MailOnline the full article
$73million tax evasion, Middle East money-laundering and a 35,000-year-old mystic warrior: How a Romanian couple 'brought a local winery to the brink of collapse after joining an alleged cult'
• Radu Nemes, 39, and his wife Diana, 38, facing extradition to Romania to face tax evasion charges over fuel fraud
• Claims that the couple funneled money into U.S. after laundering in Dubai
• Built a luxury villa and invested in pizzerias and a winery in Seattle area
• Known members of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment in Yelm
• Ramtha's run by J. Z. Knight, a 68-year-old woman who claims to channel a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit
By Louise Boyle
PUBLISHED: 13:35 GMT, 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:35 GMT, 21 March 2014
A former business partner of a Romanian couple wanted by Interpol for an alleged $73million oil tax evasion said today that his dealings with the suspected fraudsters left him on the brink of losing his company.
Doug McCrea, who runs a wine business in Yelm, Washington, first came into contact with Radu Nemes, 39, and his wife Diana, 38, in the fall of 2012.
They were introduced to the vineyard owner by Greg Simmons, a 'very nice gentleman' and marketing director of a mystical spiritual organization known as the Ramtha School of Enlightenment (RSE).
Mr McCrea had known Mr Simmons as an acquaintance for several years after he attended an 'open-house' wine tasting at the vineyard.
Radu Nemes, 39, and his wife Diana, 38, are facing extradition to Romania to face charges that they dodged millions in fuel taxes. They were caught hiding out in Washington state where they had joined a spiritual group
Mr Simmons was then director of marketing at RSE but was retiring and taking on the role of the Nemes' business manager when he approached Mr McCrea in fall 2012 about investing in his wine business.
Mr Simmons, 68, had reportedly travelled all over the world spreading the message about the enlightenment school which has levied accusations of being a cult.
By 2008, RSE was widening its reach around the world to countries including Chile, Japan, South Africa - and Romania.
Doug McCrea almost lost his business after dealing with the Nemes - who have been arrested after being chased by Interpol from Romania for tax evasion
Mr McCrea told MailOnline today that Mr Simmons vouched for the couple, who were presented to him as ‘extremely wealthy’ and members of the RSE community.
The Nemes told Mr McCrea that they had made their money from a variety of business interests – including oil.
Mr MrCrea said that living in Yelm often means running into people from the ‘School’.
He said his impression is that they are people of 'impeccable integrity' and that several of his winery employees were members of the organization.
The School of Enlightenment was established in Yelms, a town of 6,000, in the late 1980s and has grown to around 2,000 followers.
The RSE was established by female leader J.Z. Knight, a business school drop-out from Roswell, New Mexico, who claims to channel messages from a 35,000-year-old warrior.
Her spiritual method claims to bring together ancient wisdom with the power of consciousness and the latest scientific discoveries.
Ms Knight, (the J.Z. stands for Judy Zebra), a 68-year-old who has three marriages under her belt, holds retreats for her followers on private land attached to her French chateau-style mansion.
A promotional poster from J.Z. Knight who founded the Ramtha School of Enlightenment in 1988 in Yelm, Washington
The Ramtha method uses ancient wisdom and scientific developments, according to its followers
In 2007, her business filed profits of $2.6million from retreats, books, CDs and DVD sales.
The Nemes, who arrived in the U.S. in 2012 after reportedly fleeing their native Romania following charges of tax evasion, settled in the quiet town, far out west. It is then that they became members of the school of enlightenment.
They have two sons, aged eight and nine, and local sources have claimed that Mrs Nemes is pregnant again.
Mr McCrea told MailOnline that despite being informed of the couple’s abundant wealth, they were quiet and unassuming.
He said occasionally the couple came for a glass of wine at his bar but kept to themselves. He described Mrs Nemes as a 'petite blonde' who came across as a very nice person.
The wine-maker said: 'I take people at face value whether they are from Romania or Nicaragua. They expressed an interest in investing in the winery and said it seemed like an exciting thing to do.'
Mr McCrea, who was looking to grow his business Eagleview Hill, LLC, agreed to a partnership with the couple.
Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, established in 1988, is an 'academy of the mind' based in Yelm, Washington
Ramtha is run by J.Z. Knight (pictured) who claims to channel a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit
At no point, did he have any awareness of their criminal past and is not aware if Mr Simmons knew of the couple's previous shady dealings.
A business plan was drawn up with lawyers and an operating agreement put in place by March 2013.
The investment was large enough to make Mrs Nemes a majority stakeholder, a strategy which the couple claimed was essential to obtain her an E-2 visa - which allows a non-citizen to stay in the U.S. if they are a majority owner of a business.
Mr Nemes did not sign the business agreement.
Mr McCrea said at this point the couple stipulated that Mr Simmons would come on board as the business manager of the winery.
