APpa 09/23 0330 Krishna Kfc NEW VRINDABAN, W.Va. (AP) -- A disfranchised Hare Krishna lead
APpa 09/23 0330 Krishna Kfc
NEW VRINDABAN, W.Va. (AP) -- A disfranchised Hare Krishna leader claims
arson and mail fraud charges against him are part of a $4 million government
effort to harass members of his religion.
Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada returned from Africa and held a press
conference at New Vrindaban on Tuesday to give his account of his indictment on
eight arson and mail fraud charges. The charges were handed down by a federal
grand jury last week while Bhaktipada was out of the country.
Bhaktipada, the leader of the 700-member New Vrindaban commune in Marshall
County, alleged that federal investigators have a vendetta against him and
other Krishna leaders. He likened himself to television evangelists Jim and
Tammy Bakker, saying he is being persecuted because of his religion.
Flanked by at least two dozen followers and a guard dog, the swami claimed
that the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI and state authorities have spent
nearly $4 million over four years in investigating the Krishnas and have little
to show for it. He did not say where he obtained his figures.
"Why are they spending so much energy on us?" the swami asked. "What is
there that is worth such an expenditure of time and men and money?"
U.S. Attorney William Kolibash said the $4 million figure was "way off," but
said he had no way of knowing how much money has been spent in investigating
"It's all part of the routine work," Kolibash said.
The federal indictment charges Bhaktipada, 49, formerly named Keith Hamm,
and Thomas Drescher each with one count of malicious destruction by means of
fire or explosives in a building, one count of use of fire or explosives to
commit a felony, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and arson and
five counts of mail fraud.
Prosecutors say the pair schemed to firebomb a building owned by the
Krishnas in Marshall County in July 1983, then collected $40,000 in insurance.
Kolibash said Bhaktipada soon will be served with a summons advising him to
appear in court for arraignment.
The swami said he will plead innocent to the charges. If convicted on the
arson counts, Drescher and Bhaktipada both face a maximum prison sentence of 30
years and $750,000 in fines. If convicted on the mail fraud counts, they face a
maximum prison sentence of 25 years and $1.25 million in fines.
At the same time the indictment was issued, three other Krishna devotees
were indicted on firearms charges.
In the past year, a federal investigation into New Vrindaban has resulted in
the principal and a teacher at the commune's school being indicted on child
molestation charges. Investigators also have turned up two unidentified bodies
on Krishna property.
Earlier this summer, the international movement's governing body expelled
Bhaktipada from the sect.
In addition, Drescher, 38, formerly of Ravenna, Ohio, and Buffalo, N.Y., is
serving a life sentence in the West Virginia Penitentiary after being convicted
last year of murdering fellow devotee Charles St. Denis, with whom prosecutors
say he had a running feud over money and land.
Drescher is fighting his extradition to California to face a murder charge
there in the death of Krishna dissident Steve Bryant of Detroit. Bryant, a
former resident of New Vrindaban, was shot to death in May 1986 as he sat in
his van on a Los Angeles street.
Bryant had accused Bhaktipada and other Krishna leaders of betraying the
religign's tenets and breaking up his marriage. He had urged Krishnas to
overthrow the swami and execute him.
The swami on Tuesday claimed that eight buildings on the grounds of the
Krishna commune near Moundsville have been destroyed by arsonists in the past
10 years, but he said authorities have made no arrests in those cases.
The swami accused investigators of being part of an "anti-religion" movement
that also is trying to destroy Mormons, Scientologists and the Bakkers, the
founders of the scandal-plagued PTL organization.
The Bakkers left the PTL following allegations of sexual and financial
"Not that we approve of anything immoral that Jim did. That's unfortunate,"
the swami said. "But the motive of many people is to try and smear it on all
"The dirt will wear off," he said.
On another matter, Bhaktipada said he has not heard from Soviet authorities
on the Krishnas' proposed "City of God," which they want to build near the site
of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster.
The swami said similar cities, designed to have 12,000 residents each, are
planned in New Vrindaban, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, India, Malaysia,
Ghana, Brazil and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Krishnas also are asking Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to free 25
devotees he says are imprisoned illegally in the USSR. Bhaktipada said he also
has heard nothing on that request.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank