Eagle's Trust Agreement Summarized
Introduction and Background:
The Final Pecking Order and the Specter of Group Suicide
Castaneda's final will is a simple five-page document that doesn't say anything at all about how his estate is to be distributed. It just provides that all his property is bequeathed to the Trustee of the Eagle's Trust, under the Trust Agreement created by a document signed the same day as the will--April 23, 1998. The will further provides that everything belonging to Castaneda not already covered by the Trust Agreement is to be added to the trust estate and distributed according to its provisions.
Until now, no one outside of Castaneda's inner circle and his lawyers have known exactly what the Eagle's Trust provided. That's because after Castaneda's will was filed for probate on June 4, 1998, the estate's attorneys successfully fought every effort by C.J. Castaneda to seek disclosure of the Eagle's Trust Agreement. So imagine my surprise last week, when, during a trip to the courthouse to review other documents related to Castaneda, I discovered that the Eagle's Trust Agreement had recently been filed in a totally different court case: Castaneda's now four-year-old lawsuit against Victor Sanchez. The Eagle's Trust Agreement was apparently filed by Castaneda's legal team in the Sanchez case because Drooz, Castaneda's attorney in that case and now Trustee of Castaneda's estate, must have the value of the default judgment against Sanchez independently appraised as an asset of the estate. The Trust Agreement was apparently filed to verify that the Sanchez judgment is an asset expressly listed as part of the trust estate.
In the following summary of this previously "top secret" document, I have tried to simplify and highlight the important provisions of this 25-page convoluted legal document. One of its most interesting features is that it sets out the "final pecking order"--or, for the "true believers," the "non-hierarchy hierarchy"--among Castaneda's remaining cohorts (i.e., those who, for purposes of workshops and announcements to Internet mailing lists they control, style themselves "Castaneda's apprentices").
The top three tiers of this hierarchy consist exclusively of women, who are each given either percentages of the estate or specific dollar amounts to be distributed to them at least annually from all available estate income. Those tiers are: (1) top tier--Florinda, Taisha, Carol (i.e., "Muni"), Nuri, Talia and Kylie; (2) the junior witches--Haley, Nyei and Reni; and (3) the "perpetual students"--Aerin, Darien and Carola. Then comes the "movie maker mafia"--four men, Bruce, Tracy, Fabricio and Grant, who are supposed to split amongst themselves 60% of the profits of any movies they generate based on Castaneda's work, with the remaining 40% of movie profits going back into the pot for redistribution to the higher three tiers. The absolute bottom rung of the hierarchy is those who receive one-time-only specified dollar amounts. This bottom rung, in order of the size of their one-time distributions, consists of Zaia, Miles, Brandon, Leroy, Rylin, Gavin and Margarita. The completely omitted former Cleargreeners--e.g., Tycho Thal (the former "Orange Scout") and Rosa, or Constanza, Coll--are not mentioned anywhere in the document and therefore receive nothing from the estate.
The second enlightening, and chilling, thing about this document is the number of times each beneficiary's survival of the so-called "triggering event" (meaning Castaneda's death or disappearance) is specified as a condition to their receiving their allotted distribution. This is especially disturbing since this document was prepared when Castaneda was apparently failing fast, being executed only a full three days before his death (in the midst, reportedly, of his being on some kind of morphine drip for the pain), at a time when all the named beneficiaries were presumably in tip-top 'Tensegrity shape.' Due to the constant tattoo of "those of X,Y and Z who survive the Triggering Event," this document must inevitably generate renewed grounds for concern about some kind of "suicide pact" among the beneficiaries who have not been seen since his death--namely Florinda, Taisha, Nuri, Talia and Kylie. [For sample pages from the Trust Agreement, click here.]
Adding to the suicide concerns raised by this document is the fact that Sustained Action has recently learned that Florinda Donner's aged parents--who had enjoyed a good relationship with Florinda and periodically been in contact with her in the last several years of her life--have not heard a word from her in the past 20 months since Castaneda's death. In the past few days, they confirmed that they have not heard from Florinda since she called in March or April of '98 to tell them she would be unreachable for a time, because she was "going on a trip" with "Annamarie Carter." They also report that they grew very concerned about Florinda after reading the newspaper accounts of Castaneda's death in mid-'98.
