Ex-Rajneeshee pleads guilty in conspiracy

Oregon Live/December 21, 2002
By Steve Suo

But Turner, the intended victim, was not so satisfied when contacted about the plea.

"One year for a conspiracy to murder a presidential appointee?" said Turner, who retired in 1993. "That's just laughable."

He said the outcome showed the judge and prosecutors "didn't think it was an important case."

McCarthy's conviction in all likelihood marks an end to the criminal cases stemming from the Rajneeshees' occupancy of a 64,000-acre ranch in Central Oregon from 1981 to 1985.

Thousands were drawn to the compound by the group's charismatic leader, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, known to the outside world for his obsession with flashy Rolls-Royce automobiles.

Most cult leaders fled the country as FBI agents descended on the ranch to investigate sham marriages, wiretapping and an intentional salmonella poisoning that sickened hundreds of people in The Dalles.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors uncovered the plot to murder Turner.

Six of seven convicted Seven people were indicted in the murder conspiracy, and now all but one -- Catherine Jane Stubbs -- have been convicted. Stubbs remains at large in Germany, but a court there ruled in 1991 that she could not be extradited.

"We know where she is, but we can't get her," said Barry Sheldahl, an assistant U.S. attorney. "If she's smart, she will stay in Germany."

McCarthy, once known as Ma Yoga Vidya, was fourth in command at what locals called "Rancho Rajneesh." Prosecutors said she played a vital role in recruiting U.S. citizens to marry cult followers and smooth their passage from India.

On Friday, McCarthy sat at the defense table wearing casual white slacks and a white blouse, an airline "wheelie" bag by her side. Before court began, she chatted with two fellow Rajneeshees. One was Alma Potter -- also known as Alma Peralta -- one of McCarthy's co-conspirators who was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to two years in prison. The group shared a box of cough drops.

McCarthy apologized for her relaxed dress after her 34-hour journey from South Africa and thanked prosecutors and the U.S. marshals for their kind treatment. Then she began her explanation.

McCarthy's story "My trust in people and my sense of loyalty was my weakness," McCarthy said. "I trustingly thought that people could build a world in which people could live together in peace and harmony."

But at the ranch, she witnessed a "slow insidious emergence" of domination and control. Dissidents were threatened with exclusion. Eventually, she found herself living under the dictatorship of two paranoid leaders, Rajneesh and his chief lieutenant, Anand Sheela.

"Over and over again, Anand Sheela attempted to inculcate the need to submit to her or to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh."

She admitted aiding in immigration fraud and said she had agreed to the murder conspiracy, at least initially. But when it came time to discuss "where, how and when," McCarthy said, "I expressed my gross, gross disapproval."

Still, she said, she never publicly denounced Sheela for the plot or tried to warn authorities, as she should have. Instead, she confronted Sheela privately. She said Sheela demoted her to the kitchen staff, labeled her a disloyal "leech" and said McCarthy would never again see her husband, who had left the cult.

McCarthy has been living in South Africa, where she grew up, since fleeing the United States in 1985. Prosecutors had hoped to win the extradition battle within another year and began negotiations with McCarthy several months ago, Sheldahl said.

Rajneesh was deported from the United States in 1986. He died in India in 1990.

McCarthy said she now practices psychotherapy, treating children and families. She said she has been "rehabilitated," but her conscience has continued to eat at her.

"Someone once said, 'It is hard to know what is the right thing to do, but once you know it, it is hard not to do the right thing,' " McCarthy said.

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