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Buddhist teacher arrested in child sex assault case may have been victimizing others for decades

Boulder Police say there may be more victims over the span of 30 years.

BOULDER, Colo. — A man arrested in Boulder for sexually assaulting a child may have been victimizing others for decades, according to a release from the Boulder Police Department.

"The Boulder PD did conduct a very thorough investigation, talked to many many people who were in the community during the time and possibly had information about the incident," Michael Dougherty, Boulder District Attorney, said.

Bill Karelis, 71, was arrested for sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust.

Karelis allegedly sexually assaulted the victim multiple times, beginning in 2000, when she was 13 years old, a news release from the agency said. Police said he was introduced to the alleged victim through his position at the Shambhala, a Buddhist community. He was a teacher and leader at meditation retreats but was later expelled from the community, according to an arrest affidavit after similar sexual misconduct allegations surfaced.

"Given the position that the defender occupied at the time and his interactions with other people in the community, we believe it’s possible there are other victims out there," Dougherty said.

According to the arrest affidavit for Karelis, the alleged victim disclosed the abuse to a friend in August of 2018. That friend contacted police.

The alleged victim initially provided a statement to police through email, the affidavit says. In the email, she said the assaults happened at Karelis' home in Boulder. She also told police his wife was home when the assaults occurred, but indicated that Karelis waited until his wife was asleep and then came into her bedroom and performed sex acts on her.

In September 2018, the alleged victim was interviewed by police. She told police that she grew up in Denver but spent a lot of time with her family and other members of the Shambhala community in Boulder.

In Shambhala, when children turn 8-years-old there's an event called a rites of passage ceremony, the affidavit says. At that time, the victim told police Karelis was assigned as her meditation instructor to help her get through the six weeks of preparation for the event.

Her initial interactions consisted of regular one-on-one meetings, the affidavit says. Around the year 2000, when the alleged victim was 13, "things really started to escalate," the affidavit says. She began spending the night at Karelis' home. The alleged victim noted that "the Shambala community, including her parents, completely trusted and respected Bill," the affidavit says.

The alleged victim said she didn't feel the "creepies" from Karelis for the first few years she knew him, the affidavit says. Looking back, she felt like there was "grooming and manipulation" occurring and that he was "building himself up to be a very powerful person," according to the affidavit. 

According to the affidavit, sometime in December 2003, the alleged victim said her mother asked her "what's up with you and Bill Karelis?"  At the time, her mother explained to her that during a program Karelis was teaching, other women "stood up and accused Bill Karelis of inappropriate sexual behavior," the affidavit says

At the time, the victim denied anything was going on between her and Karelis. In 2004, Karelis was expelled from the Shambhala community, the affidavit says.

Karelis' Defense Attorney Fred Bibik says his client has been cooperating with police and turned himself in as soon as the arrest warrant was issued.

"Mr. Karelis strongly denies these allegations and we’re confident that when the evidence is fully developed and scrutinized in the crucible of the courtroom he will be found not guilty and fully exonerated," Bibik said.

Boulder police believe there are additional victims over a span of 30 years. Anyone who believes they or someone they know was victimized by Karelis in the past is asked to call Boulder Police Detective Ross Richart at 303-441-1833 or Detective Heather Frey at 303-441-3369. 

There is no statute of limitations on sex offenses involving children under the age of 15.