San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 7th, 2011
Absent guru sentenced to 280 years

UPDATED 5:08 p.m. MARCH 8: An influential Hindu guru, who vanished this week, received 280 years in prison Tuesday after being found guilty last week by a Hays County jury on 20 counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact.

Hindu leader Prakashanand Saraswati returns to the Hays County Justice Center Tuesday during a trial break. Saraswati is charged with 20 counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact. PHOTO by SEAN KIMMONS

Prakashanand Saraswati, 82, received 14 years in prison per count and fines of $10,000 per count for a total of $200,000. District Judge Charles Ramsay will decided a later date whether the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively, court officials say.

Two felony arrest warrants were issued Monday for Saraswati, who was convicted of all charges by the jury of eight men and four women, which only took two hours to deliver the guilty verdict Friday evening and even less time to sentence him Tuesday afternoon.

Infomercial mogul Peter Spiegel, the treasury secretery for Barsana Dham, testified on Tuesday that he had did not know where Swamiji or Devi had gone.

“I have no idea where he is,” said Spiegel, who added that he saw the guru on Sunday night at Austin home and there was no indication that he would not show up for court the next day.

Spiegel has already lost the $1 million cash bond he posted last week to keep the guru out of jail until after his sentencing. Spiegel also secured a $10 million personal bond in 2008 to allow Prakashanand to travel to India while awaiting trial. In October, Swamiji, a naturalized U.S. citizen, surrendered his passport under orders from Ramsay, but terms of the $10 million bond agreement were not altered, officials say.

When Swamiji failed to appear, Ramsay revoked the cash bond and issued warrants for his arrest. Prosecutors hinted that Spiegel, who has amassed a fortune in part by selling ionic air purifiers, health supplements and other products via television and telemarketing, could be responsible for the entire amount.

“I really don’t know technically and legally of my situation now,” Spiegel testified.

It’s unknown if the guru has fled to India. Spiegel told the court that Swamiji does not have an Indian passport. In addition, India does not allow dual citizenship, according to immigration laws.

UPDATED 4:01 p.m. MARCH 7: The Hays County Sheriff’s Office is looking for Prakashandand who is believed to be in the company of a woman named Vishwambhari Devi, said Deputy Laurie Bain, the sheriff’s office spokesperson. Authorities ask anyone with information on Prakashandand’s whereabouts to call the sheriff’s office at 512-393-7896 or Crime Stoppers at 800-324-8477.

STAFF REPORT

An arrest warrant was issued this morning for Prakashanand Saraswati, the prominent spiritual leader of a Driftwood area ashram, after he failed to show for his sentencing hearing on 20 counts of indecency with a child.

Known to his followers as Shree Swamiji, Prakashanand was supposed to be at the Hays County Justice Center at 9 a.m. this morning following his conviction on Friday of the charges. He still had not arrived by 10 a.m. and District Judge Charles Ramsay revoked his $10 million bond.

Prakashanand Saraswati, the 81-year-old international leader of the JKP-Barsana Dham sect of Hinduism, was arrested in April 2008 for allegedly touching the breasts of then-minors between 1993 and 1996.

In 2008, Ramsay relaxed Prakashanand’s original bond conditions to allow the guru to visit India for religious duties backed by $10 million bond posted by infomercial magnate Peter Spiegal, a Saraswati adherent who amassed a fortune in part by selling ionic air purifiers, health supplements and other products via television and telemarketing. In August, Ramsay rejected Saraswati’s request to return to the Barsana Dham Center and Saraswati applied for a writ of habeas corpus to the Third Court of Criminal Appeals.

His trial had been scheduled to begin in November last year but was pushed back when Prakashanand’s physicians said back surgery made it difficult for him to travel to Texas from India, where has spent much of his time since being barred from the 200-acre ashram he founded near Driftwood.

After Prakashanand recently showed up in Austin, about a month before his trial was to start, District Attorney Sherri Tibbe asked the court to confine the defendant to the United States. Ramsay then ordered Prakashanand to stay in the country until it could be determined if he was well enough to stand trial.

In 1990, Prakashanand established the Barsana Dham Center on FM 1826, a replica of an Indian holy district and the spiritual movement’s North American seat.

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5 thoughts on “Absent guru sentenced to 280 years

  1. So Peter Spiegel loses his $10 million? That’s alot of Ionic Breezes he has to sell to make that up.

  2. If Judge Ramsay has not decided whether the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively, then your headline is inaccurate. But it sure sounds impressive.

  3. Headline is in fact accurate. 14 X 20 = 280. Now if it had said “Absent guru to serve 280 years” then it would be inaccurate, as it has not been determined how the 280 years he was sentenced to will be served.

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