Washington, March 9 (IANS) A missing Hindu guru has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for each of 20 counts of molesting two girls who grew up on the Hindu ashram he founded and led in central Texas.
With convicted Prakashanand Saraswati still missing and presumed on the run, a Hays County jury in Austin, Texas, Tuesday sentenced the 82-year-old for molesting the girls in his Barsana Dham ashram in Driftwood during the 1990s.
Known to his followers as Shree Swamiji, the religious leader claims hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide. The parent organization to which his 200-acre Barsana Dham ashram belongs, owns and operates temples and hospitals in India and other countries.
The jury of eight men and four women deliberated only a half-hour to sentence the guru kissing and fondling the girls while they were in their teens.
“The last three-and-a-half years have been a living hell,” Kate Tonnessen, now 31, one of the victims, was quoted as saying by Austin American-Statesman.
Her sister, Vesla Tonnessen Kazimer, 27, said: “He has failed as a spiritual leader, and he has failed as a grandfather, and he has failed as a person.”
The Statesman said attorneys for the guru were unavailable for comment, but prosecutors said they anticipated an appeal of the verdict and sentence.
Meanwhile, the search for the guru, missing since Sunday evening, continued with police reporting no new leads as to his whereabouts.
Prakashanand is thought to be travelling with his longtime assistant and caregiver, Vishwambhari Devi. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.
US Marshal Hector Gomez said federal officers are “investigating a potential federal violation of an unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and we are working closely with the Hays County sheriff’s office to locate him.”
Hays County authorities also began the process of collecting $11 million in bond money and other financial commitments they said Prakashanand forfeited when he did not show up in court Monday morning.