(FOX 9) - EDITOR’S NOTE: In our reporting, Kelly Abedi claims she has had no contact with her mother in 15 years. Subsequent court proceedings have shown they have had brief and infrequent contact during that period in what both parties describe as a very difficult and fractured relationship.
The Bad Rooster food truck claims with a wink to be "bad to the bone."
Its co-owner, and self-proclaimed "Chief Mother Clucker," is Soulaire Allerai, 65, of Minnetonka.
Witty puns notwithstanding, Bad Rooster and Allerai filed a lawsuit against two sisters for defamation and civil conspiracy after the sisters claimed the food truck is financing a cult that has deprived them of their mother.
The sisters — Kelly Abedi and Angela Hummelgard — said they’ve rarely spoken to their mother, Mary Ring, 70, since 2007 when she joined a New Age-style group called Soulful Journey, which is led by Allerai.
"We’ve been dealing with this for 15 years, I don’t know why we’ve been quiet about this," said Abedi, who was also a follower of Soulful Journey for a year when she was a teenager.
Within a year of joining the group, Ring was divorcing her husband and leaving her old life behind, her daughters said.
Earlier this year, Ring legally changed her name to Cianna LaJoie.
Hummelgard last talked to her mother in 2011, when she agreed to meet for lunch at Mall of America.
"It was weird for me, it almost felt like a goodbye," Hummelgard said, fighting back tears.
"We never talked after that, she missed my sister’s wedding, stopped celebrating Christmas, and didn’t tell anyone that was her path," Hummelgard said.
‘Cease and desist’
The breaking point for the sisters came in July when the Bad Rooster announced it was on hiatus after a "death in the family."
The sisters, who believe their mother sometimes works for the food truck, feared she had died.
Abedi reached out to Bad Rooster on social media, expressing condolences for their loss and seeking information about her mother. She directly messaged them again, with no response.
Six days later, she got a reply from someone who identified themselves as the Bad Rooster’s social media manager, who said, "All I know is the family has asked for space and time to grieve from a sudden loss."
The message ended with an oblique warning: "Please cease and desist."
Minutes later, Abedi received a message from her mother that reanimated old family grievances and said her daughter was "getting the taste of her own medicine."
After that episode, Abedi and Hummelgard called out Bad Rooster on Facebook last month, saying the food truck and Allerai "use the funds they earn to support a cult," and asking people to "think twice" before supporting them.
A couple of weeks later, Bad Rooster and Allerai, filed the defamation lawsuit against the sisters, demanding a retraction.
Others Come Forward
But the Facebook post had already gone viral.
"It’s not just us, there are other families," said Sarah Rangal of Michigan.
Rangal hasn’t talked to her sister Sue Archambault in a decade since she joined Soulful Journey and changed her name to Askia Luminae.
"I think she’s been brainwashed," said another sister, Grace Yake.
Since the lawsuit was filed last month, the FOX 9 Investigators have talked to a half-dozen other family members and former followers who shared remarkably similar stories about Allerai and Soulful Journey.
Former followers said the group operates out of the Soulful Journey Wellness Center in Minnetonka, where some followers have small businesses providing massage, hypnosis, and in one case, someone who claims they can communicate with animals.
According to public records, the center is the registered address for more than a dozen limited liability companies (LLCs) associated with Allerai or her followers.
It’s also the registered address of a 501C3 non-profit, Living Faith Spiritual Community.
In YouTube videos and other recordings, Allerai offers up a word salad of New Age, self-help platitudes.
"I’m a life coach, a strategist, and I’ve done stupid," Allerai said in one video with a self-deprecating smile.
But go deeper, former followers say, and you’ll discover Allerai claims to channel spiritual beings from other dimensions, including one known as "G."
Fai West, now living in London, lived with the group for three years as a teenager. She left the day after she turned 18.
"I’ve been thinking for years about coming forward. But I didn’t think my story alone would be enough to convince people it was real," said West.
She struggles to describe Soulful Journey’s theology, she said, because while it began with meditation and positive thinking, it quickly evolved into something else.
"It became very much rooted in and tied to Soulaire was a channel and was channeling God," she said.
West said Soulaire would also "channel" historical figures too, like Jesus and King Solomon.
A Parallel Dimension: ‘The 99’
Allerai also told her followers they had spirit identities with other names in a parallel dimension she called "The 99," according to former followers.
West said Allerai claimed she was her daughter in "The 99."
"This became a tool, to take away your identity, your autonomy. And to say things were happening on ‘The 99’ to control you on earth," West said.
