Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's former personal secretary and two other...

By Barney Lerten | UPI | July 25, 1986

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's former personal secretary and two other ex-leaders of the guru's Oregon commune were sent to federal prison in California Friday for crimes ranging from food poisoning to arson.

Ma Anand Sheela, 36, the Bhagwan's outspoken secretary during his stay in Oregon; Diane Ivonne Onang, 38, known as Ma Anand Puja when she headed the Rajneesh Medical Corp., and Catherine Jane Paul Elsea, 40, known as Ma Shanti Bhadra when she was treasurer of Rajneesh Foundation International, left the Multnomah County Justice Center jail in the custody of federal marshals.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Marshal Kernan Bagley said the women were sent to a northern California prison.

Sheela's attorney, Stephen Houze, said the three were taken to the medium-security Federal Corrections Institute at Pleasanton, Calif., where federal prosecutors recommended they serve their sentences.

Under a plea-bargain agreement with federal and state prosecutors, Sheela pleaded guilty Tuesday to state and federal charges including food poisoning, wiretapping, assault, arson and attempted murder. Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer said a trial on the state charges alone would have cost $1 million.

U.S. District Judge Edward Leavy sentenced Sheela to 4 years in prison on a federal conviction for poisoning salad bars in The Dalles, Ore., with salmonella bacteria that sickened about 750 people. She also received four other prison terms, all to run concurrently with the 4 -year term.

Puja and Bhadra also entered guilty pleas to the charges and will serve shorter periods at the Pleasanton facility.

The guru pleaded guilty last November to one count of immigration fraud, paid a $400,000 fine and agreed to leave the country. Rajnjeesh traveled around the world but failed to find a new homeland. Several governments expelled the guru due to complaints over his 'free-love' teachings and he is at an undisclosed location.

The sect's 5-year-old Oregon commune, once home to thousands of fervent followers, disbanded. The asking price for the former cattle ranch, purchased for $5.75 million, has been slashed from $44 million to $28.5 million.