STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
The Hindu leader who disappeared on the eve of his sentencing hearing for child sex abuse convictions is thought to be hiding in Mexico, officials say.
Prakashanand Saraswati, 82, did not show up to court on March 7, three days after a Hays County jury found him guilty of 20 charges of sexual indecency with a child. Authorities believe he crossed into Mexico by Nuevo Laredo and is hiding in either Nuevo Laredo or Monterrey, U.S. Marshal Hector Gomez told the Austin American-Statesman.
“There are people that we’ve talked to who are devoted followers of his and they will sacrifice criminal charges and prosecution to help his flight. Another challenge for us is the financial support that his followers are providing him,” Gomez told the newspaper.
After Prakashanand went missing, he was sentenced in absentia to 280 years in prison, 14 years for each of the convictions. District Judge Charles Ramsay has not decided whether the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively.
Marshals want to nab Prakashanand before he attempts to return to his native country of India where authorities might not grant extradition to the United States to serve his sentence, Gomez told the Statesman.
Praka-shanand’s supporters, meanwhile, say they are unconvinced that he fled at all, suggesting that he may have become the victim of vigilante justice.
“The fact that he has not been discovered makes it very worrisome for me. My worst fear is that someone took the law into their own hands. I’m just scared that somebody has kidnapped or injured him,” Bashist M. Sharma, his lead attorney, told the Hays Free Press.
Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe, meanwhile, said her office has begun the process of bond forfeiture for the $1 million cash bond posted by wealthy devotee Peter Spiegel after Prakashanand was arrested in 2008.
The fate of a $10 million personal recognizance bond, also secured by Spiegel in 2008, will ultimately be decided in the court system through litigation, Tibbe said. Forfeited bond money goes to the county’s general fund, she said.
In the punishment hearing, Spiegel, who has amassed a fortune in part by selling ionic air purifiers, health supplements and other products via television and telemarketing, testified that he didn’t know that he’d be financially responsible for the hefty bonds.
Spiegel, a devotee of Swamiji for about 25 years, said that he was rushed into signing the $10 million bond in 2008, and was confused about what the document contained.
“I wasn’t prepared,” he testified. “I thought I was testifying in my confidence of Swamiji. I really don’t know technically and legally of my situation now.”Email | Print