Friday July 9, 2010

LENOX -- The founder of a Lenox-based spiritual organization was apparently targeted for assassination by a man charged with murdering a yoga master over the weekend in Pennsylvania.

Joel R. Snider, 33, who is charged with one count of felony criminal homicide in Pennsylvania, allegedly sent three e-mails to a staff member of a yoga center in Virginia in which he threatened to assassinate both a Pennsylvania yoga master known as Sudharmon and Andrew Cohen, the spiritual leader of EnlightenNext, whose world headquarters are located in Lenox.

Sudharmon was found shot to death on Monday at his residence in New Berlin, Pa. The 70-year-old, formerly known as Joe Fenton, died from multiple gunshots fired from a small-caliber weapon. Police there suspect he was shot sometime between Saturday and Monday.

Snider, of St. Louis, was arrested Wednesday near Baltimore for Sudharmon's murder.

According to court documents, Snider sent three chilling e-mails to Swami Karunananda of Virginia between May 9 and July 4 in which he indicated he wanted to kill the two men. Snider's e-mails didn't explain why.

In one e-mail, Snider wrote "is this the fruition of when I asked for your help regarding Sudharmon and Andrew way back when?" He stated that he was in Pennsylvania and "if the opportunity presents itself there will be a great celebration of independence may evil be destroyed wherever it is lurking."

After learning of the e-mails, police in Pennsylvania contacted Cohen, who was overseas at the time Sudharmon was killed, according to EnlightenNext spokeswoman Melinda Schilde.

The 54-year-old Cohen was being kept at a secure location on Thursday while law enforcement conducted routine security procedures at the nonprofit's sprawling 11 building, 220-acre complex in the former Foxhollow Estate on Route 7 in Lenox.

"We're double-checking the alarm systems," Schilde said. "Just the basic things you do when something like this happens."

In a written statement, EnlightenNext CEO Bob Voss said "our hearts go out to Sudharmon's friends, family and students in the wake of this tragic event."

Cohen is "safe and well," Voss said.

"It is our understanding that the individual in custody has no real connection to Andrew or to EnlightenNext, and we are cooperating with the Pennsylvania State Police to be of any help possible to their investigation," Voss said.

Founded in 1988, EnlightenNext is a nonprofit organization centered on the concept of evolutionary enlightenment, which aims to pair spiritual values with the contemporary concerns of the world through events, educational courses and publications. In addition to its world headquarters in Lenox, EnglightenNext has facilities in Boston, New York, India and in six European countries.

In a May 9 e-mail, Snider wrote that he intended to assassinate both men: "I am a very good shot with a rifle and would prefer to do it from a longer range, but I would need to have a handgun as well for any opposition or if the scenario would not work after seeing the area in person."

On May 10, Snider wrote: "I am thinking that for both Andrew and Sudharmon it would be best if they just disappeared. No bullet holes, no blood, no signs of forced entry or struggle."

Karunananda, the recipient of Snider's e-mails and who has known the man for more than 10 years, notified Pennsylvania State Police about the e-mails after learning of Sudharmon's death, according to court documents. Sudharmon had several ties to Yogaville in Virginia, where Karunananda is employed, the documents state.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
or (413) 496-6224.