Portland, Ore. — A federal court jury Friday returned a $2.2 million verdict against followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in a suit filed by a woman who claimed she was cheated out of nearly $400,000.
The decision came one week after a circuit court jury in Portland awarded $39 million dollars in punitive damages to a Portland woman in her fraud suit against the Church of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
In the case against the guru’s group, the federal jury awarded the judgment to Helen Byron, of Santa Fe, N.M., who sued the Rajneesh Foundation International to recover $309,990 she claimed she loaned the group for the purchase of land while living at the Indian guru’s ashram in Poona, India.
The jury also said the group was to return $80,000 Byron said she put in a Rajneesh bank at the ashram. Byron also was awarded punitive damages of $1.5 million on the loan and $300,000 on the bank deposit.
Ma Prem Isabel, a spokeswoman for the guru’s followers, who now have their international headquarters at Rajneeshpuram in central Oregon, said the two court awards showed religious bigotry on the part of Oregonians.
“T think Oregonians basically are trying to bring the bigotry into the court and until now they are doing pretty good,” she said. We’ll see how they do on appeal.
The guru’s personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, also president of the foundation, claimed Byron donated the money to the group so it could buy Rajneesh an armor plated Rolls Royce after someone tried to assassinate him.
Boron said that while she had given substantial money earlier to the foundation as donations, $300,000 was only a loan that was to have been used to buy land for the group.
She also said that because she consider it at a loan, she had not claimed the $300,000 as a tax duction as she h i ad on gifts she gave the foundation.
Sheela never intended to repay the loan, never thought this woman would have the courage to ask for this Money back,” said Mark Cushing, Byron’s attorney in his closing argument.
Article extracted from this publication >> May 31, 1985