The FOX 9 Investigators identified more than 15 legal name changes among Allerai’s followers.
"For a bit there, I was able to suspend disbelief, but it started to get pretty weird," said Nicholas Johnson, who was in Soulful Journey for more than a decade, along with his sister, and mother, Raila.
Raila said she was also told her children belonged to someone else in "The 99."
"I realized I had to get out when I felt like I would rather die than stay," Raila told the FOX 9 Investigators.
John Goepel’s sister, Katie, left a full scholarship for a doctorate program in psychology in Maryland and moved to Minnesota 15 years ago to join Soulful Journey.
While they were once incredibly close, Goepel hasn’t talked to his sister in seven years, but he messaged her on Facebook a few weeks ago.
She asked him not to contact her through social media. He fears someone is monitoring her communications.
"She said many things that made us think she was brainwashed. She said, ‘I am following my desires. I want you to be happy for me,’" Goepel recounted.
Checks The Boxes
David Clark has heard such stories for the four decades he has been studying cults. Clark was himself a member of a cult in the late 1970s.
"What concerns me when it gets cult-like is there’s a totalistic takeover of the person’s life. This is the number one encounter you notice with families that run into trouble with this; people get cut off," Clark said.
At the request of the Fox 9 Investigators, he reviewed material and teachings from Soulful Journey, which he said checks many of the boxes used to describe cult-like activity.
"Not only that, but you have an effective communicator who makes it stick to the ribs," Clark said, referring to Allerai.
The Money Trail
Clark says there’s often a price to be paid in such a group, quite literally.
Former members told the FOX 9 Investigators that weekly classes could quickly add up to $150 per week, and "G" channeling sessions could cost anywhere from $40 to $150.
There were also trips – to the Bahamas and Peru — that could cost members $5,000 to $7,000, according to former members.
"She creatively categorized money," Abedi said of her mother. "This is a donation for my church, this is educational expenses, this is for trips."
Former followers said it was unclear how the money flowed between the overlapping businesses, LLCs, charity work, and the non-profit.
"The financial side, especially with New Age groups, tends to be very lucrative. They know how to make money. They also know how to protect money," said Clark, who has served as a court-appointed expert on cults.
In court filings in the lawsuit, Bad Rooster claims the food truck can make $9,000 a day.
Former followers said they were not always paid appropriately for their labor.
"I was never paid a dime for anything I did," said Raila, who worked on a video game developed by Allerai called Banonkey Town.
A spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Labor said there are no wage complaints against Bad Rooster, or any companies associated with Allerai.
Toxic Families and Free Will
Allerai declined an on-camera interview.
Instead, Allerai and Bad Rooster hired a "crisis manager," Stacy Bettison, and gave the FOX 9 Investigators a prepared statement.
"The personal attacks on social media are patently false and solely designed to harm
Soulaire Allerai and Bad Rooster because of the tremendous success and goodwill they
have earned over the years. Soulaire Allerai and Bad Rooster have sued the individuals
who insist on continuing to make these baseless accusations," the statement read.
"Each and every instance of defamation and other tortious acts are being tracked and identified, and these individuals will be held accountable for the reputation and financial damage they have caused."
The crisis manager also provided the FOX 9 Investigators with a supporter of Allerai’s.
Tom Reis was introduced to Soulful Journey by a woman he was dating but was always at "the periphery" of the group, he said.
Reis said Allerai’s critics are blaming her for their own toxic relationships.
"It’s much easier to point the finger at Soulaire and scapegoat her than say, ‘Wait a minute, I had free will in all this,’" Reis said.
"I think it’s unfortunate that there is a witch hunt quite frankly, and I think you are part of it," he said to this reporter.
But the estranged families told the FOX 9 Investigators their only agenda is wanting their loved ones back. After waiting more than a decade, they say they have little left to lose.
"We don’t have contact now," said Goepel.
"There is a lot of trauma; which is why we are speaking out," said Raila. "There are so many people who are still in trauma, and if we can get a message out to one of them, that’s enough."
Raila’s son, Nicholas Johnson, said he was always the skeptic in the family about the group.
Asked if he believes Allerai is a fraud or someone with supernatural abilities, he paused for several seconds and said, "One of her greatest abilities is to tell stories, and that could get you to any number of places."
UPDATE: Soulaire Allerai, co-owner of the popular Bad Rooster food truck and leader of Soulful Journey, responded to a Sunday night FOX 9 Investigators story in a Facebook post Tuesday, saying the allegations are "solely designed to harm me and Bad Rooster because of the success and good will we have earned." Read more here.