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Yoga chain that didn’t charge also didn’t pay taxes, authorities say

Yoga to the People leaders Gregory Gumucio, 61, Michael Anderson, 51, and Haven Soliman, 33, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS and five counts of tax evasion. (PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock)
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The leaders of a popular donation-funded yoga studio chain could find themselves behind bars for tax fraud, according to the Justice Department.

Yoga to the People leaders Gregory Gumucio, 61; Michael Anderson, 51; and Haven Soliman, 33, were arrested Wednesday for failure to file and pay individual or business tax returns for at least seven years, the U.S. Southern District of New York alleges. They are each charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS and five counts of tax evasion.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that the trio had earned more than $20 million from their now-defunct yoga enterprise, affording themselves lavish lifestyles and concocting ways to avoid paying Uncle Sam.

“The defendants perpetrated their scheme in various ways, including paying employees in cash and off the books, refusing to provide employees with tax documentation, not maintaining books and records, paying personal expenses from business accounts, and using nominees to disguise their connection to various entities,” Williams said.

The arrest and charges are added stains to the legacy of the shuttered franchise, which began offering yoga classes in Manhattan’s Lower East Side around 2006 to everyone regardless of the amount of money they could afford to pay for classes. Gumucio, founder of Yoga to the People and former apostle of sullied yogi Bikram Choudhury, has faced allegations of sexual misconduct, unsavory management practices along with alleged racial discrimination and other misdeeds, brought by an Instagram account known as YttP Shadow Work in July 2020. That same year, Vice News reported that he has a decades-long history of preying on vulnerable women, accusations of rape and felony convictions.

In an email obtained by Vice News, Gumucio told yoga students that the messages about him felt malicious, professed that harm was never inflicted intentionally and made clear that the company didn’t tolerate any form of abuse.

Yoga to the People closed its doors in 2020, blaming the coronavirus pandemic, but the charges against its leaders have shed new light on spurious business practices.

Thomas Fattorusso, Internal Revenue Service criminal investigations special agent in charge, said in a statement that the seemingly noble practice of offering yoga to all was nothing more than a “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.”

The yoga company grew from a studio from its early days to about 20 yoga studios or affiliated locations throughout New York City and other areas, such as California, Colorado, Arizona, Florida and Washington state. Although it didn’t require payment from its class attendees, the company earned a substantial amount of money from a yoga teacher training program, grossing more than $20 million without ever filing a corporate tax return, according to the complaint.

Between 2015 and 2020, Gumucio had unreported income directly from Yoga to the People of more than $1.6 million and owed the IRS an estimated $431,000, prosecutors say.

Anderson, an owner in the company and its functional chief financial officer, earned $2.1 million in unreported income, owing the IRS an estimated amount of more than $603,000, according to the Justice Department. Soliman, chief communications officer and director of teacher education program, pulled in more than $961,000 in unreported income, according to the agency.

The trio relished in their unreported riches by taking frequent extravagant trips abroad, spending large sums on fine dining and purchasing NFL season tickets, according to federal prosecutors.

Gumucio allegedly abused his power by targeting and grooming typically young women and others to become nominee “owners” of studios, the complaint states. He would then entice them with the title of studio owner while he continued to make business decisions, taking a cut of their proceeds while the nominees faced financial risk. He also allegedly manipulated his employees into provided free services, such as teaching classes or cleaning yoga studios, to maximize his take-home unreported income.

Over the years, Yoga to the People paid its teachers in cash, forbade yoga instructors from counting money from class attendees only to have cash transported to Gumicio’s apartment, and did not maintain corporate headquarters to keep their books and records, using business accounts to pay for personal expenses, according to investigators.

All three face up to 10 years in prison for their charges. Legal representation for them could not be immediately located.