Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Miller vs. Trees Foundation

North Coast Earth First! Press Advisory .....
Fraud suit against Trees Foundation goes to trial!
Case # DR 060660, Miller vs. Trees Foundation, beginning trial on 9/27/07
Arcata, CA - Sept. 26th, 2007 After two days of hearing motions and doing jury selection, the fraud suit against the Trees Foundation will be going to trial, with testimony set to begin on Thursday morning, September 27th, 2007. The case will be heard by Judge Christopher Wilson, in courtroom #3, starting at 8:30-8:45 a.m. and ending at noon each day.
The civil suit, case # DR060660, was filed by Ms. Kathryn Miller after she was informed that the $185,000 donation she intended for North Coast Earth First!, using the Trees Foundation (Garberville, CA) as a conduit for the donation, never reached its desired destination.

Long-time North Coast Earth First! activist "Shunka Wakan" will be the first witness to testify on Thursday morning. Shunka was running a Trees Foundation-sponsored media office for North Coast Eath First! at the time of the donation.

"I advised Kathryn Miller to go through the Trees Foundation to make the 'large donation,' and have seen this situation unfold from day one," said Shunka Wakan.

The suit alleges fraud and several common counts against the Trees Foundation, who are being represented by the San Francisco lawfirm Idell & Seitell.

h/t Eric Somehow this one slipped by me. Shunka's one of my favorites. Last word was he was looking for donations of socks and blankies. Tree sittin' is cold work.


  1. Is Kathryn Miller any relation to Dr. Ken Miller?

  2. From sohum parlance:
    slam said...
    hey folks. this is scott, and i work at the trees foundation. i'm speaking personally here and not representing my organization.

    needless to say this entire event has been a nightmare for us. we never thought it would actually go to trial because the accusations are so baseless. nonetheless here we are.

    the short story is that several years ago trees foundation received a large donation from kathryn miller. kathryn told our bookkeeper that her donation was for the trees foundation, her letters regarding the donation said it was for the trees foundation, and her statement to the bank officials where the draft was taken also state it was for the trees foundation. at no time did she ever indicate to us, either verbally or in writing, that the donation go to any of our partner groups.

    a year and half goes by. we've spent the money as a general donation. such donations go all throughout our program: to admin, direct to partners (we grant $125,000+ per year direct to local enviros), to the resource center, etc. the usual. no-one at trees foundation profited from this donation. we've run a tight ship for 15 years or so and even survived an irs audit.

    now we get a phone call from shunka demanding the money. it seems that the donor had first called him way-back-when, and when she wanted to make a donation he had directed her towards trees foundation. now he wants a check for $185,000 sent directly to him, immediately, or he will sue trees and "expose us to the media." i informed him that the donor's written information directed the donation to trees foundation, and that a non-profit can't just "cut a check" to an individual. that's illegal. furthermore, since he is neither miller nor trees foundation, he has no bearing at all on this donation and no standing to sue.

    next we got a letter from kathryn miller. she had heard from shunka that we had "stolen" the donation, she demanded her donation be returned, and she threatened us with a lawsuit.

    because of the threat of a lawsuit we retained a lawyer (we've never had one before), who advised us that 501(c)3 donations are NOT refundable. you CANNOT make a donation and then later ask for it back. we explained to miller where the money went, that we spent it according to her written instructions at the time, that we could not legally return it, and we offered to meet with her and work on a solution to the problem.

    ms. miller did not take us up on our meeting offer. instead she filed suit against us, via some lawyer in arcata with a p.o. box for an address and an aol.com email. she claimed to us that she had a written contract with trees foundation and that she lost her copy in a landslide in guatemala and that we must have destroyed our copy. and here we are.

    we've made multiple offers to ms. miller throughout the lawsuit, all of which have been rejected. the last offer was that we would set up a donor-directed fund of $180,000 that she could allocate at-will to any of our partner groups, but that offer was also rejected.

    along the way there have been some interesting twists:

    1. shunka put out a press release claiming that earth first! was suing trees foundation, but this is an utter lie. although north coast earth first! has disbanded (thanks in large part to shunka's continued verbal abuses) our working relationship with earth first!ers remains positive. we continue to work with tree sitters, and several earth first!ers like darryl cherney and rainbow bridge have come to our support.

