Devotees of religious leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh tried to assassinate Oregon’s U.S. attorney and its attorney general to thwart criminal probes of the guru’s sprawling Oregon commune, federal prosecutors charged in court here Thursday.
The allegation surfaced briefly during prosecutors’ efforts to persuade a federal judge that Rajneesh, jailed Monday on charges of violating immigration laws, is too dangerous to be freed pending his trial.
U.S. Magistrate Barbara DeLaney refused Thursday to release Rajneesh, 53, on his own recognizance, and continued the hearing until today.
“There’s no way, based on the evidence I heard today, that putting him on the commune would be a secure situation,” she said.
The attempted murders of U.S. Atty. Charles Turner and Oregon Atty. Gen. David Frohnmayer were uncovered by FBI agents investigating the bhagwan’s followers, according to Robert Weaver, assistant U.S. attorney for the Oregon district.
“These attempts to assassinate these public officials (were made) because these officials were presenting evidence to a grand jury considering indictment of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh,” he said.
The comments were cut short by DeLaney after Weaver said he could not link the bhagwan to the murder attempts. Weaver claimed, however, that the reports show the guru’s followers “will act on his behalf to protect him whenever they perceive any threat to him, no matter how slight.”
Weaver later declined to say when the assassination attempts took place or why they failed.
Judy Kobbervig, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Portland, declined to comment on the testimony and said Turner was out of town.
‘Not at Liberty’
Asked whether Frohnmayer had received threats, spokeswoman Marla Rae in Salem, Ore., said: “We are not at liberty to confirm or deny that. We have no interest in jeopardizing this case.”
Attorneys for Rajneesh and six followers arrested with him at a Charlotte airport early Monday, called Weaver’s suggestion that the bhagwan could be blamed for the plotters’ actions “outrageous.”
Those lawyers were to present their case for the release of the seven defendants today.
Monday’s gossipy, occasionally sensational hearing was marked by customs agents’ exhibits of Rajneesh’s glittering jewelry collection and tales of golden fortunes supposedly smuggled into the United States on the necks of the guru’s devotees.
Searches of the planes and a bag left on the runway turned up a .38-caliber pistol loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, $58,522 in cash and 21 containers--one filled with about two dozen watches and bracelets encrusted with diamonds and emeralds, agents said.
The hearing came after federal customs agents arrested the guru and his troupe on the second leg of a midnight flight apparently headed for Bermuda from Oregon.
Weaver contends the group was fleeing the guru’s 64,000-acre Oregon commune, Rajneeshpuram, before U.S. marshals could take him into custody on the immigration charges. A federal grand jury earlier had handed down a sealed indictment charging that Rajneesh had illegally stayed in the United States, and kept his foreign-born followers here by ordering their sham marriages to U.S. citizens.
In Monday’s session, witnesses outlined what they said was a clear plot by Rajneesh to enter the United States under false pretenses in 1981, supposedly for several months, to seek a back operation.
The operation never occurred, he said, but informants within the guru’s movement later said that the leader’s original Indian commune was virtually dismantled a short time after Rajneesh arrived in the United States in June, 1981.
Gold Becomes Jewelry
Joseph Green, an official of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Portland office, said a fortune in Indian rupees was converted into gold, melted down, and made into jewelry that Rajneesh’s followers later carried into the United States.
Meanwhile, more than 1,500 of his disciples demonstrated in four West German cities Thursday, demanding his release.
A delegation presented a petition to the U.S. Embassy in Bonn calling for the guru’s freedom, saying his health was in danger. Disciples also demonstrated in Munich, Hamburg and Berlin.
In Portland, five followers--including one who flew home from England to surrender to authorities--pleaded not guilty Thursday to immigration law violations.
U.S. District Judge Edward Leavy ordered all five released without bail on condition they remain in Oregon and report at least once a week to a probation officer.