Krishna Leader Indicted On Fraud, Conspiracy Charges
RAY FORMANEK JR.
May. 25, 1990
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) _ The founder and leader of a Hare Krishna community was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday in an alleged scheme to murder, kidnap and beat his followers, authorities said.
Keith Ham, 54, also known as Kirthanananda Swami Bhaktipada, was named on five counts of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder and six counts of mail fraud. The indictment was handed up by a special grand jury in Elkins.
One of the racketeering counts alleges a conspiracy involving the death of Stephen Bryant, a dissident member of the Krishna community who was shot on a Los Angeles street in May 1986.
Thomas A. Drescher, a former resident of Bhaktipada's New Vrindaban community in Marshall County, has been charged with Bryant's murder and is awaiting trial in Los Angeles.
Bryant was killed after he launched a one-man crusade against New Vrindaban, accusing Bhaktipada and other commune leaders of drug trafficking, prostitution and child abuse.
Bhaktipada was expelled in 1987 from the mainstream Hare Krishna movement, which is cooperating with authorities investigating the community, said Ravindra Svarupa, leader of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Philadelphia.
Ravindra called Bhaktipada's community a splinter group and said he was expelled for violating principles established by Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
''They've deeply embarrassed us in many ways,'' Ravindra said.
The international society oversees 46 Hare Krishna centers in the United States and Canada. There are more than 250 Hare Krishna centers worldwide, said spokesman Mukunda Goswami.
Bhaktipada was in Bombay, India, on Thursday and not immediately available for comment, according to Gadadhar Das, a New Vrindaban spokesman.
''Bhaktipada will return to West Virginia within the next few days; that's all I can say,'' Gadadhar said.
U.S. Attorney William Kolibash said the indictment was the result of a two- year probe into the community, which once was among the largest Krishna communities in the United States.
He refused to discuss details of the indictment until a news conference Friday in Wheeling.
Bhaktipada, the son of a Baptist minister, founded New Vrindaban, located about 80 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, among the hills outside of Moundsville 21 years ago.
At one time in the early 1980s, his permanent devotees at the compound numbered about 700, Gadadhar said.
Also named in the indictment were Terry Sheldon, 31, also known as Mr. Scam and Tapahpunja; Steven Fitzpatrick, 36, also known as Sundarakara; New Vrindaban Community Inc.; Govardhan Inc.; and the Cathedral of Healing Inc.
The indictment alleges that Bhaktipada, Sheldon and others ''have engaged in numerous acts of racketeering and other criminal acts to protect Keith Gordon Ham (Bhaktipada) and themselves from internal opponents, and to demonstrate to (Bhaktipada's) devotees that (Bhaktipada) had and would exercise ultimate power over his devotees.
''Accordingly, defendant Keith Gordon Ham ... has authorized murders, kidnappings, and beatings of devotees,'' the indictment said.
''Moreover, in addition to instructing devotees to commit mail frauds, Keith Gordon Ham has also commanded devotees to impede law enforcement investigations related to the New Vrindaban Community.''