    2. shunka also sued us in small claims court claiming breach of contract. as we've never had a contract with shunka, and our contract with earth first! did not ever involve shunka, the case was thrown out with prejudice. we counter-sued for frivolous lawsuit and won $900.

    3. miller started harassing our staff. tons of crank calls came in to our office, to our bookkeeper at home at all hours of the night, and to our bookkeeper's daughter. office signs were being vandalized and destroyed, and "earth first sues trees foundation" newspaper clippings posted on garberville (trees office) and miranda (bookkeepers home town) bulletin boards, and repeatedly on the front door of our office. we applied for a restraining order and a warrant and after the police investigated kathryn miller was ARRESTED on five counts of misdemeanor harassment charges and held for a week on bail. she was released just before the trial.

    4. in the course of researching this suit we came into contact with some of miller's previous lawyers. they had nothing good to say about her; after losing one of her suits, miller turned around and sued her lawyers. i didn't think laywers were allowed to use cuss words when describing ex-clients to strangers.

    5. ms. miller failed to show up for the court-appointed settlement meeting, and instead phoned in saying "i'm in garberville and i represent myself now." trees was there, our lawyer flew in from SF, the judge was there, even miller's own lawyer was there; but she was absent. the judge sanctioned her $9000 for wasting everyone's time.

    i don't know if ms. miller had originally intended this donation to go to shunka or not, but if she had intended so then she could have made the donation directly to him, not through us. all written material from her to us state trees as the donation recipient.

    we would not have accepted a donation on behalf of shunka as he is not one of our partner projects. north coast earth first! was a partner in the past, and through ef! he had received rent checks through trees, but ncef! voted to cut his office of funding for various reasons. we don't get involved with the internal politics of our partner groups.

    aside from returning her donation or cutting a check to shunka, both of which are illegal, we have always been willing to talk about how to rectify any misunderstanding.

    this suit has all but disabled our organization for the last several months as most of our staff have had no time for anything other than fetching what one lawyer or another wants -- miller, for instance, wanted "all records of all phone calls for the last seven years". we're not insured for legal fees and the cost is astronomical. if we lose we may have to shut our doors and fifteen years of environmental support will go down the drain. the damage to the environmental movement here is just sickening. the logging and developer crowd must be loving this.

    we continue to be totally open with this and all donations to the trees foundation, and as always all of our records are legally available and transparent. we have nothing to hide.

    ask any north coast environmental group about us. our reputation has always been, and always will be, impeccable.

    thanks for letting me rant,

    scott lamorte
    trees foundation gis coordinator,
    & original founder and ex-coordinator of the north coast earth first! media center.


    Wed Oct 03, 01:25:00 AM

  3. Yeah - right.

  4. "ask any north coast environmental group about us. our reputation has always been, and always will be, impeccable."

    Hardy-har-har, that's a good one. Well, as a member of one north coast environmental group, the Heartlands Project group, I can say unequivocally that the Trees Foundation jacked the Bear River tribe's Heartlands Project group around, telling folks at one large Trees Foundation talk that they were going to help the Bear River tribe's project and then never did, and not only that, joined with other environmental activists to blacklist the Bear River Heartlands Project from environmental news. This is why so few environmentalists we met knew nothing about a local Native American tribe's effort to recover Headwaters Forest as the tribe's ancestral lands.

    What the Trees Foundation is doing here, is pretty damn telling--greedos at the Trees willing to f-ckover a large donation giver in order to keep money that donor never intended for them.

  5. Shunka Wakan10/08/2007 4:35 PM

    Ms. Miller asked me how a person would go about making a large donation to NCEF! I could have told her to write the check out to me or the office I maintain right then and there, yet I didn't; I advised her to go through the Trees Foundation, which she did. Ms. Miller says that there were notes included with her donation check, instructing the Trees Foundation to give the money to NCEF! I was, at the time, running an office for NCEF!, funded by receipt reimbursement checks from the Trees Foundation, and Ms. Miller trusted me to administer the funds responsibly, which I would have done.
    I never saw the notes, yet I do believe they existed; I have seen a draft for one of those notes, and I tend to believe that they did exist. Regardless of whether they did or not, whether there was a miscommunication/misunderstanding involved when the donation was made, I met with the Trees Foundation shortly thereafter. It was at this meeting that I informed the Trees Foundation representatives that it was my understanding that the money was for NCEF! The reps seemed shocked and amazed, yet I knew the intention of the donor, having been her original contact and having met with her at length to discuss the donation, and she definitely intended it to go to NCEF!
    One of the Trees Foundation representatives, Barbara Ristow, promised me that they would contact the donor to clear things up, "before we spend any of the money." I remember this distinctly, because my mind was set at ease, thinking that the donor would clear up this misunderstanding, if that's what it was.
    The Trees Foundation never even tried to contact the donor, and claimed that they have been operating this whole time under the assumption that the money was for them. I tried to tell them, and they admit that in their depositions; they chose to ignore me and to keep the money from its intended destination.
    The contradictions and lies that we've seen in the course of this suit have been amazing. Trees Foundation claimed that they never supported nor gave money to North Coast Earth First! Yet, in their newsletters, they always had a North Coast Earth First! update, there was an NCEF! donation link on their website, they funded NCEF! offices for years, paid for the jail support line, and more. How they could say that they never supported NCEF! is, well, shocking to the conscience.
    Regardless of how the civil suit turns out (the jury will decide tomorrow), I will always know what happened, because I was there from day one.
    Shameful, Trees Foundation, shameful.

  6. Interestingly enough, Shunka, I agree with you.

  7. Same here.Katherine once told me that Trees never even made contact with her,and by the first time any contact had been made,her money was already spent,with no accountability,

  8. Jeff spooner@spoonerdirect.org10/10/2007 2:20 PM

    Shunka should leave town(I gave him two weeks after the NCJ article was released).

    Most importantly, Trees should sue NCEF! Media and/or the donor for their legal fees. Since NCEF! Media is supposedly a "non-profit corporation"(according to Shunka),
    then I feel the corporation called NCEF! Media should be responsible.

    It is a travesty that Trees Foundation was pulled into Shunka's treachery. How could Shunka misrepresent a movement, embezzle funds, grants and donations, and in the end bring such hardship on a non-profit(Trees) that actually works, that actually does what it intends?

    How wrong is that...really? A "non-profit" suing a legitamate non-profit? If Trees sued NCEF! Media, at least they would be suing a "corporation" ran by a con-artist. I knew Shunka's karma would catch up to him. It's a shame that Trees Foundation got pulled into his corruption and greed.

    Shunka should leave town soon. No one wants him here. He should go work for the FBI... if he isn't working with the FEDS already.

  9. The powers that be have moved on to their new-improved model, the predatory lawsuits. If they need more cannon fodder they'll take idealistic young people like Shunka and prop them up, and send them in to have their eyes pepper sprayed so they can capture the stunt on camera. Because he is not useful in any of the "projects" campaigns right now he has been kicked to the gutter. His only real crime is that he believed the rhetoric and stood by the short wave radio ready to be called up for duty. It was cold and miserable and lonely, but he was bypassed by the greedy new age con men who used people like him so cynically, and then moved on to where the funding was.

    Like him or not, he is the innocent believer. And what "the Trees Foundation" has done is shameful.

  10. What I really dislike is how the Trees seems to have no concern whatsoever with the fate Of Katherine's mothers inheritance.They're literally yelling Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah!! at her for at most,a perceived failure to document where her donation was to go.I just can't believe that the group,after receiving such a sizeable donation,didn't contact her immediately to work out details on putting it to use,if nothing else to simply say thank you.
    Everything in their counter attack is about Shunka,Shunka,Shunka,he's an asshole,sexist,jerk,etc..
    He's not the issue here,Katherine's mothers' gift is.
    If Shunka ran off with her money,feel free to go public with the details.

