What would you do if someone stole your life savings? The Story of The Raw Vegan Village Scam
In early 2008, Gerald “Storm” and Johanna ”Jinjee” Talifero, pictured above, announced that they were selling homes in the Raw Vegan Village – a community they were building in the Upper Ojai Valley in Southern California.
The Taliferos are the couple behind the popular Garden Diet website, and the homes for sale were to be no ordinary homes, but state-of-the-art luxury green homes set in a stunning location on acres of fertile land.
Here was a unique opportunity to live in a community of like-minded people, growing food together, and earning a good income from the Village’s green businesses, which would include a world-class raw spa.
As a local newspaper article on the project began, “The dream sounded nothing short of a utopia.”
At least 27 individuals, couples and families followed that dream and made home down payments to the Taliferos (average amount: around $30,000) between mid 2008 and mid 2010. The Taliferos also sold shares in the planned spa.
But the dream very quickly turned into a nightmare.
Six of those who lost money share their stories below, and Storm Talifero also gives the Taliferos’ side of the story.
Contracts show that those who bought homes were told that the Village would be completed by summer 2011 latest.
But building has not even started, and nor could it have. The Taliferos own no land, they have no permits for building and no funds for building, and it doesn’t look likely any of this will change.
Some who made down payments had already realised something was seriously amiss by summer 2008 and started requesting their money back then. In the coming months and years, many more followed suit – and the Taliferos had assured home buyers that down payments were refundable in the event they changed their minds.
But at the time of writing no one has yet received their money back. The Taliferos say they spent it all, though they have yet to provide any financial statements showing where it went.
However, they insist that they plan to repay everyone. As Storm Talifero told me, “It is our foremost goal to make these repayments. We are completely committed to this in our every waking hour.”
But some investors have now endured several long years of being led to believe by the Taliferos that the return of their money was, at all times, just around the corner.
Lives have been turned upside down with unimaginable stress and anguish. Some have lost their entire life savings and are left struggling to make ends meet.
Nobody but the Taliferos knows what happened to the “little over $900,000” they admit to collecting.
As one of those who lost money observes below, “Somebody needs to deal with the facts here. They’ve collected an enormous amount of money that has never been accounted for.”
In emails sent by the Taliferos between 2008 and 2010, to parties desperate to get their money back, the Taliferos repeatedly stated they were unable to make repayments as their sources of funding had unexpectedly dried up due to the global recession. Every dollar they had was – they said – tied up in the Village.
And they did spend at least $400,000 on attempts to get the project off the ground. But in November of last year, Storm Talifero made a shocking admission in an email to one home buyer.
He wrote that of the $900,000+ collected, “We reinvested about five hundred thousand back into the business which is The Garden Diet.”
Not only did no one I spoke to give permission for their home down payment to be used in this way. Around the same time the Taliferos also made available a document which showed that they consider their rent, food and other personal expenses “Garden Diet expenses”.
Late last year, some of those who lost money decided they could no longer stay silent, and as they began sharing their stories with me I realised I couldn’t stay silent either. Six who made down payments on homes in the Raw Vegan Village share their stories below, followed by a statement from Storm Talifero.
NOTE: The six people quoted below asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy. I thank them all for their courage in sharing their stories and I must also thank my friend and colleague Anna Rodgers for her assistance with this report. Anna writes, “As soon as I started reading documents connected with this, I could see that there was something very fishy going on, and the more evidence I saw, the more shocked I was.”
Home buyer A, a single mother from Los Angeles, paid the Taliferos $170,000 towards a home in the Raw Vegan Village.
“I was promised that building on my home would commence immediately, hence the big down payment. My home was to be built first on the land. My husband and father had died and I was left raising my son alone and was looking for a community in which to raise him so I was vulnerable in making this decision and acting on it.
I cannot tell you how saddened this makes me. I feel so naive and so abused in this lie all the way around 360. My son played with theirs and we spent time in their home on several occasions. All while deceiving and stealing from us all and even talking about karma and spirituality…just blows my consciousness to see such blatant audacity.
I was patient and understanding for three years but I cannot tell you my frustration at Storm and Jinjee’s cavalier attitude. It appears they are not bothered by their past actions nor the fact they continue to make promises they’ve been making some of us since 2008 about paying us back. Nothing continues to be done with this situation. They are holding us in limbo and I am truly baffled by their behavior and irresponsibility.
My son is 15 now and I am in my fifties, alone in providing for his education and expenses. I was recently contacted by a member of the group who wants to make a documentary about everyone’s experiences with this. I thought he was kidding. How we were taken and ripped off? Maybe that is what he meant.
The thought of continuing this to other innocent people looking to get off the grid and make a better life for themselves…just sends chills of disgust down my spine. May the consequences flow where they need to be for the lessons to be learned.”