Rajneeshis Indicted in Alleged Plot to Kill U.S. Attorney
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Ma Anand Sheela was among seven followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who conspired to kill U.S. Attorney Charles Turner, alleged a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.
Sheela was personal secretary to the late guru when he ran the Oregon commune of Rajneeshpuram. She had been imprisoned on unrelated federal charges until her deportation in 1988 to Germany.
The plot was disclosed earlier this year and some arrests were made, but Thurday was the first time Sheela’s involvement was alleged.
The indictment was issued in May but sealed until the defendants could be arrested.
All but Sheela, 41, who is a native of Baroda, India, have been arrested overseas and are awaiting extradition, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Sheldahl.
The indictments accuse the defendants of plotting to kill the guru’s physician Swami Devaraj and charges all but Sheela with illegal interstate transportation of guns.
The maximum penalty for murder conspiracy is life in prison.
The other defendants are: Sally Ann Croft, also known as Ma Prem Savita; Ann Phyllis McCarthy, also known as Ma Yoga Vidya; Susan Lissanevitch, also known as Ma Anand Su; Catherine Jane Stubbs, also known as Ma Shanti Bhadra; Carol Matthews, also known as Ma Prem Samadhi, and Richard Kevin Langford, also known as Swami Anugiten.
Croft and Lissanevitch were arrested in England, McCarthy in South Africa, and the other three in Germany.
Sheldahl said the alleged plot was an attempt to stop a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service investigation. That probe led to Rajneesh’s deportation, the arrest of Sheela and other Rajneeshee leaders and the disbanding of the commune in 1985.
Rajneesh, who died in India in January, called himself the ″rich man’s guru″ and taught meditation as a means to enlightenment.
Sheela was deported after serving 29 months in federal prison in California for her role in various criminal activities, including attempted murder, arson, and contaminating restaurant salad bars with salmonella.
Sheldahl said Sheela is still being sought.
The Oregonian cited unnamed federal sources as saying she might be in Switzerland since she married Urs Birnstiel, a Swiss fugitive from a federal wiretapping charge here.
The newspaper said Sheela’s marriage makes her a Swiss citizen. If she is in Switzerland, authorities can’t extradite her because the United States and Switzerland have no extradition treaty.
The indictment said the plotters picked an assassination team from among themselves and used commune money and a false birth certificate to buy guns.
The defendants practiced different ways of killing Turner, and watched his movements, the indictment said.
Turner said that before he learned of the plot, he had a sense of peril.
″I had a premonition on June 20, 1985,″ he said. ″I can’t say why. And then later I had another feeling on Aug. 1, 1985.″
He said the second premonition occurred after he saw a Rajneeshee pointing a video camera at him while he addressed a meeting of the Oregon Bar Association.
No harm ever came to him and the only evasive action he took was to alter his routes coming home.