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Sex-Assault-Tainted Yoga Man Bikram Choudhury Fined $6.4 Million In Sexual Abuse Case

Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, the former personal attorney of celebrity yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, was awarded roughly $6.4 million in compensatory damages by a Los Angeles jury for claims of discrimination, retaliation and of suffering sexual harassment herself. Monday’s verdict is just the latest bad news for Choudhury. In October, the guru lost a court appeal to copyright his sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Choudhury is also facing lawsuits by six women who claim he sexually assaulted them, the first of which is set for trial in April.

LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County jury Tuesday ordered Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, to pay roughly $6.4 million in punitive damages to a lawyer who alleged that Choudhury sexually harassed her while she worked for him and that she was fired after she began investigating claims that he had raped a yoga student.

The award comes a day after the same jury ordered Choudhury, 69, to pay more than $924,500 in compensatory damages to the attorney, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who said in her lawsuit that she suffered gender discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment during her time working for Choudhury.

“I feel vindicated, I’m elated,” Jafa-Bodden said after the verdict, describing Choudhury as “a dangerous, dangerous predator.”

She said she was “gobsmacked” by the size of the punitive damages. One of her attorneys, Carla Minnard, called Choudhury’s actions “dispicable, inappropriate and illegal.”

Choudhury left the courtroom soon after the verdict was announced without commenting. His attorney declined to comment.

Jafa-Bodden’s lawsuit is one of several filed against the eccentric guru, who built a yoga empire after moving from India to California in 1971. Choudhury gained millions of followers through his style of yoga, which consists of a series of 26 poses, done over 90 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees.

Choudhury testified Tuesday that his business has not made any money in recent years and that he nearly had to declare bankruptcy. Choudhury said his yoga business relies on revenue from teacher training sessions, which involve a nine-week course required for followers who want to teach at a Bikram-affiliated studio. In recent years, attendance has gone down and the trainings have lost money or broken even.

“I have to borrow money from my family and friends to pay the bill,” he said. “I have no money.”

At one point, Choudhury acknowledged under questioning that he kept up to 40 luxury cars, including a fleet of Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces, in a Van Nuys garage.

But Choudhury testified the cars were actually now owned by the state of California, through an oral agreement he reached with the state and Gov. Jerry Brown. As part of the agreement, Choudhury testified, he offered his collections of cars to be used to start a “Bikram auto engineering school for children” in which children could learn about cars. The remarks drew smirks and laughs from several jury members.

A spokesperson for the governor could not immediately confirm whether such an agreement existed.

Six other women in recent years have sued Choudhury, alleging that he sexually assaulted or harassed them. One of the women filed court paperwork this month indicating that she and Choudhury had reached a conditional settlement; the filing did not disclose the agreement’s details.

The most recent lawsuit, filed last February 13, accused Choudhury of raping a Canadian woman who said she used $10,000 from her college fund to pay for a nine-week class so she could teach Bikram yoga to others.

During the trial over Jafa-Bodden’s allegations, Choudhury strongly denied sexually assaulting the women.

“I don’t do that,” he testified. “I don’t have to.”

In 2013, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Choudhury after evaluating allegations from four women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

Three of the women accused him of sexual assault, and another alleged that he attempted to touch her genitals without consent, according to a district attorney’s memo obtained by The Times. All four accusers lacked corroborating witnesses and physical evidence, the memo said.

Choudhury and his attorneys said Jafa-Bodden was let go because she did not have a license to practice law in the United States.

Jafa-Bodden alleged that Choudhury persuaded her to leave her native India to work for him as his general counsel in 2011. During her employment, she alleged, Choudhury repeatedly sexually harassed her and subjected her to obscene comments about women and minority groups. She alleged she was fired after she attempted to investigate several allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Choudhury, including a rape claim made by one of his female students.

On Monday, the jury found that Choudhury acted with malice, oppression and fraud — findings that allowed Jafa-Bodden to seek punitive damages. The hearing for punitive damages began on Tuesday, with attorneys for both sides squabbling over financial documents provided by Choudhury. Jafa-Bodden’s attorneys said the records failed to properly show Choudhury’s finances, which they said were considerable.

One of Jafa-Bodden’s lawyers, Mark Quigley, displayed photos of a pair of white Ferarris Choudhury said he bought for his children and an overhead shot of his Beverly Hills mansion. Choudhury said he did not know his net worth, repeatedly answering questions about his finances with “You have to ask my accountant.”

Under questioning from his lawyer, Robert Tafoya, Choudhury said that he had spent millions of dollars in attorney fees in recent years and was not bringing in any income from the yoga business.

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