A former Bakersfield City Council candidate, Rajvir "Raj" Singh Gill, 60, was arrested last weekend on suspicion of trying to hire hit men to shoot members of one of Bakersfield's largest Sikh temples, Gurudawara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh Ji Khalsa Darbar, and burn down the property, US-based bakersfield.com reported.
Bakersfield is a city in Kern County, California, United States.
The Sikh leader, Gill who was under a temporary restraining order not to harass the temple authorities, was taken into custody on Saturday after being accused of six counts of solicitation to commit a criminal act, according to the police. Records, however, show that Gill has since been released from jail.
Gill had won less than 7 per cent of the vote in November's Ward 7 election. According to a temple elder, Sukhwinder Singh Ranghi, Gill has in recent months shown up at the property, disrupting prayers and threatening members of the congregation and carrying a gun before being arrested at one point. There are no records of his arrest prior to Saturday.
According to Ranghi, the repeated confrontations were due to a dispute over more than USD 800,000, contributed by members of the congregation, that was supposed to reimburse a corporate entity set up to buy the temple out of foreclosure in July 2020, bakersfield.com reported.
"It's the greed that most likely got to him," Ranghi said through a translator.
Bakersfield.com, couldn't reach Gill for a comment.
Manpreet Kaur, a City Councilwoman, who won last fall's election and sometimes prays at the temple just south of Panama Lane, said she knew of the restraining order against Gill but was unaware of the conflict's details. She called the allegations against him unfathomable.
"It's really heartbreaking. It is. It's frightening and I'm just hoping the community stays safe," she said, as quoted by bakersfield.com
A Bakersfield Police Department spokesman declined to address what may be the reason behind Gill's actions. The officer didn't elaborate on the case.
According to the Sikh elder, Ranghi, Gill offered USD 10,000 to two Hispanic men to kill certain leaders of the congregation who are involved in the court cases, including Ranghi. He said Gill drove the men around the city pointing out the homes of the temple leaders he wanted to be killed. This information came to temple leadership from an associate of the intended hit men, bakersfield.com reported.
Ranghi alleged that Gill had instructed the men on how they could burn down the temple by exploiting faulty electrical wiring, installed by his own workers when the temple was built more than a decade ago.
Ranghi showed part of a video he said captured Gill unplugging microphones still in use during a religious service at the temple.
Gurudawara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh Ji Khalsa Darbar is one of Bakersfield's best-attended Sikh temples, with more than 500 members. It hosts an annual celebration in late October that draws thousands.