Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, leader of the Hare Krishna movement's New Vrindaban commune in Moundsville, W.Va., was acquitted of arson and fraud charges by a federal district court in Clarksburg, W.Va., on Tuesday.

However, one of his followers, Thomas Drescher, was convicted on charges of malicious burning of a vacant apartment building in July 1983, to collect $40,000 in insurance.

Bhaktipada, 50, said the federal government was engaging in religious persecution by bringing these and other charges against him and his followers.

"That they would go to so much trouble for $40,000 fraud doesn't make any sense at all," he said.

Drescher, 39, was cleared of conspiracy and mail fraud charges. His lawyer said he would appeal the conviction on charges of malicious burning, which carries a possible 10-year prison term and $10,000 fine.

Prosecution witness Howard Fawley, the former treasurer of the Krishna community, had pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud.

Daniel Reid, who is a former assistant to Fawley and also a prosecution witness, has pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in the slaying of Charles St. Denis.

St. Denis, an associate of the Krishna group, had lived in the apartment building.

U.S. Attorney William Bolibash said his office will continue an investigation of the New Vrindaban community, which is about 70 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.