Guru's ex-aide back in Oregon after prison

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A former secretary who was part of the inner circle at guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's central Oregon commune has returned to the state following her release from a California prison.

Ma Anand Puja, 40, also known as Diane Yvonne Onang, was released from the federal prison at Pleasanton, Calif., Thursday after nearly 39 months behind bars, including time spent in a German jail before she was extradited to the United States in late 1985.


Puja was convicted of helping cause a 1984 salmonella outbreak in the Oregon city The Dalles that sickened nearly 750 people and of helping to install an elaborate wiretap network at Ranch Rajneesh, which housed thousands of the guru's followers before he pleaded guilty to immigration fraud and was deported in November 1985.

Puja is a former secretary of the Rajneesh Medical Corp.

The flamboyant 'free-love' guru -- the self-professed 'guru of the rich' -- lived for more than four years on what was once a cattle ranch in central Oregon, taking daily drives in one of his dozens of Rolls-Royces past chanting, dancing disciples as he wound along the country roads.

The silver-bearded guru, who had much trouble trying to find a country that would accept him after his deportation, eventually returned to his native India. He declared a few days ago that he is the reincarnation of the founder of Buddhism and will no longer use the title 'Bhagwan.'


David Looney, supervising federal probation officer in Portland, said Puja spent Thursday night at a halfway house in that city pending her release Friday to a private residence. However, Looney said Puja had no obligation to stay there.

Puja's plea bargain called for her to serve three years' probation following her release from prison for her role in the electronic eavesdropping network, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Baron Sheldahl of Portland.

The terms called for the probation to be formally supervised if Puja, a U.S. citizen, remained in the country. If she chose to leave the United States, the probation would be unsupervised, Shedahl said.

Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneesh's top aide, who is an Indian national with a Swiss passport, gained early release from a federal prison in San Diego earlier in December and immediately was deported, flying to Frankfurt, West Germany.

Neither Looney nor a spokeswoman at the Federal Correctional Institution at Pleasanton would comment on Puja's plans upon her release from prison.

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