APnj 09/17 1817 Krishna Charges NEW VRINDABAN, W.VA. (AP) -- Charges that the leader of th
APnj 09/17 1817 Krishna Charges
NEW VRINDABAN, W.VA. (AP) -- Charges that the leader of this Hare Krishna
community and a devotee serving a life sentence for murder torched a building
to collect $40,000 in insurance prove that authorities are persecuting the
sect, a Krishna spokesman said Thursday.
"I can say we've been waiting for the curtain to go up on this Broadway show
for some time," said Devamrita Swami, president of New Vrindaban. "We are not
at all amazed, although I must say the script is fresh and creative."
Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, leader of the 700-member community, and
Thomas Drescher, who was convicted last year of killing a fellow devotee, were
charged with three other Krishnas in federal indictments returned Wednesday.
The charges against Bhaktipada, who is referred to as Keith Hamm, his former
name, and Drescher include one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and
arson, one count of using of fire or explosives to commit a felony, one count
of malicious destruction by means of fire or explosives in a building, and five
counts of mail fraud, said U.S. Attorney William Kolibash.
Bhaktipada was traveling in Africa, where he is visiting devotees, and not
available for comment Thursday. But Drescher called the charges "an attempt to
link Bhaktipada to criminal activities."
"This is just the final straw for them," said Drescher, who is accused of
setting fire to a Marshall County apartment building on July 14, 1983 to
collect $40,000 in fire insurance coverage.
"I think it just shows how far they'll go to try to get to Bhaktipada."
The mail fraud counts against the two men stem from letters written by the
pair seeking the payment from the insurance company, Kolibash said.
A federal grand jury began investigating New Vrindaban and Bhaktipada last
year in a wide-ranging probe that has included allegations of child abuse and
"We've been undergoing increasing pressure for the past 20 years," said
Devamrita. "By any ordinary vision, we should have been finished in 1968."
Drescher, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who lived in Ravenna, Ohio, prior to
his arrest, is serving a life sentence at the West Virginia Penitentiary at
Moundsville for the murder of Charles Saint-Denis in 1983.
Saint-Denis' body wasn't found before Drescher's trial. But an unidentified
body was recovered from the Krishna's community farm in Marshall County shortly
Drescher has also been charged with the murder of Stephen Bryant, a Krishna
dissident, in Los Angeles in May 1986. The Krishna follower is appealing his
extradition to California to stand trial on the charge.
Three other current or former residents of New Vrindaban were also indicted
by the grand jury on firearms charges.
Jack London, also know as Hansadutta Swami, a Palo Alton, Calif., resident
was charged with one count of giving a false statement in the attempted
acquisition of a firearm, Kolibash said. The charge carries a maximum penalty
of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Keith P. Weber, also known as Kupla, of New Vrindaban, and Leon Raymond
Lane, of Wheeling, were charged in another indictment with illegally possessing
and transporting firearms.
If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a
New Vrindaban, one of the largest Krishna communities in the United States,
has been the subject of controversy since it was created in the middle 1960s.
The Krishna's 4,000-acre compound in Marshall County contains the ornate
"Palace of Gold" and is one of the state's leading tourist attractions.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank