By Erin Sherbert
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Press coverage that fall in the Los Angeles Times focused on the businesslike nature of Gandhi's foundation, accusations that Fukunaga had used his sect to bilk millions from followers, and the odd role Tanaka played as conduit between the two men.
Suddenly, Gandhi couldn't blithely pass Fukunaga off as a "prominent Japanese environmentalist" to world leaders. And the whole Gandhi-Fukunaga-Tanaka scheme came to take on a disastrously tawdry air in the minds of potential U.S. converts -- even by the vulgar standards of American televangelism.
The gig was up, it seemed.
As Fukunaga and Tanaka's plans for global conquest began to dissolve, Tanaka was forced to take note of a brutal fact: The man he had hired to con the world appeared to have actually conned him.
Gandhi promised he would bribe the Vatican, bribe Mother Teresa, bribe the United Nations, and even, perhaps, bribe enough people to earn Fukunaga a Nobel Peace Prize. In his court filings, Gandhi claims to have made good on his promise by earning an audience with the pope as the result of a donation of $1 million worth of rare books to the Vatican. Mother Teresa was similarly softened up with a $50,000 donation, Gandhi claims. The former prime minister of Iceland and Henry Kissinger were among figures slated for similar largess, according to Tanaka's filings. According to Gandhi's recollection as recorded in federal court, he was to receive a $1 million payment from Fukunaga for each "project."
Fukunaga did appear in photos with the pope and Mother Teresa. But there is no proof that such quid pro quo exchanges actually took place. The Vatican press office did not respond to an SF Weekly request for an explanation, but the fact is that the pope gives thousands of audiences every year, as did Mother Teresa before her death.
And arrangements supposedly made by Gandhi that would have required any real connections or influence prove ephemeral.
According to Tanaka's filings, the Japanese businessman gave Gandhi $300,000 to make arrangements "regarding to Nobel Peace Prize" to Henry Kissinger Associates. Kissinger's assistant says there is no record of communication with Gandhi. Tanaka says Gandhi claimed he used $300,000 for a payment to former Iceland Prime Minister Steingrinur Hermannsson for a Fukunaga-aggrandizing "project." In an interview, Hermannsson says Gandhi did nothing more than donate $25,000 to a sustainable development conference he held two years ago.
"He told me that he was the same man who had given a peace prize recognition to Reagan and Bush," Hermannsson recalls.
Gandhi claims to have hatched his initial plans with Fukunaga at a June meeting in Tokyo between Gandhi, Fukunaga, Tanaka, and Eldon Griffiths, the writer and president of the Orange County World Affairs Council, an organization that holds conferences dealing with international issues.
"I think I met him the only time in the lobby of my hotel," Griffiths recalls, describing the meeting as a brief, chance encounter during which the two exchanged small talk. "It was a very casual encounter. ... I did not believe that Yogesh had any close connection with the Gandhi family at all. It seems to me that he was overegging his importance."
Tanaka now believes the same, and is demanding $12 million in damages for fraud.
Gandhi alleges in his own filings that the true con man was Tanaka, who hoped to bilk millions from Fukunaga by exploiting the cult leader's vanity.
Tanaka's attorneys refused to comment on the case, and refused to arrange an interview with Tanaka. Fukunaga's organization could not be reached for comment.
While Bill Clinton and the rest of Democratic Washington celebrate the growing public relations problems of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, another long-dormant investigation continues to rumble along.
Staffers with Republican Rep. Dan Burton's Reform and Oversight Committee, with cooperation from the Justice Department, have been employing the sort of hardball investigative tactics Starr has made famous.
Already, federal prosecutors have cut a deal with Clinton fund-raiser Johnny Chung in which Chung has pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions in exchange for cooperation with investigators.
Gandhi may be next on the list.
"He, one hopes, will give some information, and I think it's a matter of some back-and-forth, in which he provides some information in order to see what we will be able to gain for us," says Will Dwyer, spokesman for the committee.
Much of that back-and-forth took place during a nine-hour, March 28 skull session in San Francisco between federal officials and Gandhi, sources close to Gandhi say.
Last week Gandhi's lawyer held out offers, tendered counteroffers, and otherwise negotiated with committee staffers on the question of how much Gandhi will be willing to say, and at what cost, he says.
"I'm busting their balls as much as they are mine. You're dealing with the federal government -- you'll try to get an answer from the House, then you have to get an answer from Justice, and they won't call you back," says Coleridge.
So Yogesh Gandhi, the Walnut Creek man who has conned the powers of the world, is left to cut his ultimate deal: He must convince federal officials that his ties to the Democratic National Committee were extensive enough and scandalous enough -- and his testimony truthful enough -- to be worth his freedom.
And given Gandhi's talents and reputation, he just might be up to it.
Says Theresa Marie Gandhi: "He's a very charming man.