The Larimer County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office has publicly confirmed an investigation into “possible criminal activity” at a meditation center operated by Buddhist leader Sakyong Mipham and his organization, Shambhala International.
The confirmation, which was first reported by the Buddhist publication Lion’s Roar, comes after ThinkProgress first broke news of the investigation on Sunday.
“LCSO has received information regarding possible criminal activity involving the Shambhala Mountain Center,” spokesman David Moore said in a statement, referring to Shambhala’s retreat center in Larimer County. “Investigators are looking into the information to see where it leads.”
“Anyone with information regarding criminal activity in unincorporated Larimer County should contact LCSO at 970-416-1985,” Moore added.
The investigation comes after the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine published a series of reports in which several women accuse Mipham of sexual assault and child sex abuse — allegations Mipham and Shambhala International vehemently deny.
Buddhist Project Sunshine’s investigator, Carol Merchasin, told ThinkProgress that Larimer County officials have reached out to her as part of their inquiry.
“I was personally interviewed by the investigators, and when I reached out yesterday to Larimer County, I was told that they are indeed in the process of looking into possible criminal activity,” Merchasin said in a text message.
Mipham and Shambhala International did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday. In a statement to ThinkProgress over the weekend, Shambhala 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 said.
Mipham’s attorney, Michael Scott, told ThinkProgress in August that his client “categorically denies assaulting anyone, sexually or otherwise, sexual contact with minors, or any other criminal offence [sic].”
Several law enforcement officials in other jurisdictions where incidents involving Mipham and other Shambhala members allegedly took place told ThinkProgress they do not have open criminal investigations into those allegations at this time. Other departments declined to comment, citing confidentiality policies.
Buddhist Project Sunshine published the first allegations against Mipham in late June. By early July, Mipham had temporarily stepped aside pending a third-party investigation and Shambhala’s main governing body, the Kalapa Council, had announced its “phased departure.”
A report on the findings of the probe, commissioned by Shambhala and conducted by Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm, is to be delivered to Shambhala’s board in January.
UPDATE (12/11/2018, 3:49 p.m. ET): This story has been updated with additional comment from the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
UPDATE (12/12/2018, 3:28 p.m. ET): In a statement to ThinkProgress on Wednesday, Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) executive director Michael Gayner denied that there is a police investigation into allegations of sexual assault at the Larimer County, Colorado, meditation retreat center.
“In recent days some media outlets have reported that the Larimer County Sherriff’s office [sic] is conducting an investigation of incidents at SMC,” Gayner said by email. “SMC has not been contacted by the Larimer County Sherriff’s office [sic] and after inquiry to that office, SMC is not aware of any such investigation.”
“SMC is committed to the safety and well-being of its participants and community members and it is the policy of SMC to fully cooperate in any governmental inquiry,” Gayner added.
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.