WASHINGTON: A Hindu leader, who headed the now defunct Hindu Temple of Georgia, has been convicted on 34 felony counts following two weeks of jury trial in the US.
Sentencing of Annamalai Annamalai, also known as Commander Selvam or Swamiji Sri Selvam Siddhar, is now scheduled on November 13.
"This defendant traded on his perceived religious authority and spiritual powers to cheat the faithful who believed in him," said US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.
"The jury saw through his deception, and he is being held accountable for his fraud," he said.
"Annamalai Annamalai clearly took advantage of his religious standing in the community as well as the individuals who respected and revered him," stated Veronica F Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation.
"He used deceit and fraud, to circumvent the bankruptcy courts and to collect money for his own personal benefit," the IRS official said.
According to US Attorney, the indictment and other information presented in court, Annamalai, 49, 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.
Annamalai caused the followers' credit card numbers to be charged on multiple occasions, in excess of the agreed amount and without authorisation.
If the followers disputed the charges with their respective credit card companies, Annamalai submitted false documentation to the credit card companies in support of the unauthorized charges, which formed the basis for his conviction on bank fraud charges, the chargesheet alleged.
The income generated by the temple through these credit card charges was used to fund the lifestyle of Annamalai and his family, who owned or controlled numerous homes and real properties, luxury vehicles, and bank accounts in India.
Annamalai was convicted of willfully filing a false tax return for the 2007 year, for failing to disclose his financial interest in foreign bank accounts held in India.
He was convicted of bankruptcy fraud offenses in connection with the temple's petition for bankruptcy protection in August 2009. He was also convicted on three counts of obstruction and false statements in connection with the grand jury probe and the bankruptcy proceeding.