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PRESCOTT, Ariz. – An Arizona judge said Wednesday that he will modify the conditions of release for a motivational speaker charged with manslaughter, but will wait to issue a written order on the matter later this week.
Attorneys for James Arthur Ray have been trying to persuade the judge to lower his $5 million bond. Ray has been held in a county jail in Camp Verde, Ariz., since his arrest earlier this month. He’s facing three manslaughter counts for deaths that occurred during his high-priced “Spiritual Warrior” retreat near Sedona in October.
Prosecutors asked that the bond be set at $1.5 million to ensure Ray’s continued appearances on court. But defense attorneys argued that Ray should either be released on his own recognizance or bail be set at a couple hundred thousand dollars.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
CAMP VERDE, Ariz. (AP) – An accounting fraud examiner who testified in the hearing of a motivational speaker seeking to reduce bail in his manslaughter case said Tuesday that James Arthur Ray’s net worth was a “conservative” $2.4 million, a figure Ray’s attorneys contend was overstated.
Richard Echols provided testimony for the prosecution in a hearing to determine whether Ray’s $5 million bail should be reduced. Ray’s attorneys have said he cannot afford the bail, has no criminal history, and isn’t a threat to public safety or a flight risk.
Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter stemming from the deaths of three participants who attended a sweat lodge ceremony he led last year near Sedona. If convicted, he faces up to 12 1/2 years on each count, with probation being an option.
Ray’s attorneys have asked a judge to either release Ray on his own recognizance coupled with the surrender of his passport or have bail set at a minimum. He has been jailed about three weeks.
Echols examined financial documents that Ray’s attorneys provided to authorities in determining the net worth. The $2.4 million figure includes more than $500,000 in trust funds, $240,000 in retirement accounts, equity in properties and a $1.5 stock value in a company Ray created in 2009 to purchase a Beverly Hills mansion, Echols said.
The values for Ray’s vehicles and furnishings for office buildings, which weren’t available, could further increase his net worth, Echols said.
Echols also testified that Ray moved around money from several bank accounts shortly after the October sweat lodge ceremony, including nearly $1 million in legal fees that Echols did not figure in to the net worth. Other financial assets could not be accounted for, he said.
Luis Li, an attorney for Ray, contended that Ray wasn’t hiding anything because all of his financial documents were voluntarily handed over to authorities, including some information from tax returns.
Regardless of the equity or value of the Beverly Hills home Ray purchased for $4 million and recently put up for sale, Li said a bail bondsman valued it at only $200,000.
Ray’s attorneys say his finances have plummeted because of legal fees and payments to creditors. His Carlsbad, Calif.-based company, James Ray International, is operating at a loss, employees were laid off and Ray could lose the office space, Li said.
A statement of net worth obtained by The Associated Press from the court shows Ray is severely in debt and worth negative $4.2 million. The document is now officially sealed.
When asked whether the document was accurate, Echols responded that it wasn’t and said Ray’s personal liabilities and assets should have been separated from those of the entities he has created.
Echols was the sole witness during Tuesday’s hearing, which was cut short because of time restraints. It is scheduled to resume Wednesday in Prescott.
Prosecutors allege Ray recklessly crammed more than 50 participants of his “Spiritual Warrior” event near Sedona into a 415-square-foot sweat lodge, a small heated enclosure used in traditional American Indian ceremonies to cleanse the body.
Many participants have said Ray chided them for wanting to leave, even as people were vomiting, getting burned by hot rocks and lying unconscious on the ground.
Three people died – Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn. Eighteen others were hospitalized.
Ray’s attorneys have called the deaths a tragic accident and said he took all the necessary precautions and immediately tended to the ill.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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