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Hare Krishna Priest Gets 3-Year Term in Visa Fraud Case

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Milwaukee’s Hare Krishna temple head priest Sagarsen Haldar.
  • MILWAUKEE, Wis., United States

    Sagarsen Haldar, the head priest of a Hare Krishna temple here, was sentenced to three years in federal prison Jan. 22 after he was convicted of bringing sham priests to the United States under a religious worker visa program and extorting money from them.

    According to the Journal Sentinel, the 33-year-old Haldar, aka Gopal Hari Das, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government. Over two years, Haldar filed two dozen applications with the State Department to bring people from India to work at his temple in Milwaukee.

    First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Haanstad recommended that Haldar receive the maximum of five years in prison, saying the Indian American priest did not accept responsibility for his guilt and continued to act deceptively after his conviction.

    Haldar's attorney, Robert Dvorak, presented material showing good works by the temple on the south side, in the 2400 block of W. Ramsey Ave., including feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and old. Dvorak asked for two years.

    Haldar himself had a lengthy statement read by his Bengali translator. He asked U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa for probation.

    Randa said the case was difficult because Haldar had helped people but also broke immigration law and committed theft. Haldar stole a computer from a store several years ago and committed retail theft as he was waiting to be sentenced after he was convicted of the visa fraud, according to court records.

    "Everyone says you are an honest, caring, loving individual," Randa said at the conclusion of a nearly four-hour sentencing hearing. "Some of that is true, but you have not been honest all the time. . . . Why would someone who was engaged in this (religious) practice do this type of thing?"

    The people Haldar brought to the United States were not religious workers, but more like indentured servants who were charged up to $30,000, Haanstad said. They worked at convenience stores and drove cabs to pay Haldar.

    "Haldar used his religion and his standing in that religion as essential tools of his fraud scheme," he said.

    In his statement, Haldar quoted from scripture extensively but did not directly say he broke the law.

    "God knows my heart and the truth," the translator said, reading Haldar's statement.

    Federal immigration officials received a tip that Haldar was defrauding the program to enrich himself. Agents stopped him as he returned from India with a "mobile immigration fraud kit" — blank religious worker visa forms, passports, loose passport photos and documents showing religious ordination in his sect.

    Haldar is a permanent resident of the United States and has lived in Milwaukee since 2003, leading the Gaudiya Vaisnava Society here. After he is released from prison, he most likely will be deported, Randa said.

    Nearly two dozen members of the temple attended the sentencing. Haldar said the temple will most likely close once he is sent to prison.

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