September 16, 2002
By Stephen Gurr
Being in federal custody for the past four months hasn't kept religious sect leader Dwight ''Malachi'' York from going forward with plans to open a book store on West Broad Street.
Last week Athens-Clarke County officials issued a standard business occupation tax certificate in York's name, or rather his alias of Malachi Z. York. The sometimes-resident of Athens has been jailed in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary awaiting trial since his arrest in May on federal charges of transporting minors across state lines for the purpose of sex. York, 56, is also facing state charges after a Putnam County grand jury indicted York on 120 counts of child molestation and related charges.
Progress at the building at the corner of West Broad and South Church streets has gone at a glacial pace since it was deeded to York for $385,000 in March 2000. Workers transformed the former Ideal Amusements building into a quasi-Moorish structure complete with Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the facade, and after months of inactivity, workers have been seen almost daily loading boxes, sometimes from a transfer truck.
Last week county officials received a registration form signed by York for the mandatory business occupation tax, Athens-Clarke Finance Director John Culpepper said.
''Wherever he was when he signed it, I don't know,'' Culpepper said.
Culpepper stressed that a business occupation tax certificate does not amount to a business license. County officials have little regulatory powers over the business except to make sure the stated business complies with zoning regulations.
The business at 815 W. Broad St. has been registered as ''Holy Tabernacle Store, Malachi Z. York, owner.'' In the late 1990s York owned a store by the same name in Savannah, which is apparently no longer in business.
A call to the number listed in the Athens-Clarke documents as the business phone resulted in a fax dial tone.
An employee answering the telephone at All Eyes On Egypt, another York-founded store near Georgia Square Mall, said she couldn't comment on the West Broad Street store. She referred inquiries to Cheryl Lampkin, who was unavailable for comment Friday. York's followers, known collectively as Nuwaubians, have generally declined to talk to the news media, particularly since their leader was arrested.
While York has paid his business occupation tax, the new store is far from being ready for business, according to building inspection officials.
''They don't have a certificate of occupancy,'' said Ken Hix, Athens-Clarke director of building inspections and permits. There have been no interior inspections of electrical wiring and plumbing, and the last exterior inspection was in May, he said.
''I haven't had contact with anyone over there in several months,'' Hix said.
According to public records, for a time York and his partner Kathy Johnson operated a thriving mail-order business from his mansion on Mansfield Court, flouting county zoning ordinances. After several neighbors complained, inspectors toured the area and found more than a dozen women working at computers in the house. The activity eventually ceased.
After York's arrest, federal agents served a search warrant at the house and seized $125,000 in cash, authorities said.
A federal trial date has not been set for York, who was denied bond, U.S. Attorney's office spokeswoman Pam Lightsey said this week. U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson's next term of court is in November.
York also faces a $1 billion civil suit filed by the father of one of the alleged victims.
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