Terri Buford, reportedly a top confidante of the Rev. Jim jones, appeared today before a federal grand jury investigating the Peoples Temple and the assassination of Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D Calif.) in Guyana.
She was accompanied by attorney Mark Lane, who was in Guyana Nov. 18 when Ryan and four others were killed at an airstrip just before Jones led more than 900 of his followers in a mass murder-suicide at the temple's jungle commune at Jonestown.
Buford says she defeated from the temple in late October. But many other defectors have said they doubt her claimed defection, saying she was Jones' top aide who managed millions of dollars in temple funds and was the "mastermind" behind his power.
U.S. Attorney William Hunter, whois in carge of the federal investigation into the Peoples Temple in San Franciso, said that Buford appeared before the grand jury under subpoena for approximately two hours but he would not say anything about what she was asked or what she testified.
Buford is scheduled to appear before the jury again on Jan. 11. About 16 other temple members are also scheduled to appear before it over the next month.
The grand jury investigation, Hunter said, is into any possible conspiracy surrounding the murder of Ryan. But in terms of other temple activities, he says, the inquiry will be "open ended." He would not discuss any specifics.
Hunter also said that any allegations made during the jury proceedings would be forwarded to state and local law enforcement officials if they concerned possible violations of the law within those jurisdictions. Asked if he would pass on any information to the California attorney general's office, he said he had "already done it."
Lane told reporters outside the grand jury room that he had not been asked to testify, but said Buford was giving the panel a "full and complete statement." Grand jury proceedings are secret.
He said she had turned over temple bank account records to the U.S. attorney's office. Lane said the temple had $7.5 million in the account of a Swiss bank in Panama. "We haven't seen the money," he said.
Lane denied reports that he and Buford had gone to Switzerland to clear out bank accounts, saying the temple did not have bank accounts in Switzerland. He said the Justice Department put out false information.
However, the Swiss government said today it has ordered a Zurich bank to freeze an account apparently opened to the Peoples Temple.
A Justice Ministry spokesman in Berne said the account was blocked after U.S. authorities said they would request Swiss cooperation in their investigation into the sect and the deaths in Guyana.
Under terms of the Swiss U.S. legal assistance treaty, the United States can ask Switzerland to lift its banking secrecy laws if there is evidence that an account in Switzerland contains money gained from crime.
Lane said Buford had no Knowledge of the Ryan assassination, adding that she left Guyana three weeks before the killings and had been living in Lane's home in Memphis, Tenn.
Lane said Buford would also meet with representatives from the California attorney general's office to provide information for a probe into allegations of voter fraud in San Francisco elections involving Jones' followers.