  11. Shunka Wakan10/13/2007 1:35 AM

    Thanks for the supportive comments, and for bringing this issue back to the heart of the matter. The donation is the issue here, and the fact that the donor brought a lawsuit because the money didn't go to North Coast Earth First! should prove to people that she REALLY, REALLY wanted the money to go to NCEF! Not to me, to NCEF! I was the one she trusted, to advise her as to how to make a large donation to NCEF! and to administer the funds; our trust has been forever soiled by the greed of some Humboldt Co. "activists," and that trust will probably never return.
    Wow, the "Humboldt Forest Defense Association" really needs to pick a different P.R. guy..."Jeff" is really discrediting himself and his group with his rediculous accusations..."FBI"? "FEDS"? "Con artist"? The REAL feds rejoice when they hear newbie activists such as "Jeff" spreading disinfo and distrust about long-time activists in the movement.
    I have a lot of friends, in Humboldt and beyond, who know me well, know my heart, and know that Jeff's accusations are pure garbage. When you spend all your time slinging mud, the only thing you do is lose a whole lotta ground;)
    Also, Jeff, you can't sue a witness for legal fees, f.y.i. lol
    One thing I've learned through all of this is who to trust, and who not to trust, which is always a valuable lesson. It's just too bad that it had to come at the cost of a nice lady who wanted to do something really great, who has now been dragged through the mud by the Trees Foundation, and was shown no support by the people she was trying to help during the trial. It was a sickening sight to see Jeff and others, sucking up to the Trees Foundation, showing no support to the woman who was fighting for the right to have her donation reach its intended destination. What a disgusting display!
    I'm going to continue to keep the NCEF! Media office up and running, will continue to do everything I can to save trees and to support the tree-sitters who refuse to engage in the divisiveness of people like "Jeff."
    Thanks, Rose and mresquan, for your perspectives and supportive posts. I know that I'll never stand alone:)

  12. I'd also suspect that there's some resentment in the fact that it was Shunka,in particular,who was handed the large donation.

  13. Whatever has been said by Jeff or anyone else speaking their opinion is only that, their opinion, which is not the view of HFD or involved affinities.

    Peace and love for all who cherish the earth.

