by SEAN BATURA
When a Hindu guru convicted of child molestation skipped town before his sentencing in March, observers were heady with speculation about what Hays County would do with $11 million in bonds posted by a follower of the disgraced spiritual leader.
As it turns out, Hays County snagged “only” $1.2 million from the deal — the $1 million forfeited cash bond that has already been made public, plus $200,000 from a settlement agreement with TV infomercial entrepreneur Peter Spiegel. The agreement absolved Spiegel from liability for the $10 million bond he signed to guarantee Prakashandand Saraswati’s appearance in court.
The county for months has refused to divulge how much it received from its settlement with Spiegel, citing a confidentiality clause in the agreement. The San Marcos Mercury sought details of the case through the Public Information Act and, in October, the Texas Attorney General’s office ordered Hays County to turn over the information.
“…the [Texas Public Information Act] does not allow a court to withhold from disclosure information the Legislature has deemed to be expressly public,” states the ruling from Assistant Attorney General Misty Haberer Barham.
The county still has a $10 million judgement against Saraswati, so if police ever find the guru, the county could attempt to get $10 million out of him. The U.S. marshals initially said he probably crossed the border into Mexico soon after leaving San Marcos and was looking for a way back to his native India — or had already returned there. In June, a spokesman for the agency said the marshals were concentrating their search on Florida.
County officials were not immediately available to explain why they left so much money on the table. It could have something to do with the All Star team of four bond lawyers Spiegel hired to defend him.
“Literally, they teach bond law and they also go to the state legislature and propose legislation on bail bond law. I was fortunate to prevail the way I did,” former Hays County Assistant District Attorney David Mendoza told the Mercury in June.
Spiegel testified in March that he didn’t know the legal ramifications of the $10 million indemnity agreement he signed in 2008. He said an attorney presented the document for his signature during a hearing in a chaotic moment, when all he thought about was doing whatever he could to allow the guru to carry out charitable work in India.
Even if the settlement did not approach $11 million, Spiegel’s $1.2 million is by far the the most money the county has received for a single bond forfeiture case. The money goes into the general fund, and since it is not budgeted to be spent, rolls into the county’s reserves.
Such an unexpected infusion of cash is rare, said County Auditor Bill Herzog, who noted $1.2 million is about equivalent to the money generated by one cent on the property tax rate.
Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said putting the $1.2 million in reserves “for a rainy day” was the most responsible thing to do. He declined to opine on why the county didn’t win the full $11 million, but said the DA’s office “did the best they could and represented Hays County well.”
» Hays County’s $200,000 check from Peter Spiegel [pdf]
» AG ruling on public information request for Spiegel settlement amount [pdf]