On Wednesday, the leaders of the once-popular yoga studio Yoga to the People were arrested for federal tax fraud. Gregory Gumuncio, Michael Anderson, and Haven Soliman were tracked down in Washington state, and each charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the I.R.S. and five counts of tax evasion. They face a maximum of up to thirty years in prison. Decidedly not zen!
For the last seven years, the trio failed to file their personal taxes, despite the business bringing in close to $20 million. The report by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York estimated that, together, the trio owed around $1.23 million in taxes between 2015 and 2020. In that report, Special Agent in Charge Fattorusso said: “The defendants purported to create a donation-based exercise community to make yoga more accessible for their clients, when in reality, they allegedly ran a more than decade-long cash cow that relied on a sophisticated network of tens of millions of dollars in unreported income and free labor to fund the leaders’ lavish lifestyles.”
From 2006 to 2020, YTTP was a donation-based yoga studio that struck a chord with fitness-conscious, budget-strapped young urban adults. Tissue boxes were passed around during class to collect the eight-dollar suggested donation. Although I never took a class there, twice I’d been nearby their Brooklyn studio, and friends who did patronize the space suggested it as the perfect place to use the restroom. The casual, laissez-faire atmosphere extended to welcoming those about to pee their pants.
However, that casual sentiment seeped into their business behavior, according to the claim, with practices like not maintaining financial records, coercing teachers into performing free labor, paying them off the books when they did compensate them, and dipping into business funds for personal expenses. What sorts of personal expenses? Some of it was your run-of-the-mill tax evasion stuff like pricey flights, restaurants, and hotels. But Solliman managed to spend almost $50,000 on her horses from 2017 to 2018 alone, and we aren’t talking about Vatayanasana aka flying horse pose, folks!
YTTP shut down in 2020 just as more than two dozen former students and employees made allegations of sexual assault, racial discrimination, and bad business policies against the studio. Vice reported on the numerous allegations, shortly after the studio shuttered in July 2020, dubiously framing YTTP’s claim that they were saying their final namaste due to the coronavirus.
There is a long history of spiritual-fitness endeavors acting as breeding grounds for abuse and manipulation. Jezebel’s Shannon Melero covered YTTP’s sexual assault scandal in 2020, writing that the studio’s “mixture of an assailable audience with a lack of knowledge around yoga sets the stage for predators.” Gumucio, the founder of YTTP, was accused of rape in 2004, along with the numerous harassment and assault allegations against him from his employees and students. Gumucio’s mentor, the infamous Bikram Choudry, founder of Bikram yoga, has been accused of rape and of creating a “cult-like atmosphere” in his classes. While no legal ramifications came from the sexual assault accusations against YTTP’s leaders, it is somewhat encouraging to witness them being held accountable for their predatory behavior, even if it is just financially.