  14. Thanks for the clarification...so it seems that Jeff stands alone in his slanderous defamation of character campaign against me, at least on this blog. Let it be noted that Jeff was making slanderous accusations towards me while standing behind the "Humboldt Forest Defense Association" table, thereby representing "HFD" with his baseless lies. I'm sure it gave the "HFD" great joy to see the Co-Op take your side and call the police on me, when I was the one who complained; as a long-time tabler, I know that I'm not allowed to accuse customers of embezzlement, with or without evidence, while standing behind the table. Seems as though you have another sexist authoritarian on your side, perfect for your little coup on the North Coast Earth First! movement.
    "Peace and love for all who cherish the earth." How about "Practice what you preach"?
    What I saw at the Trees Foundation trial, coming from the "HFD," was pure traitorship; they were sucking up to the Trees Foundation people, laughing and socializing with them in the hallway, and throwing me dirty looks all the while. These are people I've known for years and considered friends; it was painful and disgusting to see them hovering around the people who I knew had ripped us all off. One even admitted that he hoped to get money from the Trees Foundation when the trial was over...money trumps friendship, in the "HFD."
    In regards to Scott's post, he who works for the Trees Foundation yet is "not representing my organization," I'd like to point out some of the disinformation he spread....
    First of all, the judge had not even ruled on the sanctions at the time of Scott's post, and $9,000 was not even being requested by the Trees Foundation lawyer. Ms. Miller had a medical emergency, and could not attend the settlement conference, so the Trees Foundation's lawyers moved to hit her with sanctions for not giving adequate notice; the judge did grant part of the motion, yet not for anywhere near $9,000, so that's lie #1.
    Next, Scott says that a $900 ruling was made against me, in the small claims suit that the Trees Foundation filed against me, yet I have not received a decision on the matter, and I seriously doubt that it will be the full $900 that the Trees Foundation is suing me for. I felt that I had a legitimate claim against the Trees Foundation, for cutting the funding to the office that I had been running, lying in the process (in e-mails to me, admitted in deposition), and leaving me holding the bag with rental and telephone contracts. I felt that there had been no good reason to completely cut my funding, since the letter that was circulated to get the funding cut was only signed by a few people, and there were several activists who liked the office, used the office, and were upset when the funding was cut. The Trees Foundation instructed "Rainbow Bridge" to organize a meeting, as the Trees Foundation's NCEF! intermediary, yet he ignored those instructions and resigned, so that no real consensus decision could be made about the office, and the funding continued to be "frozen." Come to find out, it wasn't actually "frozen," since one person in "HFD" got reimbursed for over $1,000 for a nice new laptop, after the funds were supposedly "frozen." So I felt that I had a legitimate claim, yet the judge ruled that my funding had been cut for not living up to 501(c)3 regulations! Our office has never been a 501(c)3, yet NCEF! offices have been getting funding from the Trees Foundation since 2001! The Trees Foundation even made that claim in their defense to Ms. Miller's civil suit, saying that since NCEF! Media is not a 501(c)3 that there's no way they could have given the money to us, and would have refused the donation if Ms. Miller had told them that it was for us! This is but one of the blatant lies, under penalty of perjury, that the Trees Foundation relied heavily upon during their defense of Ms. Miller's lawsuit.
    The Trees Foundation must have tricked the judge in my small claims suit, since his ruling had no bearing on the reality of the situation, and so my claim was rejected. Then, a few weeks later, the Trees Foundation takes their donation money and files a brand new small claims suit against me, claiming $900 for attorney's fees, traveling expenses, staff time for 2 employees, hires one of their friends for "corporate document retrieval," once again to play on the card of NCEF! Media not being a 501(c)3, and even suing me for $6.00 worth of "photocopies/telephone/binders," which they would not provide an itemized break-down for. Attorney's fees, traveling expenses and staff time are not allowable costs in small claims court, and you'd think that the attorney whose fees I was being charged for would have told them that. To top it all off, those kinds of costs are supposed to be pursued as a cross-complaint, using form SC-120; the Trees Foundation missed their chance to file a cross-complaint, so they filed a brand new lawsuit, form SC-100, to drag me back into court for costs not even allowed in small claims!
    So now we see how the Trees Foundation gets and uses their donation money...12 jurors cannot change the fact that I told them that the donation was meant for NCEF!, just weeks after the donation was made, and that Barbara Ristow and Doug Wallace lied to me when they said that they would contact the donor to clear up an apparent miscommunication, "before we spend any of the money." You can't undo history, and many people will always know what really happened.
    No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth, Truth, and Liberty! Earth First!

    P.S. Ms. Miller is of no relation to Ken Miller, to the best of my knowledge.

  15. The watch paul blog- what a brilliant place to have this kind of discussion.

    It is highly interesting that both Rose and Steve Lewis are on Shunkas side with this. Are you guys going to start giving him $10 a month?

    The jury made a decision, why are we still debating this?

    Shunka- in order to be a traitor someone would have had to be on your side in the first place. Most of the people in HFD don't even know you.

    Mr. Esquan- Shunka was not handed anything, that is what the whole case is about. Did you fail to notice that?

