Rajneeshee Plot Left Its Mark On Former Prosecutor
PORTLAND - Former U.S. Attorney Charles Turner, breaking years of silence, says he still is haunted by a failed assassination plot by followers of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
"If you've been the victim of it, it has a lot of long-range effects on you and I still think about it. Even to this very day," Turner told a local television station last week.
Rajneesh moved his sect to a central Oregon ranch in 1981. By the time he was deported to India four years later, the Rajneeshees had been accused of crimes ranging from wiretapping to mass poisoning.
The plot against Turner allegedly was hatched after his office began investigating possible immigration fraud by the Rajneeshees, many of whom were foreign citizens.
Authorities believed the Rajneeshees were engaging in sham marriages to stay close to Rajneesh. Turner said the Rajneeshees decided to fight back and drew up a hit list of people they considered enemies of the commune.
Documents indicate Rajneesh's personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, became convinced federal agents would arrest Rajneesh in June 1985, and gathered a hit squad of six others to plot to kill Turner.
Turner remembers the day in 1985 he first had an inkling that he was the target of an assassination plot. It was his anniversary: June 20. The same day, records show, a Rajneeshee surreptitiously took pictures of his house. They allegedly shadowed Turner to and from work to pick the best spot for his murder.
From that point on, Turner said, he began to take different routes home.
"I was very afraid and so was my wife," he said. "I slept with a shotgun by my bed and a pistol by my bed."
Some of those who have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges said they first planned to assault Turner near his home using a woman feigning car trouble for a decoy.
"Would I have stopped?" Turner asked. "Yeah, I would have stopped. On my road, yes, of course I would have."
Turner said the first real break in the investigation came when Sheela and other leaders suddenly fled the commune in September 1985. Federal agents moved in the next day with search warrants. The agents found photographs of Turner, his home and the federal courthouse exit he used every day. They also found a secret escape from Sheela's house and evidence of a massive wiretapping operation.
Sheela fled to Germany but later was extradited and served time in federal prison for trying to kill two county officials, setting fire to a county office, arranging more than 400 sham marriages, contaminating restaurant salad bars with salmonella bacteria, and creating an extensive electronic eavesdropping system.
Only after she was deported did investigators piece together the plot against Turner. She remains a federal fugitive.
Four others accused in the plot reached plea agreements with authorities. Two more more were to have been returned to Oregon last week from London but a last-minute snag cropped up in extradition procedures.
Rajneesh pleaded guilty to immigration charges in Portland and returned to India in November 1985. He died there in 1990 at a commune in Pune, where he started his movement.
Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.