A charismatic Pasadena yoga instructor convicted of sexual battery "preyed on young women" and "had access to vulnerable people," said a yoga teacher who formerly worked in his Lake Avenue studio.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in Pasadena convicted Naader Shagagi, 56, last week of four misdemeanor counts of sexual battery by fraudulent representation, city officials said.
The case was based on complaints from three young female students who said they were assaulted during private "healing" sessions at Yoga Kingdom Sanctuary.
Shagagi told victims he was a healer who had cured people of breast cancer and that he was a "messenger of gods" who could communicate with gods, officials said.
Christi Engel, who taught for several years at the studio, said there were rumors for years about Shagagi's behavior.
At one point, a young woman reported Shagagi to management, Engel said. When management failed to "recognize any truth to what she had to say," the woman wrote a letter with her accusations and tried to pass it around the studio, Engel said.
The letter was confiscated, and she was removed from the premises, Engel said.
Engel said she quit working at the studio because of the accusations. After her final class, she closed the door and told her students why she was leaving, she said. She told them she believed the allegations and that could no longer teach there, she said.
Engel had planned to teach one more class, but management called her and said not to come back, she said.
"I'm glad the jury found him guilty," Engel said. "I hope for the well-being of everyone who has suffered under him."
Shagagi owns the studio. A female employee who answered the phone Monday said the studio, which has numerous instructors, was still open and operating but would not comment on the case at this time.
Yoga Kingdom Sanctuary advertises Curative Yoga, claiming it will "melt away the disease you may currently be experiencing" and that students have reported weight loss, cured migraines and no longer needing prescription medication for anxiety and depression.
Victims were persuaded to take multiple private sessions with Shagagi, during which he repeatedly groped and touched them, officials said.
"We are grateful that the jury has sent a strong message that sex crimes will not be tolerated," Pasadena City Atty. Michele Beal Bagneris said in a statement. She encouraged other possible victims to come forward.
Shagagi will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, city officials said. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5.