APpa 09/29 0151 Krishna Battle By RAY FORMANEK Jr. Associated Press Writer The nation's la

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APpa 09/29 0151 Krishna Battle By RAY FORMANEK Jr. Associated Press Writer The nation's largest Hare Krishna community is urging supporters to "stand and fight" against what devotees allege is religious persecution by the FBI and West Virginia authorities. "We're just trying to make people aware that we're not a criminal community," Garga Rishi Das, editor of publications at New Vrindaban, a Krishna encampment near Moundsville, W.Va., said Monday. "There's been a lot of allegations made against us. We also want to let people know that there's been some persecution going on." The sect kicked off its campaign with a half-page advertisement containing an open letter by Garga Rishi in Sunday's editions of the Wheeling News-Register. Similar ads are planned this week for newspapers in Moundsville and Charleston, W.Va., with Pittsburgh and other cities to follow. The ads were prompted by a federal indictment of Keith Ham, also known as Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, the spiritual leader of New Vrindaban, and Thomas Drescher, a Krishna swami serving a life sentence for murder, on charges they torched a building near the community to collect $40,000 in fire insurance. Both swamis have denied the charges. Under the headline "Armed With Religion, Stand And Fight," the advertisement notes the two-year probe into the sect's operations at New Vrindaban amid allegations of murder, prostitution, child abuse, and drug trafficking. "If it is true that this army of capable federal, state, local officials and their informants have been wholeheartedly investigating the New Vrindaban community for years and have produced only a handful of light-weight indictments, isn't it time someone demand a stop to their investigations at a cost of millions of dollars -- put up or shut up -- and admit their failure to find any major crimes in New Vrindaban or Swami Bhaktipada," the letter says. In addition, the letter criticizes local police and the Marshall County sheriff for failing to investigate the burning of eight buildings in New Vrindaban during the past 10 years. It also alleges that 50 FBI agents illegally harassed members of group during a dawn raid in January in which computers, printers and files were seized. The agents in the raid, part of a federal copyright infringement probe, later returned the equipment amid charges by the Krishna community that they merely had been on a "fishing expedition." The National Football League and the distributor of the "Peanuts" comic strip filed a lawsuit against Bhaktipada and the community June 24, alleging that the group illegally used insignias and cartoon characters on hats and shirts for profit. No court date has been set in the case, pending in federal district court in Wheeling. "We are not going to remain quiet anymore," said Gadadhar Das, a spokesman for the New Vrindaban community. "We are going to communicate with people on a regular basis -- local, national, international leaders as well as the public. "We'll use letters, brochures, newspaper ads, mass mailings, anything we need to, to get the message across." Drescher, 39, was convicted in December 1986 in the 1983 death of Charles St. Denis at the New Vrindaban community. He received the maximum penalty under West Virginia law, a life term without parole. He also faces a murder charge stemming from the May 1986 killing of Krishna dissident Steven Bryant in Los Angeles. Drescher is appealing a court order to have him extradited to stand trial on the charge. New Vrindaban, a 4,000-acre settlement tucked ino the rugged West Virginia hills, is the home of Prabhupada's Palace of Gold -- one of West Virginia's most popular tourist attractions.


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