(JTA) — A former Kabbalah Centre executive and his accuser in a multimillion-dollar sexual assault lawsuit both testified as the civil trial got underway in Los Angeles.
Yehuda Berg, 43, the son of the center’s founder, is accused of pushing alcohol and drugs on a follower before groping her, Reuters reported.
In testimony Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Berg acknowledged offering alcohol and the painkiller Vicodin to the plaintiff, Jena Scaccetti, and touching her leg, but insisted he left her alone when she rebuffed him.
“The reason I gave her Vicodin is because she had kidney stones,” said Berg, who is married. “The reason I gave her a drink is because she was coming over for a drink,” he testified, adding he “could not recall” forcibly restraining or intimidating her.
Scaccetti, who is seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages from Berg and the Kabbalah Centre, whose celebrity adherents include Madonna and Ashton Kutcher, testified Tuesday that Berg pressed alcohol and pills on her as soon as they were alone and that while touching her legs, he tried to overpower her “and wouldn’t let me go.”
Berg then threatened to kill her if she told anyone what had happened, Scaccetti said, noting that prior to the incident she’d considered Berg a spiritual mentor.
“I really thought this guy was capable of healing me in some way, and he’s fully trying to take advantage of me,” she testified.
Rabbi Philip Berg founded the trendy spiritual group in 1965. The nonprofit Kabbalah Centre, which has been the target of numerous lawsuits over the years — most by non-Jews — has 50 branches worldwide. Critics in the Jewish world have long accused the center of distorting and misrepresenting Jewish traditions.