• Former Hindu temple leader awaits sentencing in fraud case

    By: Channel 2's Matt Belanger

    Updated:

    GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Prosecutors say the former leader of a Gwinnett County Hindu temple will likely face what will amount to a life sentence for swindling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his followers.

    Annamalai Annamalai appeared before Judge Timothy Batten Sr. in federal court in Atlanta Monday for his sentencing hearing. The 49-year-old showed little emotion. His attorney worked to discredit the prosecution’s evidence by citing a lack of statements from victims and references to fraud in the paperwork.

    In the afternoon, prosecutors presented a witness from New York who spoke about the impact Annamalai has had on her. The woman started crying as she told the judge she came to Annamalai asking him to pray for her family’s legal troubles. She said he then went on to repeatedly charge her American Express card for amounts that added up to $20,000. When she disputed the charges, she said he became combative and brought his own legal charges.

    The woman said Annamalai would compare himself to the pope and she didn’t realize he was an impostor until it was too late. However, she said what hurts the most is she has ruined some of her relationships with family members from whom she borrowed another $50,000 to continue paying Annamalai’s charges. She said her credit is ruined and she asked the judge to deliver a tough sentence.

    Annamalai schemed people out of money in several states, officials say. In Georgia, he ran his operation out of the now-defunct Hindu Temple of Georgia in Norcross. They say Annamalai repeatedly charged his customers’ credit cards without their permission and would later falsify documents when those charges were challenged by victims and credit card companies.

    “This guy has no good bone in him and I’m so happy to see him where he is today in an orange jumpsuit,” said Valmiki Raghunathan, who identified himself as one of Annamalai’s first victims.

    Annamalai was convicted in August on 34 felony charges, including bank fraud and money laundering, in connection with his scheme.

    Prosecutors say Annamalai used the money to support a lavish lifestyle, including funneling money into bank accounts in India. They say he also concealed assets as he filed for bankruptcy for the Hindu Temple of Georgia in 2009. In all, officials say Annamalai stole more than $2 million.

    “Every person he touched, he stung them. He found the most vulnerable of victims and preyed on them for money,” Raghunathan said.

    Annamalai’s spouse was also convicted in the case and has already served time and been deported to India.

    The hearing resumes Tuesday at 9 a.m.

    Next Up: