AP 09/15 0055 TroubleinParadise By JULIA MARTINEZ Associated Press Writer MOUNDSVILLE, W.V
AP 09/15 0055 TroubleinParadise
By JULIA MARTINEZ Associated Press Writer
MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) -- Tourists visit the quiet mountain commune
of the Hare Krishna sect to see Prabhupada's Palace of Gold and
remote-control swan boats that glide along the tranquil pond.
But there is trouble in the spiritual paradise.
Last month, a swarm of police descended on the 4,000-acre farm at 4
a.m. to serve subpoenas on more than a dozen members called to testify
in a federal grand jury probe scheduled to begin Monday into the death
of a dissident who had accused Krishna leaders of allowing child abuse
and drug trafficking.
Another slaying, a house explosion and other incidents have prompted
separate inquiries by the FBI, West Virginia State Police, Marshall
County investigators and Los Angeles authorities.
Leaders of the commune, New Vrindaban, vehemently deny the
The charges, they say, come from disgruntled former members and are
fueled by local politicians and conservative townspeople suspicious of
the barefoot, robed disciples.
"You've got a red-neck situation here," said public relations
director Toshan Krishna, formerly Tom Allin. "It's just one slur after
another, all unfounded."
The 650-member commune about 10 miles west of Moundsville has
tightened its security, and 10 armed disciples patrol the temple
Commune leader Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, badly beaten in
November by a disgruntled member, has moved to a more isolated area and
is rarely without a German shepherd attack dog.
About 200,000 people a year visit the commune, with its live elephant
and swan boats. The Palace of Gold, a glittering monument to the Indian
swami who brought the Eastern religion to the United States in 1965,
rises above the compound.
Charleston tour director Gary Greene said the recent controversy hadn't kept tourists away, even though his company canceled spring and
summer bus tours after a typhoid and hepatitis outbreak at the
"I think the intrigue of what's going on would bring even more
tourists," he said.
The Krishnas, who solicit money at airports and on street corners,
worship the Hindu god Krishna. They adhere to strict rules that ban
alcohol, gambling, smoking, meat and illicit sex.
Moundsville residents tolerate the sect, but some have harbored
resentment since the group bought the land in 1968.
U.S. Attorney William Kolibash said the grand jury, meeting in
Moundsville, could meet for a year. The investigation will start with
the shooting death of Steve Bryant and explore other allegations, he
The federal investigation follows murder indictments by a Marshall
County grand jury against two former commune residents in connection
with the 1983 disappearance of Charles St. Denis. St. Denis' body has
not been found, but county Prosecutor Thomas White said there was
evidence a murder occurred.
Thomas Drescher, 37, of Ravenna, Ohio, and Daniel Reid, 31, of Los
Angeles were charged with murder in the case. Drescher also has been
charged in California with murder in Bryant's death.
Bryant, 33, was shot twice through the head May 22. His body was
found a few blocks from the Los Angeles Krishna temple.
Bryant had been ousted from the West Virginia enclave, but said he
was still a devotee of the original movement. He publicly accused some
gurus of corruption.
A month before he was killed, Bryant was convicted in West Virginia
of carrying a concealed weapon. He told authorities he had been marked
for death by the Krishnas and kept the gun because he feared for his
Bhaktipada, whom Bryant accused of luring away his wife and children,
has called the allegations absurd.
After Bryant's death, authorities said they found a book he had begun
in which he alleged that several gurus manipulated devotees and allowed
child abuse and drug trafficking within Krishna communes.
Bhaktipada dismisses talk of a "holy war" or internal power struggle
within the international Krishna society, but concedes that some people
want him gone.
"Ultimately they want to get rid of the community but they feel if
they get rid of me they can easily get rid of it," he said recently.
"There's no doubt that they won't be successful."
Bhaktipada's assailant was convicted of assault and is serving a
15-month jail sentence. Authorities have said there was no connection
between the beating and the slayings.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank