Pastor Chuck” Groeschel of the Association of Individual Ministries (AIM) swindled about 2,000 of his followers out of $1.5 to $2.5 million in a pyramid investment scheme. According to a report in the August 22, 1998, New York Times, Groeschel relied on “an unusual mix of investment pitch and religious hucksterism,” preaching on the theme “Give and you shall receive.” Groeschel told recruits God wanted them financially independent so they would be free to spread His word. Disciples who donated $50 or more a week were told they would receive $5,875 per week in returns-if they recruited five new disciples who also recruited and invested. In 1997 Groeschel told followers that his new growth strategy would returned 15% per week “as long as members ‘re-donated’ the checks they had already received from the group.”
While appearing to be “the model of a conservative religious leader,” Groeschel was diverting most of his followers’ money for personal use or into foreign bank accounts, according to federal investigators. He had been jailed previously for operating an illegal pyramid scam in Santa Rosa, California. When he was released from prison in 1994, he had already formed AIM, although he did not begin actively recruiting followers until 1996. Groeschel was arrested again in North Carolina last July. His independent “church” operated nationwide from a small office in Palm Beach, California.
A new internet-propagated urban legend surfaced late last year and periodically continues to spring up around the country, according to the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society’s Urban Legends website (www.snopes.com). The legend claims the Gerber Company lost a class-action lawsuit for falsely claiming they used all natural ingredients in their baby food products. According to the rumor, parents who used Gerber baby foods are entitled to $1400, or in some versions a $500 savings bond, for each child born between 1985 and 1997. As the rumor circulates, the filing deadline for obtaining the money changes. The crux of the hoax is that to obtain the money or savings bond, parents must send a copy of their child’s birth certificate and social security card to a given post office box.
Post offices, Better Business Bureau offices, and the Gerber Company have been warning parents not to supply birth certificate or social security information to strangers. Further, Gerber has not been involved in any class-action suit. Some parents may be confusing this claim with two recent price-fixing suits against three baby formula companies which did allow consumers in some states to collect a small reimbursement.
The new Portland light-rail runs through a tunnel under the Sunset Hills cemetery. According to the monks of Portland’s Lao Buddharam Temple, the trains have disturbed the dead who reside in the cemetery. Consequently, angry spirits have caused construction deaths and the recent accident in which a car rolled down on to the tracks.
In an effort to appease the offended, four monks conducted a special service to obtain forgiveness from and reestablish harmony with the spirit world. According to a September 19, Oregonian report, the monks chanted, burned incense, lit a white candle, sprinkled holy water, and left an offering of white flowers at the Washington Park MAX station. One monk reported he had felt “many angry spirits” but believed the monk’s apology had been accepted and harmony and peace had been reestablished.
Steve Johnson, spokesperson for Tri-Met, told the Oregonian, “We were made aware of some concerns among the Asian community related to the spiritual aspects of the tunnel, and we wanted to provide an opportunity to address those concerns.” Officials expect other groups will also conduct ceremonies, and hope these will squelch fears about riding the train.
Oregon State University’s student paper, The Daily Barometer, recently enlightened students about campus legends. The paper “decided to separate fact from fiction” in their October 30, 1998, Halloween issue. Here is some of what we learned:
False: A maze of catacombs, build during the Cold War, runs under the campus and over the years has hidden murderers and stowaways. It is true, however, that seven miles of utility tunnels run under the campus, carrying steamlines and wires.
Fact: Weatherford Hall, formerly a men’s dormitory, but now empty, is noted for its balconies and archways; its creaking, groaning and whining; and-a “presence.” According to the hall’s caretaker, anyone who stands in the darkened hallways gets the feeling “someone is there with you, or next to you or behind you.” He says it the “memories of everyone who’s lived there.”
Fact: Waldo Hall is haunted. The unused fourth floor is inhabited by a restless female spirit, possibly that of a young woman who committed suicide there when the hall was still a women’s dormitory. One OSU student recounted how children visiting the campus told her they had seen an invisible lady with long hair waving to them from a window. When asked if she believed the children, the student replied, “I think that it would be really unlikely for them to make something up like that, especially considering all the other stories I’ve heard about the building. It seems a little too coincidental.”
OSU officials say the fourth floor of the 90-year-old building has been condemned because of failing timbers.
The August 16, 1998, Parade magazine featured an article telling readers acupuncture is “now almost mainstream.” It shows a smiling young Chinese woman who, we are told, is undergoing open-heart surgery “with no anesthetic except acupuncture.” The article appeared the week before the Skeptics Toolbox conference in Eugene and, naturally, the skeptics examined this report critically. Participants spotted many problems in the picture: There is no blood on the surgeon’s hands; the patient is at the wrong angle for the incision to be at the chest cavity; and there is no equipment to keep the lungs from collapsing, as they would if the chest cavity were opened. Not to mention, no one smiles that happily about having open-heart surgery.