APoh 10/24 0254 Arson-Swamis WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) -- A Dec. 7 trial date has been set for
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
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
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.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank