Portland: Federal prosecutors moved closer to shutting the books on the biggest marriage fraud case in USS. history after five disciples of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh pleaded guilty in Portland to conspiring to arrange sham marriages. Five women, charging it was impossible for Rajneeshees to get a fair trial in Oregon, switched their pleas to guilty Friday under a plea-bargain agreement, in a case involving more than 400 illegal marriages at the guru’s commune.

The five women were among 35 named in a 35 count federal indictment against Rajneesh and seven disciples that led to the Indian guru’s deportation last month.

U.S. Attorney Charles Turner called the immigration case “the largest recorded marriage fraud in the United States.”

The women were given suspended sentences and placed on probation for five years but U.S. District Judge Edward Levy ordered two noncitizens to leave the country within 30 days.

One of the defendants, Ma Prem Padma, 36, also known as Suzanne Pelletier, also pleaded guilty Friday to a felony court of illegal wiretapping at the guru’s central Oregon commune and a sentencing date was set for Feb. 3.

Turner said Pradma’s guilty plea was “just the tip of the iceberg” in a federal investigation of an elaborate wiretapping operation at Rajneeshpuram.

Halfway across the state, the small town of Antelope, taken over by the guru’s disciples three years ago, returned to its roots with the swearing in of a new, non Rajneeshee mayor and city council.

“It took a while to sort things out but things are starting to get back to normal,” said new City Council member and former Mayor Phil Hill. Hill’s wife, Margaret, was Mayor when the Rajneeshees took over in 1982.

A banner that read, “Antelope hostages free at last” flanked the new city council members during swearionies.

Hill said about 20 people remain in Antelope, less than half the number who lived there before a band of Rajneeshees moved to Antelope from their nearby commune and took over the city government.

Article extracted from this publication >>  December 20, 1985