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President of Long Beach Buddhist temple held in contempt
By Greg Mellen, Long Beach Telegram, Oct 22, 2008
COURTS: Siphann Tith refused to release financial documents to a receiver
LONG BEACH, CA (USA) -- The former executive director of a Cambodian Buddhist temple in central Long Beach was jailed Monday for contempt of court in a long-running dispute over who runs the religious organization.
Siphann Tith, who represented himself at the hearing in front of Superior Court Judge Joseph Di Loreto, went in expecting only to file an ex-parte motion, which typically asks for a court order before the other party has had an opportunity to be heard on it.
Instead, Tith wound up in jail Monday night. His bail, initially set at $50,000, was later revoked.
The case is to be continued Friday.
On Monday, to the surprise of some onlookers, Di Loreto demanded Tith turn over previously ordered financial documents to a court-appointed receiver. When Tith refused, Di Loreto found him in contempt.
Since August, Tith has faced a contempt complaint for his failure to produce financial information about the temple and its $4 million in assets.
The rift dates back to January when a dissident group, supported by temple monks, staged an election for a new board of directors for the nonprofit agency that runs the temple.
The group charged the board of directors with mistreating the monks, restricting their movement, opening personal mail and threats of expulsion.In a disputed election, a new board of directors was elected in January.
The existing board invalidated the results, claiming the election was not in keeping with bylaws and was fraudulent.
While the sides worked on the process for a new election, Di Loreto ordered financial control of the temple be given to receiver David Pasternak.
The temple's existing board of directors dissolved the temple organization and divested all assets to the new organization called Wat Khmer Vipassanaram.
While applying for nonprofit status, the new organization became a charter of the Church of the Revelation, a Gnostic church run from a post office box in Orange.
The church's leader, John B. Ramirez, also known as Johnny Rhondo, has also been issued a contempt claim to produce financial documents. Ramirez, who was linked to a massive insurance fraud scheme in 2002, said he has no control over the new Buddhist charter or its finances.
Tith also claims not to have the documents nor the authority to produce them as they belong to a new entity. He also disputes the court's authority over the new organizations as it is not a party to the original suit.
After bail was set, according to local attorney Evan Braude, who has been assisting Tith, supporters of Tith went to post bail and learned it had been revoked.
Savorn Pouv, a former member of the board of directors at the Wat, was dismayed when he heard of Tith's incarceration.
"At this point, we don't know what to do," Pouv said. "We went to court to get justice and this is what happened."