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Ma Sheela Gets 4 1/2 Years for Fraud, Wiretapping

July 22, 1986|Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Ma Anand Sheela, former personal secretary to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, pleaded guilty today to federal charges of immigration fraud, wiretapping and conspiracy to tamper with consumer products.

U.S. District Judge Edward Leavy sentenced her to concurrent 4 1/2-year prison sentences on the first two charges and a five-year suspended sentence on the third. After serving her sentences, Sheela must leave the country.

A second former Rajneeshee leader, Ma Anand Puja, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years for conspiracy to tamper with consumer products, to be followed by three years' probation for wiretapping.

Under a plea bargain arrangement, Sheela and Puja admitted their roles in a 1984 food poisoning outbreak in The Dalles that sickened more than 750 people and in creating the vast electronic eavesdropping system at the sect's Rajneeshpuram commune.

The immigration fraud charge against Sheela alleged that she helped arrange more than 400 sham marriages among the guru's disciples.

Some Charges Dropped

After the women pleaded guilty to the charges, 32 other immigration charges and three wiretapping charges against Sheela were dropped. One wiretapping charge against Puja was dropped.

The women also were accused in state charges of giving glasses of poisoned water to two Wasco County officials and of a poison-syringe attack on the guru's physician. Sheela was charged with setting a fire that damaged the Wasco County planning office.

Assistant State Atty. Gen. Bob Hamilton said that the women would plead guilty to the state charges later today and that the state would recommend sentences to run concurrently with the federal sentences.

Sheela also will pay $469,000 in fines under the state agreement, Hamilton said.

Sheela, Puja and a third former sect leader, Ma Shanti Bhadra, were arrested in West Germany last October on state charges of attempted murder and assault stemming from the attack on the doctor, Swami Devaraj. Sheela also was charged with federal immigration violations.

Trials Delayed

The women earlier pleaded innocent to those charges, but their trials had been delayed pending approval of additional charges. The West German Justice Ministry approved the additional charges, as required under the extradition treaty, on July 14.

The three women were extradited to the United States in February. Sheela, 36, a native of India, was held without bail in Portland. Puja, 38, a Filipina, and Bhadra, 40, an Australian, were jailed on $10-million bail each. Bhadra faced only the state charges, to be resolved later today.

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