Ex-Leader of Hindu Temple Gets 27 Years for Ripping Off Followers
By David G. McAfee, author of The Belief Book
April 19 – The former leader of the now-defunct Hindu Temple of Georgia was sentenced April 13 to more than 27 years in federal prison after being convicted on more than 30 felony counts, including bank fraud, tax fraud, bankruptcy fraud and obstruction.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia sentenced Annamalai Annamalai, who was convicted on 34 felony counts after a two-week jury trial in August, to 27 years and three months in prison. Judge Batten also ordered him to not to engage in any “spiritual service for compensation.”
Prosecutors say Annamalai, who also goes by Dr. Commander Selvam and Swamiji Sri Selvam Siddhar, charged his followers fees in exchange for “spiritual services.” The adherents typically paid via credit card and Annamalai charged the cards multiple additional times without authorization, according to John A. Horn, Acting U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia.
“Annamalai perverted the sacred institution of religion by using it as a vehicle for greed and personal profit,” Horn said in an April 13 statement. “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.”
The prosecution says Annamalai made multiple false charges to his followers’ credit cards and, if they disputed the transactions, he submitted fraudulent supporting documents to credit card companies. Annamalai then filed “spurious lawsuits” against those who challenged the dubious charges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Annamalai is further accused of manipulating audio recordings to make it appear as though his victims had agreed to the unauthorized charges. Annamalai then sent the altered recordings to police departments that were investigating criminal complaints levied against him, according to the government.
Annamalai was convicted Aug. 25 of bank fraud, tax fraud, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud in connection with the temple’s petition for bankruptcy protection in 2009. Annamalai concealed funds from creditors by diverting credit card receipts and the temple’s donations to a bank account in a different name, prosecutors say.
Annamalai was also found guilty of three counts of obstruction and false statements in relation to a grand jury investigation into the bankruptcy case. The defendant sent a fake e-mail to a special agent at the Internal Revenue Service pretending to be a witness in the criminal investigation and sent false affidavits to the grand jury and the bankruptcy court, according to the indictment.
On April 13, almost eight months after Annamalai was convicted, Judge Batten sentenced him two 27 years and three months in prison. In addition to the prison term, the judge ordered the defendant not to charge for spiritual services and not to file any more frivolous, abusive or malicious lawsuits.
Judge Batten also recommended to the Bureau of Prisons that Annamalai be housed in a “Communications Management Housing Unit,” where his telephone calls and electronic communications will be closely monitored.
Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation, said the sentence is a “vital element in maintaining public confidence in our legal and financial system.”
“Annamalai Annamalai, a self-proclaimed ‘child prodigy’ and ‘priest,’ received his fate today for the fraud that he perpetrated on the faithful followers that believed in him,” Hyman-Pillot said. “This defendant utilized the nation’s financial system to steal money from unsuspecting victims and then used the money for his own personal benefit.”
By David G. McAfee
Bio: McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of The Belief Book, a children’s book explaining the origins of beliefs and religion, and Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer. He is also an editor for Ockham Publishing and a contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.