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Hindu guru gets 14 years jail for molestation in US

Washington, March 9, 2011: (IANS) A missing Hindu guru has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for each of 20 counts of molesting two girls who grew up on the Hindu ashram he founded and led in central Texas.

With convicted Prakashanand Saraswati still missing and presumed on the run, a Hays County jury in Austin, Texas, Tuesday sentenced the 82-year-old for molesting the girls in his Barsana Dham ashram in Driftwood during the 1990s.

Known to his followers as Shree Swamiji, the religious leader claims hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide. The parent organization to which his 200-acre Barsana Dham ashram belongs, owns and operates temples and hospitals in India and other countries.

The jury of eight men and four women deliberated only a half-hour to sentence the guru kissing and fondling the girls while they were in their teens.

"The last three-and-a-half years have been a living hell," Kate Tonnessen, now 31, one of the victims, was quoted as saying by Austin American-Statesman.

Her sister, Vesla Tonnessen Kazimer, 27, said: "He has failed as a spiritual leader, and he has failed as a grandfather, and he has failed as a person."

The Statesman said attorneys for the guru were unavailable for comment, but prosecutors said they anticipated an appeal of the verdict and sentence.

Meanwhile, the search for the guru, missing since Sunday evening, continued with police reporting no new leads as to his whereabouts.

Prakashanand is thought to be travelling with his longtime assistant and caregiver, Vishwambhari Devi. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

US Marshal Hector Gomez said federal officers are "investigating a potential federal violation of an unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and we are working closely with the Hays County sheriff's office to locate him."

Hays County authorities also began the process of collecting $11 million in bond money and other financial commitments they said Prakashanand forfeited when he did not show up in court Monday morning....IANS//NRIpress


Warrant issued against Hindu guru in US

Washington, March 8 (IANS) A US court has issued an arrest warrant for a Hindu guru who failed to show up for sentencing after being convicted of molesting two girls as they grew up on his Central Texas ashram.

On Friday evening, a Hays County jury convicted Prakashanand Saraswati of molesting two girls in the mid-1990s while they were growing up on the Barsana Dham ashram near Driftwood that he founded.

Released on a $1 million cash bond, the 82-year-old Prakashanand, known to his Hindu devotees as Shree Swamiji, failed to show up for the punishment phase of his trial, scheduled to begin Monday morning in San Marcos, Austin American-Statesman reported.

After waiting for an hour, District Judge Charles Ramsay ordered the guru's bond revoked and a warrant issued for his arrest. He had already revoked Prakashanand's US passport in October.

'We have not located our client; we don't know the reason for his absence,' Jeff Kearney, Prakashanand's Fort Worth-based lead attorney told the Statesman.

Prakashanand was found guilty of 20 counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact based on the accounts of Vesla Tonnessen Kazimer, 27, and Shyama Rose, 30, who testified that the guru kissed and fondled them when they lived at Barsana Dham as young girls. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The guru's disappearance led to immediate speculation that he had fled the country, possibly using a passport from India, where he keeps a second home.

But 'we have no information about an Indian passport', Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe said.

A sheriff's department spokeswoman testified in court that the guru was last seen Saturday evening at a Driftwood home owned by one of his devotees; however, other reports said he did not disappear until Sunday evening.

Spokesmen for Barsana Dham said they had no idea where he was.

'I have no information,' said Aman Agrawal, an ashram member who has issued statements in the past.

'Swamiji was very ill over the weekend,' Rich Parsons, a hired spokesman for Barsana Dham was quoted as saying. 'We're continuing to try to find him.'..IANS//NRIpress