2 02-26-88 11:48 aps New group wants to clear guru's name By PETER GILLINS PORTLAND, Ore.

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

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 Friday. 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 1985. 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 set aside. "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 incorrect. 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.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank