Swami Bhaktipada was freed four years early from a prison in Butner, N.C., earlier this week.
Bhaktipada, who also is known as Kirtanananda Swami and was born Keith Ham in Peekskill, N.Y., was arrested in 1987, charged with racketeering and accused of ordering the murders of two devotees who had threatened his control of the community.
He appealed his initial racketeering conviction, then pleaded guilty at a second trial in August 1996, and was sentenced to 20 years. A federal judge reduced the sentence to 12 years in 1997, citing Bhaktipada’s poor health.
Bhaktipada was expelled from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness by the society’s governing body commission on March 16, 1987. It issued a notice “forbidding Kirtanananda Swami from participating in the functions of ISKCON.”
New Vrindaban General Manager Kuladri dasa said the community has worked hard to “re-establish positive relationships with our neighbors in West Virginia and with ISKCON.”
“There is no turning back on our fresh start, and Kirtanananda has no part to play in our future.”
New Vrindaban, known to many as the Palace of Gold, was once some 700 members strong, the crown jewel of the Krishna movement in America. The community was expelled from ISKCON in 1987.