Controversial Swami Bhaktipada dies in Thane

Thane: Controversial former leader of the the American Hare Krishna movement Swami Bhaktipada, who had been imprisoned in the US in various criminal cases, has died after protracted illness in a private hospital here. Bhaktipada, 74, died last morning at Jupiter Hospital, where was undergoing treatment for cancer and renal failure since July.

The former spiritual leader was responding well to the treatment until last week, when his kidneys began to fail, hospital sources said, adding his body was handed over to the devotees from Kalyan.

Swami Bhaktipada, also known as Kirtananand Swami, was born as Keith Ham in 1937 in Peekskill, New York, as the son of a Baptist minister and was one of the first Americans to become a disciple of Hare Krishna movement founder A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

In 1968, he founded the largest Hare Krishna community in America called the New Vrindaban, located in the hills near Moundsville. However, by the mid-1980s, the place got mired in controversy, following investigations into charges of sexual abuse of children by staff at its school and murder of two devotees. The US government claimed that he had illegally amassed more than $10.5 million over four years.

Swami Bhaktipada was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to prison in 1990s. He appealed against his 1991 racketeering conviction, then pleaded guilty at a second trial in August 1996 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His sentence was reduced to 12 years in 1997 considering his poor health. Bhaktipada was freed four years early from a prison in 2004, but was barred from returning to New Vrindaban and eventually moved to India in 2008.