The Rev. Jim Jones reportedly stashed at least $10 million in secret bank accounts around the world during his reign over the Peoples Temple.
The details of Jones' financial wheeling and dealing began to unfold Sunday in newspaper reports on both the West and East coasts.
The New York Times reported that Jones had established at least six, and perhaps more than a dozen, bank accounts in Switzerland, Panama, Guyana and other countries, using anonymous numbered accounts and dummy corporations.
And a mysterious international battle has begun for the fortune which some former church members estimate to be as high as $15 million, the newspaper said.
In California, real estate was a million-dollar business for the Peoples Temple from its arrival in the community of Ukiah, the San Francisco Examiner said in a copyrighted story.
Even though most Peoples Temple holdings were sold by the time of the tragedy at the church's Guyana mission, the cult still gets income from other properties acquired by purchase or gift, the newspaper said.
Real estate records in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Mendocino counties showed the total value of property held by the cult over a period of just a few years exceeded $2 million, much of it donated by members who gave all their worldly possessions to Jones' church to show themselves to be true Christians.
Former Jones aides have disclosed that he often spoke of channeling the church's millions to the Palestine Liberation Organization and that he mentioned giving money to the Soviet Union.
Now the fortune is apparently up for grabs. The FBI is trying to identify the accounts, and remaining members at the Peoples Temple headquarters in San Francisco say they intend to keep operating and the funds are theirs.
But families of people who gave up property to the cult have begun to file claims and people who lost family members in Guyana are expected to begin filing for financial assistance.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that attorney Mark Lane received more than $10,000 in fees and expenses from the Peoples Temple this fall to launch a "counteroffensive" program against the groups' purported enemies.
The report was based on documents the newspaper said were presented by temple members who worked with Lane. The documents indicate that Lane was hired by temple leader Jones because of his conviction that a vast governmental conspiracy was out to destroy him and his church.
The documents include a legal strategy memorandum written by Lane detailing plans to fight the alleged conspiracy. There is also a photostat of a $10,000 check from the temple to Lane, contradicting Lane's public statements that he wasn't being paid by the temple.
This weekend Lane conceded he had received the $10,000 check and said the temple owed him an additional $2,800. He would neither confirm nor deny receiving another $7,500 in cash that temple member Jean Brown said in a sworn affidavit that she gave Lane on Nov. 9.
Brown said she gave Lane the money at Los Angeles International Airport for an advance look at an unfavorable article prepared for the National Enquirer. The article was never printed.
"I never received any money to purchase an article, that's as far as I can go," Lane said. But he added that: "I don't see anything wrong" with such an act, and he admitted meeting with Peoples Temple members in Los Angeles at that time "about refuting or investigating statements that were made in various articles," including the National Enquirer article.
Lane claimed the questions about his role as an adviser to Peoples Temple were minor compared to what he said was the government's failure to prevent the deaths at Jonestown and the fact that $7 million in temple money is still in numbered bank accounts abroad.
Lane said he had learned the numbers of those bank accounts from Terry Buford, a former high-ranking official of the temple, and that he had cabled those banks on Saturday, directing them to freeze the accounts until further notice.
In New York, the FBI said that four fugitives, now apparently living in Guyana, may try to reenter the United States with a group of Peoples Temple survivors.
Agent Terry Knowles of the FBI office in Queens said the four fugitives "might try to take advantage of the confusion, they might try to take advantage of the event and use it as a vehicle to get back into the country."
An FBI spokesman in Manhattan who asked not to be identified said, "The best information we have now is that they were not members of the Peoples Temple, that they were just residing down there."
Knowles identified the four as David Hill, Albert Louis Brandford, Herman Benjamin Ferguson and Claude Elvin Hubert. All face federal charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
Hill, who has called himself Rabbi Edward Emmanuel Washington, fled Cleveland seven years ago while appealing convictions on nine counts of corporate blackmail. His appeal was denied. Hill is the leader of the House of Israel, which he says has 8,000 members and which is not connected with organized Judaism. (Related Hill story on this page.)
Branford is charged with leaving St. Louis in 1972 to avoid a rape charge, Ferguson is charged with fleeing New York State where he is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and Hubert is charged with murder in Los Angeles.