A former member of the Honohana Sanpogyo foot-reading cult was sentenced Tuesday to a suspended 18-month prison term for swindling about 4 million yen from two women who consulted the cult about issues related to illness and child-rearing.

It was the first ruling handed down against 15 Honohana members charged with fraud.

Michiko Ichinose, the 37-year-old former head of the cult’s Urawa branch, was found guilty of defrauding the women after urging them to undergo religious training to overcome their troubles, the Tokyo District Court said.

Conspiring with Honohana guru Hogen Fukunaga, Ichinose advised the women to undergo training after “diagnosing” their woes by reading the soles of their feet at a cult facility in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward in August 1996 and February 1997, the court said.

“It was a vicious crime as it took advantage of the unstable emotional condition of the victims, who had serious worries,” said presiding Judge Toshio Nagai.

“The victims suffered serious psychological pain as they lost a large sum of money without having their problems resolved,” he added.

The judge, however, said he suspended the sentence because the defendant was not a senior cult leader, had to follow her superiors’ orders and did not receive any of the money she helped swindle. Ichinose had also donated her own assets to the cult.

Prosecutors had demanded a two-year prison term.

Ichinose told the court in previous hearings that she had also been deceived by Honohana. She also apologized to the victims for causing them great suffering.

On Oct. 12, 55-year-old cult founder Fukunaga pleaded not guilty in the first hearing of his fraud trial. He is accused of swindling believers out of 149 million yen.

Fukunaga and three others are accused of bilking 31 people out of money from 1994 to 1997. The 31 had consulted the cult about illness and other troubles.

“They were relief works, and I have never deceived people,” he told the court.

Born Teruyoshi Fukunaga, he started preaching in 1980, claiming to be the world’s final savior, following Jesus and Buddha. He based his claim on what he called a “voice from heaven.”

He has claimed the power to read people’s past and future by examining their soles. He quit as leader in January amid the police probe.

Killer given 11 years

MAEBASHI, Gunma Pref. (Kyodo) The Maebashi District Court sentenced a 44-year-old company employee Tuesday to 11 years in prison for murdering a Thai woman and dumping her corpse in Gunma Prefecture in March.

Presiding Judge Kenichi Hasegawa said Takashi Sakamoto, a resident of Ota, Gunma Prefecture, committed the crime in a “persistent and vicious way.”

The sentence fell short of the 14 years demanded by prosecutors.

At around 6:45 a.m. on March 17, Sakamoto killed Khanittha Sinchoo, 25, with whom he was intimate, at her home in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, hitting her head many times with a rubber hammer.

and later suffocating her, the court said.

The next day, he wrapped the body mainly in a carpet and dumped it in a water chamber used for agricultural purposes in the Gunma town of Itakura.

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