Self-anointed Hindu high priest Annamalai Annamalai arrived in Dayton in the summer 2010 from greater Atlanta, creditors snapping at his heels and his Georgia temple lost to bankruptcy.
Just over two years later, he has vanished from the local scene, leaving in his wake nearly a dozen lawsuits, almost $125,000 in delinquent property taxes and the vacant downtown landmark he bought at auction.
Annamalai, the controversial Indian guru who calls himself Dr. Commander Selvam and Swamiji Sri Selvam Siddhar, has closed the businesses on the ground floor of the 14-story Third National Bank and Trust Building, 32-36 N. Main St., shuttered the historic building and auctioned off some equipment and furnishings. Montgomery County auditor’s records show he hasn’t paid a nickel of property tax since he bought the 1926-vintage building for $525,000 in 2010 and renamed it Paru Tower.
Annamalai did not return messages left on his cell phone and with his attorneys in Ohio and Georgia.
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said Annamalai told her three weeks ago that he planned to move his family from Dayton.
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“The plan was just to mothball the building until he finds a satisfactory buyer,” said Gudorf, who added that the 47-year-old mystic said he was leaving the area for warmer weather.
“As I understand it, he has moved to a small town outside Houston,” said Lloyd Whitaker, the Atlanta-area trustee in Annamalai’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.
Annamalai claims to have spiritual powers unique in the western world that enable him to heal devotees from a wide variety of physical and psychological maladies caused by black magic — for a price. His websites show him smiling broadly, clad in white, a Hindu-spoked wheel spinning in his upraised palm. One site says he has temples in India and six U.S. states, including Ohio.
According to Georgia bankruptcy court documents, Annamalai owned 22 websites and print magazines listing toll-free hotlines for the religious services from which he derived his income. While some Hindu temples, including the Hindu Temple of Dayton in Beavercreek, charge fairly nominal amounts to perform prayers and rituals, Annamalai charged thousands for some rituals, court records indicate.
“To get salvation and remedy from any kind of evil spirits, jadoo or voodoo, the Siddhars are to be approached,” reads one of his websites. “There is only one Swamiji Siddhar in the western countries. He is Swamiji Sri Selvam Siddhar. He has donated millions of U.S. dollars towards the development of human race and mankind.” The website advises people to call his temple. “All the evilness of the black magic will be removed,” it says.
Annamalai’s time in Dayton has been anything but serene. He has been a party to 11 Montgomery County lawsuits as plaintiff, defendant, debtor and creditor. The temple he planned in an old flea market near Trotwood was short-lived, and his commercial brand of spiritualism resulted in claims by former adherents that Annamalai defrauded them in connection with promised religious rituals — accusations he had previously faced in Atlanta. He countered by suing them for defamation of character.
The guru was known in Atlanta for his litigiousness as he faced bankruptcy and a criminal investigation that resulted in charges of theft and practicing medicine without a license that were later dropped. One former attorney told a Georgia judge last year that Annamalai also was under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. In his Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, Annamalai was threatened with sanctions after accusing the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Whitaker, of racketeering activities aimed at misappropriating his money.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge James E. Massey on Sept. 24 found that Annamalai and his companies owe the estate $178,000 for unauthorized transfers made to Annamalai after the bankruptcy petition was filed on Aug. 31, 2009.
By the time he came to Dayton, Annamalai filed at least 20 defamation lawsuits in four Georgia counties against dissatisfied customers and media organizations.
In Dayton, he continued the litigious ways that led an Atlanta blogger to dub him “the Litigant Guru of Gwinnett County.” A Georgia appeals court, according to court papers, declared that Annamalai “blatantly abuse(s) the judicial process” with numerous frivolous lawsuits that constitute “almost criminal behavior.”
Among the local lawsuits:
- Annamalai is suing 13 former devotees in six states for $4 million, saying they portrayed him in a false light and intentionally inflicted emotional distress, interfered with his business and business contracts when they used blogs and emails to call him “a fraud, a cheat and a thief, among other things.” He said they made the statements to get out of contracts in which they’d “agreed to pay for astrological services and rituals to be performed for themselves or their family members.” Some said Annamalai’s temple overcharged their credit cards.
- The guru also is suing Tonda Bohannon-Mingus of Dayton, Bishop Richard E. Cox of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Dayton and others, saying they harmed him by demonstrating outside his now-closed Commander’s Cantina in the old bank building and before the Dayton City Commission. The individuals accused Annamalai “of fraud, fake, extortion and theft,” according to the lawsuit, for allegedly overcharging restaurant customers. Also named in the lawsuit is Dayton Informer blogger David Sparks, who reported on the demonstration.
- Rion MacConnell, who lists his address as a Post Office box in Washington Twp., is suing Annamalai, claiming the guru and men he described as “his high priests and bodyguards … (who) would die for him” roughed MacConnell up at the bank building on March 29 and demanded he repay $212 Annamalai had paid him for work on the building’s elevators. MacConnell, an ex-convict with a long history of litigation himself, claimed one of the guru’s aides drew a gun on him. The civil lawsuit alleges false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and theft. Annamalai denied the allegations and countersued.
- A Dayton man in August 2010 filed an affidavit for a mechanics’ lien against the flea market at 2222 Olive Road, saying Annamalai owed him $10,000 for labor he performed there. The man, Albert Stidham, in June 2010 told Dayton police that Annamalai owed him money and had locked his tools inside the flea market, detained Stidham there and punched him or grabbed him, according to a police report. The report indicated Annamalai denied assaulting Stidham and made a counter-complaint. Annamalai later sued Stidham for slander and defamation and won a default judgment when Stidham didn’t respond, court records show.
Tom McClain, who operates the local professional wrestling company, First Class Wrestling, said Annamalai wouldn’t let him into the locked-up flea market to get equipment, including a metal wrestling ring valued at several thousands of dollars. McClain operated wrestling matches at 2222 Olive Road from April to October 2011.
He said he was desperate to find a new location after a previous location closed, so he contacted Annamalai. “He preached the whole swami thing to me and how he’s a doctor and he’s worth millions of dollars,” McClain said. “I’ve got a good BS meter so I saw through a lot of what he said.”
Annamalai closed the Olive Road Flea Market in November 2011 and wouldn’t let McClain get his belongings despite months of phone calls, McClain said. “It’s been a horrible experience and I’m sorry I got into it,” McClain said. “We’ve moved on, but we took a hit.”
Dayton Zoning Administrator David Wombold said he inspected the Olive Road location about two years ago, after Annamalai opened the Hindu Temple of Ohio on a part of the property. Wombold told him the land wasn’t zoned for religious assemblies, and Annamalai closed the temple and focused on his businesses in the downtown bank building, Wombold said.
Later, Wombold inspected the bank building after receiving complaints that people were living in the empty offices. Wombold said he found no evidence that was happening.
Four days before the Georgia bankruptcy court ruling against him, Annamalai sold the Olive Road Flea Market for $95,000 to an Ohio limited liability company. In April, he transferred ownership of the bank building to Siddhar Peedam, which claims to be a group of “temples, centers and Ashrams” in Baytown, Texas, near Houston. The group’s website displays a photo of Annamalai, and his LinkedIn Internet profile shows that he is chairman of the Siddhar Peedam Group of Temples.
Whitaker said he is now seeking to collect the judgment against Annamalai and his companies, the last assets left to be distributed to the swami’s creditors.
“It has been a difficult case, to be perfectly honest,” Whitaker said. “I would say all of my dealings with him have been contentious.”