(Bloomberg) -- The founder of sexual wellness education startup OneTaste was charged with engaging in a yearslong conspiracy to manipulate victims of past sexual trauma and abuse into providing forced labor.
OneTaste founder Nicole Daedone, who was also the company’s chief executive officer, was charged Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York. Rachel Cherwitz, OneTaste’s former head of sales, was also charged. According to the government, Daedone and Cherwitz claimed to be able to help those recover from past sexual trauma or abuse but instead manipulated their victims into debt.
“Under the guise of empowerment and wellness, the defendants are alleged to have sought complete control over their employees’ lives, including by driving them into debt and directing them to perform sexual acts while also withholding wages,” Brooklyn US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
Cherwitz was arrested in San Francisco while Daedone isn’t in custody. James Gatta, a lawyer who has previously represented Cherwitz, said she would have a detention hearing on Wednesday in California. Daedone’s lawyer, Reid Weingarten, didn’t immediately return email and voicemail messages seeking comment. If convicted of the conspiracy charge, each woman faces as long as 20 years in prison.
In a statement on Tuesday, OneTaste’s current CEO, Anjuli Ayer, called the charges against Daedone and Cherwitz “completely unjustified” and said, “We remain undeterred even as we commit to fully defend ourselves and the practice that has transformed our lives, in the face of a multi-year, media-instigated campaign.”
Daedone founded San Francisco-based OneTaste in 2004. The company offers courses in orgasmic meditation, or OM, which it trademarked and marketed to both men and women as a way to help them get in touch with their desire and their sexuality. Courses ranged from daylong introductory classes to intensive retreats that ran for a week or longer and could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Many students also paid for monthslong programs that trained them to be OM coaches. Advanced students and company employees often lived together in communal housing in San Francisco, New York and other cities.
At its peak in the mid-2010s, OneTaste had outposts in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, and other cities globally. Cherwitz ran the company’s sales operations for several years. The company said it made $12 million in revenue in 2017.
Read More: The Dark Side of OneTaste, the Orgasmic Meditation Company
In 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek published an investigation into OneTaste’s employment practices. Former employees described previously unreported allegations of labor violations and pressure to have sex with or OM with customers. The company stopped offering its courses. Daedone had sold her shares in the company the year before, and Cherwitz resigned from her role at the company weeks before publication. Later in 2018, Bloomberg reported that FBI agents were questioning former employees about their time at OneTaste.
Daedone and Cherwitz “deployed a series of abusive and manipulative tactics” to obtain the labor and services of a group of OneTaste members, according to Peace. These people were volunteers, contractors, and employees who had suffered prior trauma and believed Daedone and Cherwitz’s promises to “heal” them.
If the members could not afford OneTaste’s courses, Daedone and Cherwitz allegedly induced the OneTaste members to incur debt, sometimes directly assisting them in opening new credit cards.
(Updates with OneTaste statement.)
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