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Former members have described Petersen as a mesmerizing figure who possessed extraordinary ability to influence and control others. “It was the eyes,” said former Teachers Group member Britta Rasmussen in a 2002 BBC News broadcast. “He would fix you with his stare. He was a very brilliant speaker. He was like a god to us.”

The Teachers Group, often abbreviated TG, is Tvind’s inner circle and consists of several hundred persons, according to a case summary of a Danish public prosecutor. They adhere to a communal lifestyle in which earnings are turned over to the organization. Steen Thomsen, a disaffected former member who was in Tvind for 26 years, claimed in a 1998 report to the Danish Ministry of Education that TG members are encouraged to sever contacts with family and friends. He has also stated members are discouraged from marrying or raising children. Relates Thomsen in a document posted at Tvind Alert: “Once Amdi Peterson asked, in front of [a large group of followers], ‘Well, Steen Thomsen, are you really working for the Teachers’ Group? What is going on in your mind since you have not done this or that? Are you thinking of love life, having children, your own little f—ing house? Tell us what is going on!’ ”

In 1999, after a Danish news show interviewed former teachers who alleged that Tvind was committing tax fraud, the Danish government began a criminal investigation into Tvind’s financial practices. In 2001, several of its alleged leaders, including Petersen and Jørgensen, were charged with embezzlement and tax fraud. Prosecutors contended that Tvind had diverted charity money to private enterprises and investments, such as a plantation in Brazil and condos in Miami.

A British journalist created Tvind Alert about the same time. He, along with a Danish journalist who joined the effort in 2002, have monitored the organization ever since, reporting on accusations of abuses of volunteers and members and alleged financial improprieties.

On February 17, 2002, FBI agents arrested Amdi Petersen on an Interpol warrant at Los Angeles International Airport, while he was traveling between Mexico (San Juan de las Pulgas?) and London, shortly after tighter 9/11 airline screening went into effect. According to Jyllands-Posten, he had been living in a multimillion-dollar condo on Fisher Island, a wealthy community south of Miami Beach, and had the use of a $5 million Tvind-owned yacht named Butterfly McQueen.

Petersen initially asked for a public defender to fight extradition, explaining that as a member of a communal group he owned virtually nothing. Eventually, however, he was represented by high-profile defense attorney Robert Shapiro, one of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers in his murder case. Danish journalists flocked to Los Angeles to cover the story. After being held for seven months, Petersen was extradited in September.

The trial took place in Denmark between 2003 and 2006, with long intervals during which Petersen and the other defendants were allowed to leave the country. We encountered Jørgensen at San Juan de las Pulgas in late March 2005.

According to court records, Petersen spent at least part of his time in Zimbabwe. Tvind has an international headquarters in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe is said to be a strong supporter. The watchdog website speculates that the San Juan de las Pulgas complex may have been built to serve as the group’s future worldwide headquarters after Mugabe dies. Tvind Alert also notes that the organization has been expanding its Latin American operations.

In August 2006, Petersen and six other defendants, including Jørgensen, were acquitted. Tvind’s financial director was found guilty of lesser charges and was given a suspended sentence. The next month prosecutors appealed six of the acquittals, including Petersen’s and Jørgensen’s and the financial director’s partial acquittal, on the basis of new evidence. This required Danish authorities to serve those six defendants personally with legal papers, but before that could happen, all but Jørgensen vanished.

Danish authorities made efforts to find them, supposedly including, reports Tvind Alert, a visit to San Juan de las Pulgas. The whereabouts of four of them remain unknown. The fifth, Marlene Gunst, was recently identified by authorities while changing planes in London and served by British police on behalf of the Danish government.

Poul Jørgensen’s second trial began in November 2007, and in January 2009 he was convicted of tax fraud and embezzlement for his part in establishing a humanitarian foundation through which money went to for-profit businesses. He was given a two-and-one-half-year sentence.

Tvind Alert suggests those who disappeared may have gone into hiding at San Juan de las Pulgas or in Zimbabwe. Mexico does not have an extradition treaty with Denmark, nor does Zimbabwe — though the missing Danes are not fugitives because they could legally leave Denmark following their acquittals. A photo of Petersen on Tvind Alert was purportedly taken at San Juan de las Pulgas in November 2007.

Tvind Alert’s suspicions seemed validated when Mexican authorities reportedly tipped off Danish police as to the whereabouts of Gunst. According to a December 26, 2009 story in Jyllands-Posten, U.K. police detained Gunst at Heathrow Airport in order to deliver the Danish summons and then allowed her to continue her journey. If she does not appear at her retrial, prosecutors will now be able to issue an international warrant for her arrest.

Tvind recruits young, idealistic people to attend Tvind schools in Europe and the United States where, according to its various websites, students are trained in third world humanitarian work before volunteering in missions in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. Projects have included AIDS education, cholera prevention, and farming improvements. Two schools, both named the Institute for International Cooperation and Development, are located near the rural towns of Dowagiac, Michigan, and Williamstown, Massachusetts. A third U.S. school, Campus California Teachers Group, or Campus California TG, is located in Etna, California, a logging town in Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border. The school’s website says that students are trained to work at “the humanitarian projects run by Humana People to People” and that in 2010 its teams will work in Belize and Africa.

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Comments

David Dodd Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:24 p.m.

Mexico's lack of interest in or suspicion of the compound should not surprise anyone familiar with Mexican government. Are the people running the compound, "bad guys"? No, not in the classic sense, they don't seem to be interested in killing people or running drugs. Are they a threat to the National security of Mexico? Not likely. Do they contribute anything? Certainly. People are being paid, from the land owners to the security guards to the local stores.