  16. Uh-huh. That's why she went to court. To say she didn't give it to Shunka? Yeah. Gotcha.

  17. Shunka Wakan10/16/2007 8:01 PM

    Well said, Rose.
    Anonymous-I suppose I should have advised the donor to hand it to me, instead of trusting the Trees Foundation. The most important thing I've learned through all of this is who NOT to trust, which is always valuable information in the long run. Mr. Esquan didn't fail to notice anything...the donor initially approached me and asked how to go about making a large donation to NCEF! because she trusted me, and my biggest mistake was telling her to go through the Trees Foundation. I could tell several more stories about donations not getting to their destination, stuff I've seen over the years, and stories from people who I trust. Many people trust me, too, so when I tell them my side of the story, they believe it, because they know I do not lie.
    Also, anonymous, I know a lot of the "Humboldt Forest Defense Association" people, and some of them pretended to be my friends right up to the time they walked into the courtroom. Once the trial started, their true colors were revealed, as they flocked around the Trees Foundation like a bunch of beggars, and throwing me sneers like traitors. Better to see true colors now than later.
    I disagree with the jury's decision, which is part of the reason this is still being debated. The jurors were not experts on contract law, and their decision doesn't change the way things really went down.
    I want as many people to know the truth about what happened as possible, so I'll tell the story as many times as I've told the story about Gypsy and Julia Butterfly/Luna, if I have to...people ask....
    I thought it was interesting that Gallegos had Ms. Miller arrested right before her trial, at the request of the Trees Foundation, just for making a bunch of annoying phone calls. Doug Wallace of the Trees Foundation served her with a TRO at the beginning of a pre-trial hearing, and then the police arrested her at the end of the hearing, before Ms. Miller even had a chance to violate her restraining order. I read the complaint, too, and it contained lies, too, claiming that Ms. Miller "lunged" at Barbara Ristow (of the Trees Foundation). I was in the room for that incident; Ms. Miller came around my right side and took a picture of Barbara Ristow, who was seated on my left. There was no "lunging" involved, as Ms. Miller immediately exited the room after she took a photo. Taking someone's photo is a lot different than "lunging" at someone, so, once again, we have the Trees Foundation making up lies, and we have Paul Gallegos going right along with it, having an elder woman arrested before she even has a chance to violate a TRO, all because of some annoying phone calls. I don't support the making of those phone calls, nor did I know that they were happening, and Ms. Miller admitted that it wasn't the best thing to do, yet she was angry and felt betrayed and powerless in the situation, so she did what she did, admittedly. What she did not do was any act of violence or anything that would warrant locking her up for the first few days of the trial.
    If the jury caught on to the fact that Ms. Miller was in custody, that may have had an effect on their final decision.
    In summary, I know that the Trees Foundation lied, perjuriously, on many occasions, and that the people calling themselves "Humboldt Forest Defense Association" are primarily two-faced turncoats, and that Gallegos went along the lies of the Trees Foundation and had Ms. Miller arrested just days before her trial, potentially swaying the jury's impression of her.

    I will always speak my truth, and I have a LOT of friends:)

  18. I will say this - and I have said it before:

    I watch all the groups, and alot of people bring me information. Shunka and the guys on the current Earth First! listserve are not the militants of the past, nor are they as virulent as their replacements - the Shellenberger/Miller/Salzman groups. They are almost innocent, they post alerts for upcoming activist action, and lament Rodney Coronado's fate, and they post poems and other tidbits and pleas for donations. Shunka was selling Earth First! T-shirts on ebay - dang, I should have gotten one!

    Like I said, they have been left behind.

    See, Shunka, they don't care about you. Right now you are not useful. If you were they would use you. But the tree-sitters have outlived their usefulness. There's bigger money in the new, more litigious models, like "Baykeeper." Those of you with the high ideals were willing and useful tools to be discarded once they have been played out. It's kind of disgusting, and kind of sad. If they did care, the five grand would be nothing. Just look at what they must be spending on the "Baykeeper" office in Old Town, and all the Baykeeper collateral. They bought him a brand new Boston Whaler so he could take KPIX reporters out on "tours" of the bay. A nice new office, banks of computers, you think? The Watershed Councils. New weapons. Leaving you in the dust.

    It's all about money and power. And walking over people like you to get it. I'm sorry.

  19. Well I disagree with a bit of Rose's post above.Won't get into it though.
    Anon11:37,remember that your side,and more importantly employees of Palco have lost pensions because of a justice system which makes rulings like this.Sorry to say it,but the Trees Foundation,in this case,turned into the corporate America in which you and I both regularly despise.
    "Mr. Esquan- Shunka was not handed anything, that is what the whole case is about. Did you fail to notice that?"
    No I didn't fail to notice that,and I do sense that you know what I was getting at.


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