Former Bhagwan’s Secretary Released From Prison, Deported
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Ma Anand Sheela, the fiery former secretary to Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was released from prison in California on Tuesday and deported.
The India-born Sheela, who pleaded guilty to a host of crimes ranging from attempted murder to wiretapping, was released at 8:45 a.m. to the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said Joe Barda, spokesman for the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center.
She served about 2 1/2 years in prison.
Sheela, 39, left the country alone on a 3:30 p.m. flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, West Germany.
Cliff Rogers, deputy district director for the INS in San Diego, said Sheela paid $1,356 for her airline ticket.
Part of Sheela’s plea agreement with Oregon and U.S. officials required that she be deported immediately after leaving prison and remain out of the United States for five years.
Rajneesh, on whom followers bestowed more than 90 Rolls-Royces, allowed Sheela to wield dictatorial control over as many as 4,000 followers who lived at the sect’s now-defunct commune, Rajneeshpuram, in central Oregon.
Sheela received a 4 1/2 -year sentence in July 1986, but was released early because of good behavior.
She pleaded guilty to attempted murder, assault, arson, electronic eavesdropping, immigration fraud and conspiracy, but now maintains she is innocent and made the pleas only to protect Rajneesh, who now holds court at a commune in India.
The commune, started in 1981, collapsed after Rajneesh was convicted of immigration fraud and deported in November 1985.
She was accused of trying to kill Rajneesh’s doctor with a poison-filled syringe, giving glasses of poisoned water to two county officials, setting fire to the county planning office, arranging more than 400 sham marriages so the guru’s foreign disciples could remain in the United States, creating an extensive electronic eavesdropping system at Rajneeshpuram and conspiring to spread salmonella bacteria on food in 10 restaurants in The Dalles, a city 80 miles away.
More than 750 people fell ill from the contaminated restaurant salad bars, and the doctor and two county officials who were poisoned also fell ill.
After Sheela and several of her top aides fled to Europe in September 1985, Rajneesh accused her of leaving the sect $55 million in debt, plotting to kill him, tapping the commune’s telephones and trying to bomb the county courthouse. He since has publicly said she is innocent of all charges.
As part of an agreement with state and federal authorities, Sheela paid the state of Oregon $200,000. She still owes Oregon more than $269,000 in fines and restitution, but contends she has no money left.
In Oregon, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer said he was surprised and upset to learn of the release. Spokeswoman Marla Rae said a communications foulup prevented the attorney general’s office from being told of a change in Sheela’s release date.
As a result, it will be much more difficult to collect the money Sheela owes the state, Rae said.
″It’s a heck of a lot harder to collect money from someone in Germany or India or wherever she is than if she’s in prison in the United States,″ she said.
Last week, Rae said, Sheela was given a state-administered lie detector test about her assets and state lawyers believe she has assets worth pursuing.