In the Media

Swami Chetanananda Sued for Sexual Abuse and Human Trafficking in Portland (The Guru)

Two suspicious deaths, “drug-fueled gang rapes,” and women being choked unconscious are among the revelations of a new lawsuit against Swami Chetanananda. Carol Merchasin, one of the leading attorneys prosecuting spiritual abuses, is behind the lawsuit.


Spiritual guru Swami Chetanananda is facing a lawsuit by a former devotee who alleges a pattern of sexual and physical abuse. “Defendant J. Michael Shoemaker groomed, repeatedly sexually exploited, trafficked, and sexually assaulted Plaintiff,” the lawsuit begins.

Michael Shoemaker, who goes by Swami Chetanananda, was exposed by the Oregonian newspaper in a five-part series in 2001. The series, called “In the Grip of the Guru,” interviewed former devotees who alleged sexual, financial and spiritual abuses. A year prior, 11 students wrote an open letter that exposed the “horrors, fraud, and coercion that occurred at the Movement Center,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Swami Chetanananda and his followers created an environment, “where vulnerable individuals – especially vulnerable young women like Plaintiff – were physically, spiritually, and sexually exploited.” It goes on to say that Chetanananda, “groomed, physically harmed, coercively controlled, and sexually assaulted Plaintiff and other students under his spiritual tutelage at the Movement Center.” It claims Chetanananda and his followers propped him up as an “enlightened figure” who should be “unquestionably obeyed.”

The lawsuit alleges that Chetanananda sexually assaulted the student on several different occasions during healing treatments.


The lawsuit was filed by Carol Merchasin of McAllister Olivarius. She previously uncovered sexual abuse in Shambhala International lineage of Buddhism, and the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers. She’s currently representing the young woman who filed a lawsuit alleging sexual battery and sex trafficking against Choying Rabjam.

The suit against Swami Chetanananda is the latest attempt to use labor and human trafficking violations to hold spiritually abusive cult leaders accountable. In 2020, NXVIM founder Keith Rainere was sentenced to life in prison on similar charges. And in June 2023, the founder of One Taste Nicole Daedone, and her assistant were charged with labor trafficking.

Carol has commented on the case against OneTaste: