New arrest for child sex abuse at the embattled Buddhist group Shambhala
A Boulder, Colorado, man is under arrest on charges he sexually assaulted a young girl he met through Shambhala International, the Buddhist organization that has been embroiled in a widening sex abuse scandal since last year.
Michael Smith, 54, turned himself into the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office early Friday after the Boulder Police Department issued a warrant for his arrest on one charge of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, according to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. Smith was still in the Boulder County jail at press time. He is expected in court later Friday for a bail hearing.
“The victim was sexually assaulted by Smith multiple times beginning in 1997, when she was 13 years old,” Boulder city police said in a press release. “Smith was introduced to the girl through his membership in the Boulder Shambhala.”
Boulder police said they also have been contacted by another woman, who alleged Smith sexually assaulted her when she was 11 years old at Karme Choling, a meditation center that Shambhala International operates in rural Caledonia County, Vermont. Authorities in Vermont are investigating that allegation.
Melanie Klein, executive director of the Boulder Shambhala Center, said that her group does have a member named Michael Smith, but that he is not the person who was arrested Friday.
“There may have been another Michael Smith who was a member of the Boulder Shambhala community twenty-two years ago, but we have no information about that,” Klein told ThinkProgress in an email. “His alleged crimes should be prosecuted vigorously.”
Shambhala International and Karme Choling did not return requests for comment Friday. Smith could not be reached for comment.
Police said the two survivors do not know each other. They say the women came forward after police in Boulder arrested former Shambhala teacher William L. Karelis, 71, in February for allegedly assaulting a 13-year-old girl he met through the Buddhist group.
Karelis has denied the charges, and he pleaded not guilty. His case is pending trial.
Police in Larimer County, Colorado, also announced an investigation last December into “possible criminal activity” at Shambhala’s retreat center in Red Feather Lake, Colorado, a two-hour drive north of Boulder. ThinkProgress first reported that investigation.
Shambhala has been in crisis since at least February 2018, when the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine began publishing a series of four reports detailing allegations of sexual assault by Shambhala’s head, Sakyong Mipham, and other senior members. Mipham and Shambhala have denied parts of those reports.
Shambhala’s board announced its “phased departure” on July 6, 2018. Mipham temporarily stepped aside from his teaching role the same day pending an investigation Shambhala commissioned from the Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm. Mipham remains the head of the organization.
That investigation found that Mipham drunkenly kissed and groped at least one of his female students “in a manner to which she did not consent.” After the report’s release, Mipham admitted to acting in ways that “hurt others,” but he has denied any criminal behavior.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Do you have information about sexual misconduct in Shambhala or another religious organization? Contact reporter Joshua Eaton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Signal at 202–684–1030.