Indian priest in US sentenced to 27 yrs in jail for bank fraud

New York: An Indian-origin former leader of a now defunct Hindu temple in Georgia has been sentenced to 27 years in prison for committing bank and tax frauds, money laundering and using the temple's income to fund his personal lifestyle.

Annamalai Annamalai (49), also known as Swamiji Sri Selvam Siddhar, was in August last convicted for bank and tax frauds following a two-week jury trial. He was also convicted of bankruptcy fraud offences in connection with the Hindu Temple's petition for bankruptcy protection in August 2009.

"Annamalai perverted the sacred institution of religion by using it as a vehicle for greed and personal profit," said Acting US Attorney John A Horn. "He convinced his victims that they had a problem in need of spiritual guidance, and then took advantage of their vulnerabilities for personal financial gain.

The sentence rendered against him is lengthy but just and fair considering the irreparable harm he caused to his victims." Annamalai generated income through the Hindu Temple of Georgia by charging fees to his followers in exchange for providing spiritual or related services.

In a typical transaction, a follower agreed to purchase a particular service for a communicated price, and provided a credit card number by telephone to guarantee payment. He charged his followers' credit card numbers on multiple occasions, in excess of the agreed amount and without authorisation.

When the followers disputed the charges with their credit card companies, Annamalai submitted false documentation to the credit card companies in support of the unauthorised charges. He later filed spurious lawsuits against followers who disputed his charges and manipulated audio recordings to make it sound as if the followers had agreed to the disputed charges.

The income generated by the temple through these credit card charges was used to fund the personal lifestyle of Annamalai and his family, who owned or controlled numerous homes and real properties, luxury vehicles, and foreign bank accounts in India.

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