AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Hindu guru who became a fugitive being convicted of molesting two teenagers at his Texas ashram fled to India with the help of spiritual followers who are now under investigation by federal prosecutors.
The Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday that Prakashanand Saraswati likely snuck into India nearly a year ago decreasing the chances he will be captured and returned to Texas. State investigators have marveled at how a network of devotees apparently schemed to keep their 83-year-old guru from likely spending the rest of his life in prison.
Newly filed court documents obtained by the newspaper reveal that Prakashanand, who uses a wheelchair, apparently snuck into Mexico two days after the March 2011 conviction while free on a $1 million bond. He is then believed to have flown to India eight months later with a fake passport.
The operation was planned and carried out by the guru’s followers from Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Texas and Mexico, according to court filings in Hays County.
“It is the most sophisticated scheme I’ve seen as far as fugitive investigations go,” said Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Marcum, who has led the manhunt. “They were very smart about what they did.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating several of the guru’s followers, Marcum said. Some could face charges of harboring a fugitive, aiding and abetting an escape or making false statements to a government agent.
A Hays County jury convicted Prakashanand — known to followers as Shree Swamiji — on 20 counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact. His repeated molestation of two teenagers allegedly occurred in the 1990s at the Barsana Dham ashram, located outside of Austin. The ashram has since changed its name to the Radha Madhav Dham.
According to court records, the guru crossed the border into Nuevo Laredo with several devotees two days after the sentencing. After secretly moving just south of Tijuana in mid-2011, Prakashanand, who’d shaved his long white beard and cut his shoulder-length hair, then used a fake passport to escape to India in November.
Although many of the assertions in the document came from law enforcement interviews with devotees, much was obtained from cellphone records and private emails from Prakashanand’s followers.
Mexico and India both have extradition treaties with the United States, but the U.S. Marshals don’t have an active office in India. That means Prakashanand would have to be apprehended and tried by Indian authorities.
Prakashanand was sentenced in absentia to 14 years in prison on each of the 20 counts. He also forfeited $1.2 million in bonds and promissory notes when he went on the lam.
Shyama Rose, one of the girls who was kissed and groped by the guru, said his escape to India effectively ends the case.
“I feel the door is closed on it,” she said. “There’s nothing more to be done.”
She added: “I’m sure we’d all sleep better if he were locked up. But he’s in his own little prison.”
Chirag Patel, the managing member of the ashram, told the newspaper that “we have no knowledge of anyone at the ashram supporting (Prakashanand’s) escape.”
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