APoh 10/24 0254 Arson-Swamis WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) -- A Dec. 7 trial date has been set for

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APoh 10/24 0254 Arson-Swamis WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) -- A Dec. 7 trial date has been set for two Hare Krishna swamis charged in a federal indictment with burning a building to collect $40,000 in fire insurance, authorities said. Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, called Keith Ham in the indictment, and Thomas Drescher, also known as Tirtha Swami, were indicted in September on charges of malicious destruction of property, two counts of arson and five counts of mail fraud. The indictment accuses the pair of torching an apartment building at New Vrindaban in Marshall County on July 14, 1983, in an attempt to collect $40,000 from the Inland Insurance Co. of Huntington. U.S. District Judge William Kidd is scheduled to hear the case. A pretrial conference on motions is scheduled for Dec. 3 at 10 a.m. Both swamis entered innocent pleas during their arraignment earlier this month. Bhaktipada, the spiritual leader of New Vrindaban, one of the largest Krishna encampments in North America, has maintained the indictment is part of a plot by federal authorities to jail him and destroy the community. "It's nothing more than continued harassment by the federal and local authorities," Drescher said Friday from the state penitentiary in Moundsville, where he is serving a life sentence for the 1983 murder of Charles St. Denis, a convicted drug dealer associated with the Krishnas. "I've never heard of the wheels of justice moving so quickly," said Drescher, who also has been charged with murdering Steven Bryant, a disenchanted devotee, in Los Angeles in 1986. A decision on Drescher's appeal of his extradition to California is expected next month. The court has appointed Moundsville attorney Mark Karl to represent Drescher, who was not represented by an attorney at his arraignment. Drescher alleged that federal prosecutors have an unfair advantage in the case because the lawyer who represented him in the St. Denis murder case is now an assistant U.S. attorney. "You can't tell me they don't talk to each other," Drescher said. But U.S. Attorney William Kolibash said the assistant, Robert McWilliams, has had no part in the case against the swamis. If convicted on all counts, the swamis each face maximum penalties of 55 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

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