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March 2, 2011     Hays Free Press
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I Page 6A NEWS Hays Free Press March 2, 2011 + Hindu Guru: Indecency trial continues Continued from pg. 1A Prakashanand, 82, Was arrested in April 2008 and charged with touching the breasts of two then-minor girls between 1993 and 1996. Each indecency count, a second- degree felony, carries a pun- ishment between two and 20 years in prison. Known as Shree Swamiji by his devotees, Prakashanand runs a Driftwood area ashram as the spiritual head of the lKP-Barsana Dham temple. His trial, presided over by 22nd District Judge Charles Ramsay, began last week and is expect- ed to continue through today. On Friday, the first accuser testified that the guru touched her breasts multiple times, most of the acts occurring be- fore she turned 16. The wom- an, now 30, lived at the ashram with her mother and brother and described the site as sup- pressive, with girls forced to wear modest clothing, and 12- foot fences and guards. She and her brother were also segregated while at the ashram. "We were told not to associ- ate with each other," she said. In cross examination, de- fense attorney Angelyn Gates, one of a handful of lawyers on the guru's muscular defense team, revealed photos of the accuser and other children at the ashram in shorts, t-shirts and even swimsuits. The alleged victim said that the dress code became stricter as the girls grew up. Gates then argued that the accuser returned to the ash- ram after she left in 1998 to work and even perform in cer- emonies, drawing proof from other evidence photos. She also showed the jury an enlarged photo of a birthday card given to Prakashanand after the alleged incidents took place, in which the accuser signed, "Happy Birthday my dearest Swamiji." The defense hinted that the accuser's claims were a ploy to get monetary gain from the holy organization, which she quickly denied. "I have no intention of suing anybody over this," she said on the stand, "It's not my goal. It's been a long three years and I want to move on." In court, an elderly '7 was concerned that they would be hurt. My mother was riving there and she bad no job." - One of Saraswati's accusers Prakashanand listened to tes- timony in a reclining brown chair to rest his bad back. He recently had back surgery, which stalled the trial last year until a doctor could medically clear him for court. Civilian-clothed security from the Hays County Sher- iff's Office also sat behind the prosecutor's desk as security was heightened for the high- profile trial. MORE ACCUSATIONS The second accuser, aged 27, later testified that th'akashanand touched her breasts and kissed her several times when she was a minor. Many of the acts happened when they were alone in his bedroom. A third woman also claimed that the guru groped her. However, she is not one of the named accusers since the stat- ute of limitations ended before she could press charges. All three women, who were living in Washington, D.C. at the time, decided to file their complaints to Hays County authorities in 2007. The first accuser said she was hesitant to give an outcry statement because she wor- ried about her family at the ashram. "I was concerned that they Would be hurt," she said. "My mother was living there and she had no job." The third woman, 31, who seemed nervous and occa- sionally fought back tears, told the court Tuesday of her moti- vation to come forward. "I don't want little girls to be raped and molested," she tes- tiffed. "I didn't want to be the one to stand up to stop this but no one has." DESTROY THE ASHRAM Earlier this week, the de- fense argued that there are no witnesses to corroborate the accusers' allegations. The sister of the second ac- cuser and third collaborating witness testified that her sis- ters are habitual liars. Now the vice president of the ashram, Pmbhakari Devi said that her 31-year-old sister threatened to bring down the ashram. "She said that she would destroy it," Devi, 43, testified. "[Instead] she destroyed our family." Testimony showed that Devi and her parents tried to dis- suade the women from filing charges against the guru. The defense argued that the guru was rarely alone and disputed the second accuser's recollec- tion of the furniture placement in his bedroom. Defense character wimess- es also testified that life at the ashram was in line with Hin- duism practices and not out of the ordinary. Ashram residents are free to go as they please and the fence detracts deer from the property's fruit trees, Devi testified, who added that the public is welcome to visit the grounds. In 1990, Prakashanand es- tablished the Barsana Dham Center on FM 1826, a replica of an Indian holy district and the spiritual movement's North American seat. Following his arrest by U.S. marshals at a Washington, D.C. airport nearly three years ago, Prakashanand was origi- nally barred from leaving the country. But when infomer- cial magnate Peter Spiegel, a wealthy Saraswati adherent, put up a $10 million bond in security, Ramsay allowed Prakashanand to visit India for religious duties. Inlune 2009, the Third Court of Criminal Appeals denied an appeal of Ramsay's ruling keeping the guru from the Bar- sana Dham Center, saying the defendant had agreed to the terms when his passport was returned to him in May 2008. / i PHOTO BY WES FERGUSON At suppertime, multi-generational members of the Perez family crowd around the kitchen table in the family's current living area, a portable former office building converted into a house. Movin' on up Provider of 13 moves into new home, thanks to Angels BY WES FERGUSON wes@haysfreepress.com A local woman who is rais- ing 13 of her grandchildren is set to move into a new, donat- ed home this weekend. The nonprofit group, Austin Angels, has raised $10,000 to provide the home and furnish- ings to Yolanda Sanchez Perez and her grandchildren. The family members have been living in a small portable office building, travel trailer and shed on rented property in the Green Pastures neigh- borhood east of Kyle. Their new house is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home. The Angels will be holding workdays this weekend be- ginning on Friday afternoon to prepare the home for the move-in. The work schedule stretches over three days: 4 p.m. Friday: Paint the home's interior and exterior walls. 11 a.m. Saturday: Clean the new home and existing trailer; clean up the outside and move ...in furniture. 12:30 p.m. Sunday: Finish furnishing and decorating the home, and stock the kitchen and bathrooms. 5 p.m. Sunday: Reveal the home to Perez and her chil- dren. The group., is also seeking donations fospecific items as well as groceries for the family. For information about the An- gels, visit www.austinangels. net and www.facebook.com/ AustinangelsTX. Perez and her grandchildren have been living on the prop- erty for going almost a year, and a 14th grandchild is moving in with the family in April. Perez works as a housekeeper, but she doesn't have a car that runs. AU STI N TE LC'O "I am a very hardworking grandma," she said. "If some- one could use me, give me an opportunity, I clean houses. I do have good references." Though her teenage grand- sons lack transportation as well, they are also available to work, Perez said. "The boys can cut the yard, wash cars," she said. "They're big boys." 21 Metro Locations Free Checking FEDERAL CREDIT UNION 250+ Free ATMs Visit Your Local Austin Telco Branch" Located at 330 Old San Antonio Road, Buda TX Low-Rate Mortgage Loans For more information, please contact our mortgage specialist. 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