RAJNEESHPURAM, Ore A radiant Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh drove through the gates of his central Oregon commune in a Rolls-Royce limousine after 12 days in federal custody and was greeted by his joyous followers. The Indian guru, freed from a Portland jail on $500,000 cash bail Friday and told to stay in Oregon and away from airplanes, arrived at Rajneeshpuram.
Most of the residents of Rajneeshpuram gathered in the subzero weather outside of Rajneesh Mandir, the commune’s large meditation’ hall where the guru gives his public talks. They sang and danced in a joyful celebration, and threw flowers and balloons at the guru’s limousine as he drove by.
The fatigued but beaming Rajneesh did not stop to greet his disciples but went directly to his residence accompanied by his longtime companion, Ma Yoga Vivek.
“This is the greatest day of my entire life,” said Ma Dava Neela, who squealed with delight as she spotted the limousine coming down the gravel road leading into the commune.
“It was total joy when we heard the news,” said Swami Kranti Devatra. When the news of the guru’s release filtered into the commune earlier in the day, Rajneeshees uncorked champagne bottles to celebrate.
Dozens of Rajneeshees ran to nearby pay telephones to call fellow disciples to tell them the news that their guru had arrived safely back home.
“Bhagwan is home, Bhagwan is home,” shrieked one overjoyed disciple over the telephone.
The bearded and shackled sect leader pleaded innocent Friday to charges of immigration fraud.
He smiled at a cheering crowd and slipped into a maroon Rolls Royce limousine that took him first to a hotel his sect owns in down own Portland, and then headed 160 miles east to the commune.
The guru was forced to travel by car because U.S. District Court Judge Edward Levy banned him from flying as part of the conditions for his release and told him to remain in Oregon. The judge also ordered his followers to move a large Convair aircraft capable of transoceanic flights away. Prosecutors contended Rajneesh has $20 million in a Swiss bank account and would do anything to avoid going to prison.
The government asked for a minimum $5 million bail, and a requirement he be kept under close supervision at the Rajneeshowned hotel four blocks from the federal courthouse.
“I don’t believe there is any bail big enough, that he could not walk away from,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Weaver. “The lifestyle here suggests he would avoid jail at all costs.”
But Levy said he had to weigh bail in light of the nature of the crime, and not according to the wealth of the defendant or his notoriety.
If convicted on all 35 counts of a grand jury indictment, Rajneesh could be fined a maximum of $350,000 and sentenced to a maximum 175 years in prison.
But his defense lawyer, Brian O” Neill, said an average sentence for someone convicted of immigration violations is only seven or eight months.
The indictment accuses Rajneesh of lying about his health to obtain a visa into the United states in 1981 and then helping arrange sham marriages between disciples from India and those with U.S. citizenship so they could follow him.
Rajneesh was arrested Oct. 28 in Charlotte, N.C., aboard a rented Lear jet which authorities said was headed for Bermuda. The guru left his commune four days after he was indicted by a federal grand jury but before the indictment was made public.
Rajneesh’s release was delayed by a bomb threat phoned to the jail. After he left the building, the guru was driven to Hotel Rajneesh for a shower and a brief rest before leaving on the four-hour drive.
His disciples congregated in front of the hotel, singing and dancing as they waited for their master to emerge.