Mr Crea said: 'He [Simmons] was planning to retire from Ramtha after 25 years and said this gave him something exciting to do. I took it at face value.'
According to business filings, Mr Simmons is listed as a business partner along with Diana Nemes and Li Yew Heah on Magdalena Properties LLC. He is also listed on a company called Mt Rainier Properties LLC along with Mrs Nemes and James Capezio.
Court documents show that the Nemes bought a home in Thurston County, and were allegedly in the process of building a lavish property on the grounds with the illegal funds, according to investigators.
They also owned a a restaurant and a large commercial property in Yelm.
By October 2013, the cracks were beginning to show in the wine business partnership.
The Nemes met with Mr MCrea to tell him that they didn't believe that the business was going well - despite the company's accountant confirming that the winery was on track to meet its projections for turning a profit.
Mr MrCrea said: 'They basically said that the business was not what they wanted to do.'
A few days later, Mr Simmons showed up with a purchase-and-sale agreement from the Nemes wanting to buy Mr McCrea’s whole company - at about a third of the value of the company's inventory.
One of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment retreats which encourages followers to 'become a remarkable life'
A Romanian couple accused in a plot to dodge $73 million in oil taxes in Romania were arrested this week while living in Yelm in rural Washington state
He was told if he decided to sell within 72 hours, the couple would not stop funding the winery.
Mr McCrea refused to sell the business which he started in 2006 – and abruptly the Nemes' funds stopped.
Mr McCrea told MailOnline today that he has not heard from the couple, or business manager Mr Simmons since October.
Mr McCrea believes that Mr Simmons is still in Yelm as he has seen his car around town.
The first Mr McCrea heard of the Nemes' shady past was when authorities came to his home this week.
Radu Nemes, 39, and his wife Diana, 38, were arrested by the FBI on Tuesday and are facing extradition to Romania to face charges that they colluded with a high-ranking official to dodge millions in fuel taxes.
According to filings, Radu Nemes allegedly worked as part of a criminal gang to illegally import 1million tons of diesel fuel and sell it in Romania through shell companies between 2011 and 2012.
The shell companies were set up in names of homeless people to distance the Nemes from the fraud.
The massive tax dodge came by importing the fuel for manufacturing purposes then selling it directly to consumers.
Diana Nemes allegedly helped her husband by laundering money from the fuel scheme through Dubai accounts and then bringing it into the U.S.
At least 20 others have been charged in the massive tax dodge, according to Romanian investigators including a senior official at the national customs office.
The Nemes, who remain in jail, are due to appear in court today.
Several calls to numbers for Mr Simmons went unanswered today. He has not been charged with any crimes.
Although Mr McCrea said that although the whole experience was, and remains, extremely stressful, he has been left with an overarching sense of sadness, particularly because the Nemes have two young sons.
He added: 'They have created it, now they have to live it.'
He said that although the wine business is a 'little tough' at the moment, he remains optimistic.
'We are realigning our priorities, we have to slow it down. But we can go forward,' he said.
A spokesman for the Ramtha school issued a statement to MailOnline today saying the school 'has no information about allegations from the Romanian government or the student referenced. Mr Simmons retired from principal in March 2013 and we have no information about his private matters.'
ANCIENT WISDOM FROM A NEW MEXICO BUSINESS SCHOOL DROPOUT: THE MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR RAMTHA'S SCHOOL OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, which claims roots in the teachings of a 35,000-year-old warrior from a mystical land, was founded 26 years ago by a business school drop-out from Roswell, New Mexico.
JZ Knight (born Judith Darlene Hampton in 1946) is the spiritual school's 'high priestess' after she claims that she was visited in 1977 by an entity named Ramtha, an ancient warrior who channels his teachings through her.
Followers participating in an event at Ramtha's School of Enlightenment
Ramtha, the 'Enlightened One', marries ancient wisdom with neuroscience and quantum physics to allow followers to access their own 'direct channel' with God.
Between 1979 and 1988, Knight traveled the U.S. having private 'dialogues' with students.
In 1988, Ramtha's School of Enlightenment was founded on former ranch land in Yelm, a small city in rural Washington state.
It is an 'academy of the mind that offers retreats and workshops to people of all ages and cultures', according to its official website
By 1995, Ramtha's school had an international reputation. J.Z. Knight was touring Australia, Italy, Japan and South Africa to spread her message of how students can use their brain power to 'Become a Remarkable Life'.
The school has a 80-acre fenced compound, not open to the public, which is the site of retreats for students and staff.
The 68-year-old religious guru's company, JZK Inc. posted profits of $2.6million in 2007 from these courses along with books, tapes and DVDs.
In 2008, Ramtha's School of Enlightenment spread to 20 more countries including the Czech Republic, Romania and Chile.
Ramtha's claims that more than 100,000 people globally have attended their spiritual events.
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