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Yoga Guru Agrees to Plea Deal

October 18, 2006|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Three months after declaring he was a victim of harassment by city inspectors, yoga magnate Bikram Choudhury agreed Tuesday to have his company plead guilty to three criminal counts of building and fire code violations.

The plea deal allows Choudhury, whose signature brand of heated-room yoga is popular with many celebrities and has spread from Los Angeles to six continents, to avoid criminal charges personally.

But, reached after the deal was announced, Choudhury did not sound penitent. "Booby trap and blackmailing," he said in a phone interview during a quick break from teaching. "If I don't plead guilty by my corporation, they are going to close the school."

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo charged Choudhury and his company in June with 10 criminal counts stemming from alleged safety violations at his La Cienega Boulevard Studio.

Delgadillo said the yoga magnate, who jets all over the world opening new studios and teaching classes, repeatedly flouted notices from the city's Fire and Building and Safety departments. Inspectors said the studio had insufficient fire exits, given how many students sometimes squeeze into its mirrored classrooms.

Choudhury's yoga system consists of a sequence of 26 postures performed twice in a room heated to between 100 and 105 degrees. After pioneering what is believed to be the world's first yoga franchising operation, he made headlines last year for a legal fight over his claim to a copyright on the poses that would have prevented others from teaching his style. The dispute was ultimately settled. Because of his aggressive business tactics and brash behavior, he was dubbed "Yoga's Bad Boy" by Yoga Journal.

When the city first filed charges, Choudhury said he had been a victim of a five-year campaign of harassment by employees in the city's Building and Safety Department.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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