Colorado police investigating alleged sexual assaults by Buddhist leaders
Authorities in Colorado have launched a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual assault against prominent Buddhist leader Sakyong Mipham and members of his organization, Shambhala International, ThinkProgress has learned.
The probe by the Larimer County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office was confirmed by four sources who have spoken to investigators and supported by emails obtained by ThinkProgress.
The investigation, which has not been previously reported, comes after a series of reports published by the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine accused Mipham of sexual assault and child sex abuse — allegations Mipham and Shambhala International vehemently deny.
Shambhala International denied that it or its staff are the subjects of a criminal probe. “At this time, it is our understanding that there is no open criminal investigation in Larimer County,” the organization told ThinkProgress in a statement.
The statement echoes denials given to ThinkProgress in August after earlier sex abuse allegations were made against Mipham. His attorney Michael Scott said his client “categorically denies assaulting anyone, sexually or otherwise, sexual contact with minors, or any other criminal offence [sic].”
Scott, who issued his statement after Buddhist Project Sunshine published sex assault allegations in August, did not immediately return a request for comment on the Larimer County investigation.
The Shambhala meditation center in Boulder also rejected a separate offer of victim support and assistance from the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, ThinkProgress has learned.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office declined ThinkProgress’ request for comment but said anyone with information about possible sex crimes by Shambhala members in Colorado can contact investigators in its office.
In a letter to the Shambhala community in June, Mipham acknowledged having what he called “relationships” with Shambhala members, but he stopped short of admitting any sexual misconduct.
“I have recently learned that some of these women have shared experiences of feeling harmed as a result of these relationships,” Mipham wrote. “I am now making a public apology.”
Scott told ThinkProgress in August that his client’s apology “should not be misinterpreted as a validation of the accusations” by Buddhist Project Sunshine.
But during a July video call with teachers and the heads of local meditation centers, two senior Shambhala officials seemed to confirm that Mipham kissed and groped a woman against her will at his Halifax, Canada, home in 2011. During the same call, which ThinkProgress first reported, another senior official said that he no longer sees Mipham’s relationships with women as “consensual.”
Allegations of sexual misconduct by Mipham have roiled Shambhala since they first emerged in June. Shambhala’s main governing body, the Kalapa Council, announced its “phased departure” on July 6, the same day Mipham temporarily stepped aside pending an independent investigation.
A report on the findings of the probe, commissioned by Shambhala and conducted by Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm, is due to be released in January.
Boulder authorities have been in touch with Shambhala about the abuse allegations. The office of Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty sent a letter to the Boulder Shambhala Center on Aug. 6 offering to speak with members of the community about legal options and support services for victims of sexual assault.
Melanie Klein, the center’s executive director, said she didn’t receive that letter until ThinkProgress forwarded her a copy of it on Aug. 27 with a request for comment. Dougherty and Klein spoke about the letter later, according to Dougherty’s spokesperson, Catherine Olguin. Klein never followed up on that conversation, however, telling ThinkProgress in a statement that her center doesn’t need outside help.
“Although the greater Shambhala organization is dealing with a number of accusations now, in Boulder we haven’t had any complaints of this sort in the past few years (at least) so this training doesn’t seem urgent,” Klein said.
“We are, however, awaiting the third party investigation report on the accusations against Sakyong Mipham, will soon review Shambhala’s updated Care and Conduct procedure, and generally we’re supporting our membership with trauma education, men’s and women’s circles, community conversations, and various other activities. And, as always, as our current Care and Conduct procedure makes clear, there is no tolerance for sexual overtures between our leaders (including teachers) and our members/students,” Klein said.
Buddhist Project Sunshine has published three reports that detailed serious allegations of sexual misconduct by Mipham and others in Shambhala. Those incidents allegedly took place in Colorado, where the group has its U.S. base; in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it is headquartered; in Boston, Massachusetts, where Mipham was running a marathon; and at the group’s retreat center in rural Vermont.
Law enforcement officials in Boulder County, Colorado, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, told ThinkProgress they do not have open criminal inquiries into the allegations against Mipham, who also goes by the names Osel R. Mukpo and Mipham J. Mukpo.
Officials in Caledonia County, Vermont, also said that they have not opened an investigation into an allegation of child sex abuse by a Shambhala member at the group’s retreat center there in 1983.
“We have yet to be contacted or receive any complaints from a victim or anyone directly involved in the alleged incident,” Vermont State Police spokesperson Adam Silverman said in an email.
The Boston Police Department said it does not release information on investigations by its Sexual Assault Unit.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment on whether it has any open investigations into Mipham or Shambhala, citing Justice Department policy. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Buddhist Project Sunshine’s investigator, retired employment lawyer Carol Merchasin, said she did not corroborate the allegation of sexual assault of minors with other witnesses, recordings, or documents.
“I cannot investigate this allegation,” Merchasin wrote in the third report. “The information … would have to go to the District Attorney in Larimer County, Colorado.”
The most recent Buddhist Project Sunshine report, published Aug. 23, alleges that Mipham tried to coerce a woman into oral sex in front of other senior Shambhala officials at a meditation retreat in Larimer County and at a private home in Boston.
That woman also reportedly told Buddhist Project Sunshine that she saw parents bring their teenage daughters to Mipham’s Larimer County residence for what she believed were sexual encounters.
ThinkProgress has not interviewed the woman who made these allegations, and we have not confirmed other aspects of the third Buddhist Project Sunshine report.
At the time, Shambhala International said Mipham and the senior officials named in that report “categorically deny the substance of the allegations.”
Do you have information about sexual misconduct in Shambhala or another religious organization? Contact reporter Joshua Eaton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Signal at 202–684–1030.