2 02-26-88 11:48 aps New group wants to clear guru's name By PETER GILLINS PORTLAND, Ore.
2 02-26-88 11:48 aps
New group wants to clear guru's name By PETER GILLINS
PORTLAND, Ore. (UPI) - Guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who once
drove around the Oregon desert in Rolls Royces, now lives as a
virtual prisoner in India due to his guilty plea to felony
charges of violating U.S. immigration laws, his lawyer said
Philip Toelkes, also known as Swami Prem Niren, said because
of pressure from the Reagan administration, Rajneesh is unable to
leave India and his followers have trouble obtaining visas to
visit him at his ashram in Poona.
Toelkes told a news conference he is forming a non-profit
foundation in California called the Institute for Justice and
Human Rights which will attempt to clear the guru's name and have
the guilty plea set aside so Rajneesh can travel freely around
the world and perhaps return to the United States.
However, Toelkes offered no specifics on how he might persuade
the federal courts to undo Rajneesh's plea, which he entered in a
hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Edward Leavy in November
Rajneesh, a mystic who preached free love, admitted being part
of a conspiracy to arrange sham marriages so that his foreign
followers could evade U.S. immigration laws and settle on his
now-defunct commune at a cattle ranch in central Oregon.
Rajneesh paid a $400,000 fine and was placed on probabtion for
five years on condition that he leave the United States.
Toelkes said he will take "appropriate legal steps" after the
Reagan Administration leaves office next year to have the plea
"It wasn't a guilty plea, it was a plea arrangement," he said.
The lawyer said Rajneesh pleaded guilty only because he
"feared for his life" at the hands of the Justice Department
which "which illegally investigated Bhagwan for five years (and)
wrongfully obtained a federal indictment against Bhagwan which
was totally unsupported by any evidence of criminal activity.":
Toelkes said he advised Rajneesh to enter into a plea bargain
on the belief that once the guru had left the United States, he
would be left in peace.
"I was wrong," he said. "Bhagwan is being held prisoner in
India by the U.S. government."
He charged that U.S. authorities pressured other governments
around the world to deny Rajneesh entrance visas on the grounds
he is a convicted felon. Toelkes also said the Indian government
refused to grant visas to the guru's followers so they could
visit him at his current ashram in Poona.
"Even the press that want to go and interview him have been
denied visas," the lawyer said.
U.S. Attorney Charles Turner, who prosecuted Rajneesh, could
not be reached for comment. But he responded to similar charges
by Toelkes last fall, calling them ridiculous.
Turner said Toelkes should give up his license as a lawyer if
he advised Rajneesh to enter a plea that he believed was
The U.S. attorney also noted that more than a dozen top
leaders of the guru's commune had been convicted of crimes that
occurred while the group was living in Oregon.
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