WHEEL OF FORTUNE letter-turner VANNA WHITE is terrified she’s lost her 19-year-old son to a religious cult!
An exhaustive ENQUIRER investigation has confirmed that Vanna’s son Nicholas – a University of Arizona student who goes by “Nikko” – lives with a controversial Hare Krishna monk nearly twice his age. What’s more, Nikko has asked Vanna to donate a whopping $1 million to the monk, and now sources fear the 34-year-old man may be brainwashing Nikko for financial gain.
“Vanna can’t believe what’s happened to Nikko,” a Hollywood source close to the 56-year-old star told The ENQUIRER. “But she doesn’t know what to do because she doesn’t want to lose Nikko to this religious cult.”
The ENQUIRER has learned the monk, named Jaycee Akinsanya, was born in the West African nation of Liberia. He met Nikko last year when the teen was a freshman, according to a source, and the two now share the monk’s small house in Tucson near the university campus.
“Akinsanya had a Hare Krishna meditation center, called the Red Ashram, a mile away from campus,” the source told The ENQUIRER. “He’d stand outside the student union in a traditional saffron robe and try to lure students into learning about the god Krishna.”
Nikko began visiting the ashram and eventually grew so close to Akinsanya that he moved in with him, said the source. The teenager even arranged for his parents, Vanna and her ex-husband George Santo Pietro, to meet the monk, said the source.
“But it would be an understatement to say Nikko’s parents weren’t pleased,” added the source.
“Not only did they object to Nikko living with the man, they were shocked when Nikko asked them to donate $1 million to Akinsanya to buy a larger house for a new ashram.”
Vanna and George – who divorced in 2002 after a 12-year marriage – had a huge argument with Nikko over the $1 million pitch, said the source.
“Since then Akinsanya has been reminding Nikko that he should follow his own path and advance his spiritual life. It’s like Akinsanya is trying to brainwash him!”
In a disturbing twist, Akinsanya – who’s known as “Jaya Kesava Das” in the Krishna community – now claims his home is no longer an ashram, according to a source who visited the two men on Aug. 28.
“Nikko and Akinsanya gave me a tour of the house,” the source told The ENQUIRER. “But Akinsanya told me it’s no longer open for spiritual purposes. He said, ‘It’s just our home now.’” Despite that, a copy of the Hare Krishna chant hangs on one wall, while a painting of Krishna dancing with followers hangs on another wall, said the source.
“Nikko told me that he’s been a practicing Hare Krishna for seven months, and it’s made him stronger, more confident and blissful,” said the source.
“Meanwhile, Jaycee says he’s been a monk since he was 18, but he’s taking a break from his religious duties. When I asked why, he looked at Nikko and said, ‘I want more from life. I am on a new path.’”
Nikko has chronicled his growing relationship with Akinsanya on his Facebook page and in a YouTube video.
His Facebook page includes a photo album showing the two on a road trip in Canada – feeding horses, kayaking and visiting a Hare Krishna temple.
On the YouTube video, Nikko interviews Akinsanya about nutrition and the Hare Krishna rules of vegetarianism. The teen also interviews food service workers on the “Wheel of Fortune” set.
The ENQUIRER has learned that Akinsanya immigrated to America in 1994 from Monrovia, Liberia, while a civil war raged there. At first, he lived with his father in New Jersey and was a practicing Catholic.
But on his Internet blog, Akinsanya says his association with the Catholic Church “ended abruptly when I was practically forbidden to go…The result was me running away to ‘find myself.’ What I found was the Hare Krishna movement.”
Akinsanya became a Hare Krishna monk while living in Seattle, but he faced financial and legal problems there in October 2001.
According to legal documents obtained by The ENQUIRER, a judge ordered King County sheriffs to evict Akinsanya after he failed to pay back rent and legal fees totaling $1,455.
Akinsanya eventually settled in Tucson, where he opened his own meditation center. Sources say he also convinced the president of the local Hare Krishna temple to allow him to use its tax exempt status to accept tax deductible donations.
Meanwhile, an expert blasts the religious group as a “cult” and claims it’s notorious for “brainwashing” members.
“The Hare Krishna’s main brainwashing technique is peer pressure,” Nori Muster, a Hare Krishna
member from 1978 to 1988 and author of “Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life Behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement,” told The ENQUIRER.
“They pressure members to reject family members and friends, and quit their jobs to live in the temple full time and serve the guru.
“They also pressure members into giving their inheritances, bank accounts and material possessions to the guru.”
And with wealthy parents – Vanna is worth an estimated $40 million and her ex-husband, a former restaurateur, sold a house in 2011 for $23.5 million – young Nikko is a sitting duck, said Muster.
Vanna’s Hollywood friend agreed, saying: “This man is clearly targeting Nikko for his family’s money.”
When confronted by The ENQUIRER, Nikko confirmed he had taken up the Hare Krishna religion and was living with Akinsanya, but he insisted: “Jaycee has not brainwashed me – and I didn’t ask my parents for a million dollars for a new Ashram. The money I asked (them) for was for my living expenses – food, gas and for living my spiritual life with Jaycee.”