No one in Mexico is going to care much about getting to the bottom of the activities there.

The best part of this story is the interaction with the locals. Mexico is a rumor mill. It thrives on rumor. All of these locals with their various ideas of what goes on in that compound! And none of them care a hoot about finding out the truth about it. Speculation is more fun.

I will speculate that Tvind has no influence in Mexico. The reason that the guard didn't take you up on your offer for a cold beer was the cameras. If you want to find out what the guard knows about the complex, go drinking with him after work. But he probably won't know much. He probably doesn't care, he would rather speculate.

But that, in a nutshell, is the real beauty of Mexico.

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Tighelander Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:51 p.m.

One point this story misses is that San Diego also has these "Donation Boxes". They are red and go by the name of "USAgain". I checked these out a few years ago when they spouted around town, and even got a small community paper to run a story.

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SanDiegoParrothead Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:56 p.m.

Cool article.

Looked for it on Google maps but couldn't find it (I did find Santo Tomas and Punta San Jose)

Is it down by Rancho Boca de San Jose?

Can you provide a google map link?

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michaelo May 18, 2012 @ 11:57 a.m.

Here's a short link to a google satellite map view http://bit.ly/L5hyR9

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mariannamaver Feb. 3, 2010 @ 8:59 p.m.

Thank you for writing this article! It's a rare account of firsthand experience with the Teacher's Group in Mexico -- and gives us further insight into the Puglas compound!

In 1984, I was hired as on as a staff teacher at a school for wards of the State of Virginia operated by the Teacher's Group (they mostly recruited and "indoctrinated" volunteers, but two of us were hired because the State required teachers to have degrees from American colleges -- we had no idea...in fact were mislead, about what the group was "all about." )-- One of the "perks" promised us as employees was the promise of travel to Mexico in the winter and Denmark in the summer... by the time myself and the other teacher showed up to work, there'd been trouble at the school-- a young student had been raped by a group of older students while the TG staff was distracted with TG work -- the State pulled their travel priviledges ... however, when the TG traveled to Mexico, they had gone to Baja, so their roots there go back at least to 1983.

You certainly described the "attitude" of TG members to a "t!" Cold, perfunctory, emotionless, pragmatic, and probably exhausted -- this is one of the cult-like aspects of the group... fun and enjoyment are not values in TG philosophy... hard, driven, serious work, 24/7, devotion and commitment to the (nebulous) cause of the group is the value...

Thanks, also for mentioning Tvind Alert, owned and operated by British Journalist Michael Durham and Danish journalist Frede Jakobsen. The two, with backing from a group of other volunteers, have been very determined in keeping the story of Tvind in the publc eye, internationally, for at least 10 years, now, via their website, www.tvindalert.com .

And I agree with Tighelander -- don't put your clothes in those USAgain clothing collection boxes... you're just feeding the wealth of this strange cult...they don't need any more money... give your used clothing to a legitimate non-profit that will put the proceeds to some good.

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redundant Feb. 4, 2010 @ 4:49 p.m.

Mike: sorry about your lost campsite. I have friends living in the area who have met Pedersen there, he gave them left over building material. They say to know someone, look at their enemies. because his charities help people by starting business, hiring people, and training them to run them, he has stepped on the toes of many powerful 3rd world exploiters ,They tied him up in court for three years on false charges, then as he is leaving they have "new evidence"??? Be serious! as to the demeanor of the members; If you were being hounded by paid shills everywhere you went , cool and watchful is not unreasonable. I would probably be paranoid. Keep searching, the facts of this mans life are amazing.

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JulioS Feb. 8, 2010 @ 12:06 p.m.

Well, over here in Sweden they are certainly not well thought of, in fact, they are considered to be a sect and have received a whole lot of crap over the years. But they are still very active and they purportedly seem to target youths who want to do good. The weekly newspaper Zeta did a story on them highlighting the legal status of Mogens Amdi Petersen which is accused of tax evasion. The story does a neat historical background on just the legal status of Pedersen.

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JulioS Feb. 8, 2010 @ 12:09 p.m.

Those interested in the Zeta article can turn to the following link.

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John_Walsh Jan. 2, 2011 @ 5:05 p.m.

Sounds to me as if Tvind ala Pederson figured out to,/ how to, erect a funnel and a bucket under the $billions of foreign aid that most U.S. taxpayers think only far enough about to complain.

Good for him for thinking past the problem into a resolution and taking action on it.

As to why, how and what the Tvind's do and why they would be stand-off-ish, one has only to try to get something going these days to see that unless you are protective of your organization, others will pick it to pieces.

Not to defend what they do (because I have no idea what it is)but to possibly shine a little light on the reasoning.

P.S. How do you like my photo and the great job I am doing as Secretary of Labor?

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boxcarro Jan. 7, 2011 @ 6:18 a.m.

I lived in Mexico. & in San Diego, In Mexico I lived in a CASA, for $100.00US Dlls, in San Diego I slept under bridges, in alleys, and was often JAILED for being Homeless.

I see from the Comments, only 2 People really "SEE" the light. But I looked at the Fancy Buildings in Baja, A Shameful Exebition of Worldly Evil.

The help any one gives to the POOR is a Blessed Thing.

America is a Filthy Whited Secpular. The HOMELESS are treated WORSE in USA than ANY OTHER DEVELOUPED NATION in the WORLD.

Very SOON America will find out, what it is, to have NO RIGHTS, ANYMORE, AT ALL.

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