Since Florinda knows better than anyone that her parents are very old--her father is in his nineties--and in frail health, her failure to contact them even once in the past 20 months, coupled with the Trust Agreement's weird "triggering event" survival language, mandates, in my view, that those of us who cared about these individuals now entertain, discuss and act on suggestions for properly investigating the very possible non-survival of one or more of the Eagle's Trust's conditional beneficiaries.
Eagle's Trust Agreement Summary
I. Intriguing Opening Recitals
A. Castaneda states: "Trustor is not currently married." [So when did he get that divorce from Florinda, Debbie Drooz? Or from "Muni Aranha"?]
B. Castaneda claims, "Trustor has no other children or issue" besides his "adopted daughter" Nuri. [So take that Peruvian daughter! Wonder why he bothered to specifically exclude you then from his 1985 will??]
II. Key Definitions
The "triggering event" for purposes of disposition of the trust estate "shall be the earlier of (i) the death of the Trustor or (ii) the disappearance of the Trustor." Castaneda was to be "deemed to have disappeared" when Debbie Drooz was "unable to locate the Trustor, despite efforts to do so, none of the Trustor's associates known to" her having been able to put her in contact with him, and Castaneda not contacting Debbie, "for a period of 120 consecutive days."
Anyway, I guess we know which of these two events came first, barely three days after the Trust Agreement was signed. The fact that the Trust Agreement gave them the option of triggering distributions by Castaneda's mere "disappearance" for 120 days, instead of only upon his death, however, is yet another argument in favor of the fact that he really, really died--as though there was still any doubt about that--since proof of his death was not a necessity under the Trust Agreement to trigger the transfers of property he intended on his demise. And, by the way, the Trustee included a proviso to protect her in which Castaneda "hereby acknowledges" that "against the advice of counsel [the Trustor has] freely chosen to provide for the distribution of the Trust Estate in the event of his disappearance" instead of only upon his death. This clause explains: "The Trustor is acting upon the basis of the Trustor's deeply held personal convictions and religious beliefs in this matter."
III. Distributions ("Final Pecking Order")
A. The "four unit real property located at 10427-10429 Eastbourne Ave. and 1670-1672 Pandora Ave. [the Westwood compound], including any household furniture and furnishings located therein" went in equal shares to "those of" Aerin, Darien, Carola, Nyei and Reni "who survive the Triggering Event." Upon the triggering event, the Trustee was also to pay $25,000 each to "those of" Aerin, Darien and Carola "who are pursuing their education in or at primary or secondary school or an accredited college or university of their choice."
B. The Trust Agreement creates something called the "Copyright Trust," to hold "all the Trustor's copyrights not previously assigned . . . subject to any assignment of rights, publishing or other contracts in existence" as of the date of the triggering event. The Trustee is then to enter into an assignment of the rights "to exploit the [book] copyrights in film, including ancillary rights, to Bruce Wagner, Fabricio Magaldi, Julius Renard and Grant Vospher (the 'assignees') in return for a forty percent (40%) share of the proceeds or revenues received from such exploitation by the assignees, including any producer, director or writer's fees." Drooz otherwise has the right to enter into contracts for assigning, publishing, optioning or otherwise exploiting these rights, other than the film and ancillary rights, as she in her discretion determines for the good of the Trust.
C. From the annual income or proceeds received by the Copyright Trust, beginning one year after Castaneda's death, the Trustee is supposed to pay Aerin, Darien and Carola each "a stipend of not less than $25,000 and not more than $50,000 for their education, as long as each such person continues their education . . . ." [If they stop their education, the stipend to such person "shall cease immediately and permanently," so I guess Castaneda intended them to become perpetual students, like Nuri was.]
D. The balance of any income or proceeds received by the Copyright Trust (i.e., from the 40% this Trust earns on any movie based on Castaneda's books that Bruce and the other three guys make, and from the 100% of any other income those copyrights generate), are to be distributed to the following people in the following shares "not less often than annually":
Any remaining balance after these points 1-4 are taken care of is to be distributed as provided in points 1, 2 and 3 above (i.e., to Florinda, Taisha, Muni, Nuri, Talia, Kylie, Haley, Nyei and Reni) as provided in points 1-3, without regard to the dollar limitations set forth in those points.
