The governing body of the Hare Krishna religious sect announced today it has expelled from the movement the leader of a West Virginia Krishna community that is the target of federal investigations.
A spokesman for ousted leader Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada called the action an unjustified "political move" and said it would not change the leadership of the community of New Vrindaban near Moundsville, W.Va.
A federal grand jury last fall began investigating allegations of criminal activity, from drug dealing to child molestation, at the 4,000-acre, 600-member settlement 70 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
Federal sources have said that the panel is also trying to determine if the community's leaders conspired to murder an expelled New Vrindaban resident, Steven Bryant, 35.
Bryant was found shot to death in Los Angeles last spring after accusing leaders of illicit activity. Another Krishna devotee, Thomas Drescher, 37, of Ravenna, Ohio, was later charged with his murder.
This January, Drescher was convicted of murdering still another devotee, Charles Saint Denis, who disappeared in 1983. A body believed to be that of Saint Denis was found buried in a wooded area at the community this winter with a bullet in its head.
On Jan. 6, federal authorities raided New Vrindaban and seized an assortment of sports caps, stickers and record albums that they contend were sold without proper licensing. The community's leaders denied any wrongdoing.
This month, two devotees who taught at the New Vrindaban's school were charged with child molestation.
The India-based sect has about 5,000 members worldwide.