[FINAL UPDATE] Fugitive Buddhist Monk Arrested in Hippie-Era Hash Smuggling Case!

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Click to enlarge.EXPAND
Click to enlarge.

First the bad news: Despite hopes that the Orange County District Attorney's Office would have come to its senses and drop the charges by now, the bizarre case of the People vs.  Brenice Lee Smith, continued to crawl forward today. In a hearing this morning before Judge Thomas M. Goethals, Smith pleaded not guilty to the 40 year old indictment that brought down the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and which is now responsible for Smith being in jail. Meanwhile, the DA's office asked for a week to review a defense motion to reduce bail from $1.1 million to $50,000, which might allow Smith to get out of jail sometime soon. The next hearing in the case will be on October 23, by which time Smith will have spent nearly a month behind bars. DA Hicks told the judge he expected the trial, which will be scheduled on the 23rd, to last "at least" a month.

Now the good news:  In a brief interview outside the courtroom following the hearing today, Hicks made a point of saying that his investigation into the charges against Smith is still continuing, and an important part of that investigation will be determining what Smith has been doing with his life for the past 40 years--see below for some answers on that--and "what his prospects are" after getting out of jail. Supposing that Smith really was living at a monastery as a Buddhist monk in Nepal and isn't really the Kingpin of Kathmandu, the DA seems to be saying that would work in Smith's favor. Although Hicks said that dropping the charges against Smith wasn't something he's considering, he did allow that, rather than being determined to see this case go to trial, he's just looking for a "fair resolution."

Check out next Thursday's OC Weekly for a print story about Smith and check Navel Gazing  next Friday for the latest courtroom drama.

Previously: Aat a hearing late this morning at the Orange County Superior Court, Judge Thomas M. Goethals set bail for Brenice Lee Smith at $1.1 million. "This case is an old case that in its day was a notorious case," Goethals said, adding that although he was an OC prosecutor during the original Brotherhood of Eternal Love conspiracy case back in the early 1970s, he had nothing to do with the prosecution and wasn't going to recuse himself. The Deputy DA handling the case, Jim Hicks, had asked for a much higher bail, noting that some of the original defendants had faced possible sentences of life in prison.

Brenice--rhymes with Dennis--Smith in court Monday morning.EXPAND
Brenice--rhymes with Dennis--Smith in court Monday morning.
Nick Schou

Brenice "Brennie" Smith and Kalu Rinpoche in an early 1980s photo taken after Smith escaped to Nepal
Brenice "Brennie" Smith and Kalu Rinpoche in an early 1980s photo taken after Smith escaped to Nepal

A nine-year-old photo of Smith with his family at their house in Nepal.
A nine-year-old photo of Smith with his family at their house in Nepal.
Courtesy of Lorey James

 Recently, James says, her uncle seemed worried about both the mounting political violence in Nepal and his daughter's future there. "He was starting to get concerned about Anjana," James says. "He wanted her to be here, because the opportunities for her are so vast here compared to any kind of life she could have in Nepal." So Smith went to the U.S. Embassy in Nepal and applied for a passport under his real name--something he hadn't done since before smuggling hash in the late 1960s. "He got the passport and I think he was thinking, and so were we, that if they [the cops] wanted him, that would be the time to get him."

Both James and Padilla were waiting at the airport to greet Smith along with William Kirkley, a filmmaker who is working on a documentary about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and his co-producer and cinematographer, Rudi Barth. Kirkley says he had hoped to travel to Nepal to interview Smith, but had to cancel the trip. "We were talking to the Nepalese embassy, but it seemed so dangerous and we didn't know if we'd have power there half the time," he says. "It seemed kinda sketchy. So Brennie agreed to come out here and we got him a round trip ticket. We were there at the airport and we had our cameras all ready to go and the microphones ready to go."

James, Kirkley and Padilla (L to R) waiting for Smith at the airport in San Francisco.
James, Kirkley and Padilla (L to R) waiting for Smith at the airport in San Francisco.
Rudi Barth


After 30 minutes or so, however, it was clear that something was wrong. Padilla, James and Kirkley's documentary crew watched other passengers clearing customs on a flat screen TV in a nearby lobby. "Everyone came and went and 10 or 15 minutes later, we see two police officers on the screen. Seeing them at that point, we totally knew it involved [Smith] and it wasn't good." Kirkley says he hopes to interview Smith soon, and says he hopes the interview won't be through the bars of a jail cell. "I am hoping they see that [Smith] completely changed his life around, became a Buddhist monk and is much more rehabilitated than he would have been if he had gone to prison. We're all hoping for the best outcome."

Check Navel Gazing for updates as this story develops. Meanwhile you can read more about Kirkley's film here and here and pre-order my upcoming book about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love here.

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