Castaneda further stated his "wish and desire that, upon the Triggering Event, the employees of Cleargreen, Incorporated who are not also shareholders of such corporation [by my count that would only include Grant--reputed to be gone now from Cleargreen's employ--Leroy and, possibly, Margarita, since the rest of the beneficiaries were shareholders by April '98] be retained in its employ by the corporation and rewarded for their service. The Trustor wishes to express his gratitude and appreciation for all the years of service he has received from said employees."
IV. Trustee Stuff
Deborah Drooz, of course, is the Trustee.
"Upon the death, resignation or incapacity of Deborah Drooz, Julius Renard [i.e., Castaneda's agent and Florinda's husband, Tracy Kramer] shall serve as Trustee. If Julius Renard dies, resigns or becomes unable to perform the duties of Trustee, then Fabricio Magaldi shall serve as Trustee with full authority hereunder." The Trustee is entitled to usual trustee fees, unless they are a lawyer or accountant, in which case they can elect to be compensated at their usual hourly rate. The Trustee is accorded the usual wide discretion in dealing with and disposing of trust assets, except that as to granting or assigning copyrights and contracts for their exploitation "the Trustee shall consult with Julius Renard and/or Tracy Kramer as long as they shall be available to her for such consultation." [Hmmm. So did Tracy become so schizophrenic prior to the execution of this document that Debbie has to consult with both of him?]
The Agreement also acknowledges: "The Trustor is aware that this Trust contains some unusual provisions, which may subject the Trustee to potential liability. In order to ensure that his wishes are carried out, the Trustor hereby agrees to indemnify and hold the Trustee harmless for any claims of any kind, whether brought by the Trustor or any other person, for any claims of any kind, whether brought by the Trustor or any other person, based upon, brought in connection with or related to (i) the Triggering Event . . . and the definition of Triggering Event used herein, [and] (ii) any period of time or lapse between the Trustor's disappearance or demise and the Triggering Event."
V. Trust Assets
Schedule A itemizes the property transferred to the Trustee under the agreement, including the Westwood compound and its contents; personal and business checking accounts at City National Bank; money market and retirement plan accounts [hmm, so "warriors" do plan for retirement] at City National Bank; and "[l]egal judgment against Victor Sanchez from Castaneda adv. Sanchez." A separate assignment of copyright by Castaneda listed all of his then published books, along with The Active Side of Infinity ("to be published 1999"). The interesting thing on this list is that the title Wheel of Time is not listed. Instead, as of April 23, 1999, what is mentioned is "(Working Title) The Shamans of Ancient Mexico" to be published "199_" by "La Eidolona Press."
As far as the official value of the Trust Assets (recognizing that it would be difficult for anyone in an official position to determine the exact contents of the compound, or to know just how many gold discs were created from the reported melting down of jewelry prior to Castaneda's death, and the like), a July 2, 1999, declaration in the probate file appraised the cash value of all the City National accounts as $1,247,130.17. There has, as yet, been no overall accounting filed as to the value of Castaneda's entire estate--including the Westwood compound (worth $6-800,000 per the comps I saw when Castaneda's group was talking to me about my buying the house with others from the Sunday class in 1997), his copyrights and royalty streams, or the contents (including the fabled "lineage jewelry") of his house. An October 22, 1999, "Application and Order Appointing Probate Referee" in the probate file led to the court's recent appointment of a referee to appraise the market value "of the uncollectable state of the claim for judgment for $180,000 against Victor Sanchez."
VI. Miscellaneous Housekeeping
The famous "rule against perpetuities" [remember the movie "Body Heat"?] is taken care of by terminating the Trust, and any subsidiary trust created thereunder, not less than 21 years after the death of the last to die of the Trustee, Flo, Taisha, Muni, Nuri, Talia, Kylie, Haley, Nyei, Reni, Aerin, Darien, Carola, Bruce, Fabricio, Julius and Grant.
If any beneficiary or any legal heir of such person "shall contest this Declaration of Trust or attack or seek to invalidate any of its provisions, or conspire with or voluntarily assist anyone attempting to do any of those things, in that event, all benefits and interests given under this Declaration of Trust to that person shall be forfeited."
The Agreement is stated to have been executed on April 23, 1998, and a Litarey C. Porral, commission #1073271, witnessed Castaneda and Drooz's execution of the document as notary.