July 05, 2009

Bail Is Denied for Sect Leader Accused of Molesting Children

New York Times
May 15, 2002
By David Firestone

Atlanta -- The leader of a black religious sect based in an isolated rural Georgia compound was denied bail today after federal prosecutors said he had molested dozens of children in the last decade.
Dwight Z. York, the spiritual leader of a group called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, was charged by a state grand jury on Monday with 74 counts of child molestation, along with rape charges. Mr. York was arrested last week by the F.B.I. on federal charges of sexual exploitation of minors.
Mr. York has denied the charges.
The arrest is the latest clash between the authorities and the 150-member group since it moved in 1993 from the Bushwick section of Brooklyn to a 400-acre ranch in Putnam County, about 65 miles southeast of Atlanta. Group members have long said they were being persecuted by white authorities because of their race.
There have been several standoffs over the years when county officials tried to investigate zoning violations on the property, like operating a nightclub and retail stores on land zoned for agricultural use.
Neighbors have complained about a 40-foot pyramid the group erected on the Egyptian-themed compound, along with statues of ancient gods.
But the complaints against the group were never particularly serious until last week, when F.B.I. agents raided the compound and arrested Mr. York and his companion, Kathy Johnson, after a four-year investigation prompted by a complaint to a local social services agency. The authorities said they believed that as many as 35 children, ages 4 to 18, had been molested by Mr. York.
An F.B.I. agent, Jalaine Ward, said that the government had testimony from 15 witnesses who said Mr. York molested the children and that some of the acts could be documented with videotapes and photographs. Some of the children are expected to testify against Mr. York.
At today's hearing, several of Mr. York's followers testified that they knew of no sexual abuse, and doctors for the group said they had seen no signs of molestation.
Mr. York's lawyer, Leroy Johnson, said he had seen no evidence to back up the government's charges, and he said some of the children had been coached by the group's enemies to lie about Mr. York.
"He was black in a white community," Mr. Johnson said, "and he had the audacity to put up those huge statues. When that was done, it created a fear in the mind of those folks there against this group."
The Putnam County sheriff, Howard Sills, denied that race had had anything to do with the charges.
"There's not one shred of evidence of that," Sheriff Sills said. "It is an opportunistic thing being used by individuals responsible for heinous crimes."
After the hearing, Claude Hicks, a federal magistrate, refused to release Mr. York on bail, saying there was probable cause to believe that abuse would continue if he were released.
Mr. York is a felon who served three years in prison in the 1960's for resisting arrest, assault and possession of a dangerous weapon. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, he led a mosque on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, where his followers, sometimes clad in long white robes and armed with shotguns, guarded the building.

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