Hindu guru sentenced to prison for sexual molestation in US

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 11:21

Houston: A US jury Wednesday sentenced an
elderly Hindu religious leader to 14 years in prison and fined a USD 10,000 on each of 20 counts of molesting two girls who
grew up on the ashram he founded and led in Central Texas.

Prakashanand Saraswati, known to his devotees as Shree
Swamiji and head of the 200-acre Hindu ashram in Texas, was
sentenced by a Hays County jury after he failed to appear
before it for the punishment phase of his trial.

District Judge Charles Ramsay will decide later
whether 82-year-old Swamiji`s prison sentences are to be
served concurrently.

Last week the jury found Swamiji guilty of indecency
with a child by sexual contact, based on his repeated groping
of two teenagers whose families lived at the ashram he founded
southwest of Austin.

Now 27 and 30 years old, the women brought charges
against the Swamiji three years ago, saying he molested them
on the Barsana Dham ashram in Driftwood in the mid-1990s while
they were in their teens.

The parent organisation to which Swamiji`s Barsana
Dham ashram belongs owns and operates temples and hospitals in
India and other countries.

Meanwhile, the search for the guru, missing since
Sunday evening, continued with police reporting no new leads
as to his whereabouts. Prakashanand is thought to be traveling
with his longtime assistant and caregiver, Vishwambhari Devi.
A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Earlier, prosecutors asked the jury to sentence
Swamiji to 20 years in prison ? 400 years total ? for "each
and every" one of the 20 criminal counts on which the guru was
convicted of molesting two girls.

"This defendant is not a good candidate for probation
because he can`t even make it to the rest of the trial," said
Hays County assistant district attorney Kathy Compton.

The Swamiji`s defence attorneys told the court that
their elderly client`s various ailments ? coronary disease,
hypertension and back pain? make him too infirm to be in
prison.
"To put him in a penitentiary setting at his age with
these type of physical disabilities would be a death sentence
for Swamiji," said Jeff Kearney, his lead attorney.

Spokesmen for the ashram that he founded in Driftwood
say they don`t know where he is.

Peter Spiegel, a wealthy devotee who posted a USD 1
million cash bond that was forfeited when Swamiji failed to
appear in court yesterday, testified that he doesn`t know the
guru`s whereabouts, either.

Spiegel also signed a USD 10 million indemnity
agreement in 2008, in exchange for the court allowing Swamiji
to travel abroad while he was awaiting trial.

However, the guru`s passport was revoked last year.

PTI



First Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 11:21

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