U.S. Judge Declines to Free Rajneesh on Bond
A federal judge, saying Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had a “disposition to flight,” refused on Friday to free the guru from jail on bond while he awaits trial on charges of violating U.S. immigration laws.
U.S. Magistrate Barbara Delaney agreed, however, to drop charges against three of the guru’s followers who are accused of harboring a fugitive and set bail at $25,000 each for three other disciples.
Delaney had earlier dismissed on a legal technicality charges of unlawful flight against Rajneesh, noting that he had not actually left the country.
“I’m going to go with the government’s motion for detention,” Delaney announced at the conclusion of a two-day hearing. “I do so based on the determination of the evidence of the conduct of the defendant showing a disposition and predisposition to flight, plus a means to flight. He has both the financial resources and devoted followers willing to do anything to avoid his incarceration,” she said.
Prosecutors hailed the ruling, but Rajneesh followers waiting outside the courthouse burst into tears and shouted, “Bhagwan, we love you,” when the handcuffed and shackled guru was led to a police car.
U.S. Marshal Max Wilson said Rajneesh will remain jailed in Charlotte until at least Monday. He expects to fly the bhagwan to Oregon, probably on Tuesday.
Rajneesh and six followers were arrested Monday when their two Learjets landed at the Charlotte airport. The government claimed Rajneesh, who heads a 1,500-member Oregon commune, was trying to flee the country to avoid prosecution on charges of arranging sham marriages to dodge immigration laws.
Delaney said the charges against three women followers were dropped because they were members of his household staff with no knowledge of his legal affairs. The other three were freed under $25,000 secured bond.
The government presented evidence that the guru’s entourage was bound for Bermuda or the Bahamas.
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Agent Joseph Greene said the FBI reported that Rajneesh’s disciples last January researched “locating countries around the world” where the guru could stay for an extended period without a visa.
He said the list was narrowed to two places--"Nassau and Bermuda.”
Delaney also noted that passports for all seven defendants and about $58,500 in cash were found aboard the two jets seized in the arrests. She said they had enough money to support themselves for a long time.
Defense lawyer Bill Diehl had argued that the government had no proof that the defendants were going any place except on vacation.
“They have not committed any crime except flying from Oregon to Charlotte,” Diehl said.
Meanwhile, the Oregonian, the daily newspaper published in Portland, reported that disciples of Rajneesh plotted to kill one of its investigative reporters and to sabotage computer files about the sect.