New York, Apr 15 (PTI): 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.
"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.
Annamalai concealed assets from creditors and others by diverting credit card receipts and donations intended for the temple to a bank account in the name of a different entity.
He was also convicted of money laundering for using proceeds from the bankruptcy fraud to pay mortgages on properties that he owned, and payments to himself.
Annamalai was also found guilty of obstruction and false statements for sending a fraudulent email to an IRS agent.
The email was made to look like it came from a witness to the criminal investigation into the temple.
In addition to Annamalai's prison sentence, US District Court Judge Timothy Batten also ordered Annamalai to not engage in any spiritual service for compensation, directly or indirectly through intermediaries.
He would be housed in a 'Communications Management Housing Unit', which is a special facility that will be able to monitor Annamalai's telephone calls and electronic communications from prison.