Houston, March 9 (PTI): Absconding self-styled godman Prakashanand Saraswati, also known as Shree Swamiji, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison and fined $10,000 on each of 20 felony counts for groping girls who grew up on the ashram he founded and led in central Texas.
With the subject of their deliberations still missing and presumed to be on the run, a Hays County jury today sentenced the 82-year-old guru to 14 years in prison for each of the 20 counts of molesting two girls in his Barsana Dham ashram in Driftwood in the 1990s.
For Prakashanand, a religious leader who claims hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide, the lengthy prison sentence represented a dramatic reversal of fortune.
The parent organisation to which his Barsana Dham ashram belongs owns and operates temples and hospitals in India and other countries.
For the women who said the guru kissed and fondled them in the mid-1990s while they were in their teens, the prison sentence represented a satisfying end to a bitter battle against a man they were once told was a living saint and a religious group to which their parents still belong. Now 27 and 30, the women brought charges against the guru three years ago.
The jury of eight men and four women deliberated only a half-hour. Prakashanand didnt show up for the punishment phase of his trial and is still at large.
District judge Charles Ramsay will decide later whether the gurus prison sentences are to be served concurrently. Last week the jury found Prakashanand guilty of indecency with a child by sexual contact, based on his repeated groping of two teenagers whose families lived at the ashram he founded south-west of Austin.
The guru was released on a $1 million cash bond but failed to show up on Monday in San Marcos for the sentencing. The judge then ordered the bond revoked and issued the arrest warrant against the guru. He had already revoked Prakashanands US passport.