Racketeering charges allowed against Western New York monks
Daily Record (Rochester, NY), Apr 6, 2009 by Elizabeth Stull
A young man who wanted to be a Benedictine monk turned over almost $1.4 million in cash and stocks to a Western New York monastery -- but he claims the religious group deceived him, and he wants his money back.
Eric E. Hoyle joined the Most Holy Family Monastery in Fillmore, Allegany County to become a Benedictine monk under the guidance of Frederick Dimond. Hoyle claims Dimond, known as Brother Michael, told him he would have to turn over all his worldly possessions to the monastery. He did.
But the monastery was not associated with the recognized Order of St. Benedict, and neither Frederick nor his sibling Robert Dimond were Benedictine monks -- something Hoyle discovered only later, according to the federal lawsuit he filed in the Western District of New York.
The Dimonds claim to be Benedictines "of the traditional Catholic faith," and say Hoyle knew all along that they were not associated with the recognized Order of Benedict, which the Dimonds identify as "post-Vatican II" or "Novus Ordo 'Benedictines.'"
Hoyle first learned about the Fillmore monastery through its Web site and made two separate donations of $700 and $65,000 before visiting the religious order and seeking to join as a postulate, his complaint states.
After joining the group in Sept. 2005, Hoyle transferred securities valued at $1.2 million and gave thousands to the monastery, according to his federal complaint. He also signed an agreement that he would receive $750,000 if he left.
Hoyle did leave on Dec. 31, 2007 and filed a federal lawsuit against the Dimonds and their non-profit organization to recover his donations. The amended civil complaint accuses the Dimonds of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and money had and received, plus racketeering and several additional causes of action.
The defendants' attempt to dismiss the case was recently denied by District Judge John T. Curtin in Buffalo, who also allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint.
The defendants argued that the First Amendment prohibited the court from adjudicating the case, because the court would be forced to interpret religious doctrine by defining the term "Benedictine," what constitutes a Benedictine monastery and what benefits Hoyle received.
The First Amendment forbids courts "from interfering in or determining religious disputes," Judge Curtin acknowledged in his March 9 order. "The Constitution directs that religious bodies are to be left free to decide church matters by themselves, uninhibited by state interference."
Citing case law, he added that "courts are prohibited from resolving controversies which require consideration of religious doctrine."
In this case, however, the judge determined that "defendants' affiliation with the recognized Order of St. Benedict is a neutral factual determination that does not require the interpretation of religious doctrine."
The question of whether the Dimonds could be "Benedictine" without being associated with the recognized Order would be a separate issue between the two religious groups, the judge wrote.
"There are some underlying religious disputes between the parties, but our claim is not based on that," Hoyle's attorney K. Wade Eaton of ChamberlainD'Amanda said Friday.
The court allowed the plaintiff to add several causes of action to his complaint, including a conspiracy claim under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Judge Curtin upheld the racketeering claim, saying the plaintiff alleged specific facts that, if true, would show the defendants conspired to commit a crime by making false representations on their Web site and publications, and by soliciting donations and postulates for several years.
Among other findings, the judge said Hoyle was entitled to pursue claims for unjust enrichment and to demand a mandatory accounting.
The court also declined to sanction the plaintiff for taking and destroying donor contact information from the monastery. A previous preliminary injunction ordered Hoyle to return any confidential and proprietary records and destroy the information. That order "could have been more precise," Judge Curtin said. It did not specifically require returning donor files.