PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal grand jury today indicted 21 followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh for allegedly tapping telephones and bugging other conversations at the guru's commune.
The wiretap scheme, uncovered after the Sept. 15 departure of the guru's ex-secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, was "without precedent in the District of Oregon," U.S. Atty. Charles H. Turner said.
After Sheela left the commune with other top Rajneeshee officials, FBI agents began a three-month investigation and confiscated thousands of cassette recordings of intercepted communications, Turner said.
Only two of the named defendants are in custody--Sheela and Ma Anand Puja, former head of the Rajneesh Medical Clinic. They have been jailed in West Germany since a 35-count federal indictment was issued in October, accusing the 54-year-old sect leader and seven others of immigration fraud.
A month later, after a cross-country flight to North Carolina and two weeks behind bars, Rajneesh pleaded guilty to two immigration charges, paid $400,000 in fines and was ordered out of the country. A few weeks later the commune began to disband.
Once Sheela and other commune officials left the country, Rajneesh lashed out at "Sheela and her gang," accusing them of wiretapping, attempted murder and other crimes. His followers then began to cooperate with U.S. officials and helped them investigate the bugging operation.
The other 19 Rajneeshees named in the wiretap indictment spread around the globe after the guru's return to his native India. Many are in Europe and some have gone to Canada, Assistant U.S. Atty. Barry Sheldahl said.
The conspiracy counts charge Rajneesh disciples with establishing a listening post near the commune's telephone switching center. The grand jury said phone calls into and out of Rajneeshpuram were secretly and methodically intercepted and recorded from January, 1984, until Sheela's departure.
"The scheme makes a lot of sense if you're intending to retain the current power structure," Sheldahl said.