds v. U.S. (1878) the Court distinguished between religious belief and religious conduct or action, stating that Congress was "deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive to good order." The Court added that recognizing the religious defense, which the Defendants desperately cling to in this case, would "permit every citizen to become a law unto himself’ thus rendering the government irrelevant.
30. In refocusing on, Employment Division V. Smith (1990), the court stated “We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs [p879] excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As
described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. Of Educ. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594-595 (1940): Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs.
31. In summation on this point, the Court added: The only decisions in which we have held that the First Amendment bars application of a neutral, generally applicable law to religiously motivated action have involved not the Free Exercise Clause alone, but the Free Exercise Clause in conjunction with other constitutional protections, such as freedom of speech and of the press, (Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. at 304, 307). The present case does not present such a hybrid situation, but a free exercise claim unconnected with any communicative activity or parental right. Respondents urge us to hold, quite simply, that when otherwise prohibitable conduct is accompanied by religious convictions, not only the convictions but the conduct itself must be free from governmental regulation. We have never held that, and decline to do so now.
32. In conclusion, I understand that the Defendants are considering submitting a motion for summary judgment pursuant to their systematic refusals to comply with a range of subpoenas. The court knows best, but as a non-party observer, granting such would seem to be a gross miscarriage of justice especially if such occurred prior to the acquisition of the bank records that are poised to be obtained by court order.
33. I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States and the State of California that the foregoing is true and correct.
Dated: November 3, 2011
Jason E. Cobb
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