Buddhist group fights lawsuit

By Scott Wong, Inside Bay Area, June 12, 2005

Plaintiff wants back half of $330,000 then-wife gave Purple Lotus Temple

San Francisco, CA (USA) -- The Purple Lotus Temple, which wants to build a massive Buddhist temple and school next to Fremont's Quarry Lakes park, is being sued by a man who says his ex-wife secretly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the San Bruno organization before their divorce, court documents show.

Thomas Ho Nien Au of Taiwan, 68, who also has lived in San Francisco and in Hillsborough, filed a lawsuit asking that the Buddhist group give back half of the $330,000 his ex-wife contributed since 1992, plus damages.

The suit also names Master Samantha Chou, the temple's spiritual leader, and other unnamed parties.

The Rev. Alfred Wang, who manages the San Bruno temple, declined to comment on the lawsuit. But Steven Austin, administrator of the Purple Lotus International School, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade private school in Union City run by the temple, called it "frivolous" and said it "has absolutely no basis."

Au's attorney, Benjamin Ballard of Tiburon, said temple administrators are entitled to their opinion but that after a year and a half of fact-finding, he is convinced his client has a strongcase.

"I think the claim was valid then, and I think it's valid now," Ballard said.

A trial is set for Aug. 22 in San Mateo County Superior Court.

The organization, formerly known as the Purple Lotus Society of the USA, is a local chapter of the True Buddha School. It is soliciting donations on its Web site to help fund a 55,000-square-foot temple and a 35,000-square-foot school in Fremont on 5.5 acres between Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area and the Union City border.

"We are still far from our target, but we hope to break ground in two years," the posting reads.

It is unclear whether any of the contributions from Au's wife, Rose Moo Lan Au, are earmarked for the $20 million project.

It was in August 1992 that Thomas Au first learned that his wife ? without his knowledge or consent ? had donated

$101,000 to the temple from their joint account, the suit states.

The Taiwanese artist, poet and university instructor then met with Chou, informing her he had not authorized the donation, according to the suit. He added that the temple should neither ask for nor accept future gifts from his wife.

Despite those warnings, the temple accepted an additional $229,473 from Rose Au during the next decade. Gifts ranged from $2,300 in 1994 to $64,189 in 2000. She also gave additional community property to other organizations affiliated with the temple, the suit states.

Attorney Robert Aaron, who represents the temple, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. But the temple wrote, in a letter to Thomas Au's attorney, "The donations made in the past by Ms. Au were irrevocable, bona fide on their face and accepted by the Purple Lotus Temple in good faith."

The suit further alleges that his wife's relationship with the temple ? including the concealed transfer of large amounts of their money to the temple ? has caused financial harm and emotional distress to Thomas Au. The couple was divorced in March 2003.

A copy of the suit is posted at www.theargusonline.com. For information about the Purple Lotus Temple, visit www.purplelotus.org/.