Nuwaubian leader promised 'ritual' would ensure eternal life, teen says
September 1, 2002
By Rob Peecher
Eatonton -- He says he'll never forget the day the sexual abuse began. It was nine years ago, on his seventh birthday.
He was living in upstate New York at a camp run by Malachi York, leader of a religious sect now called the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. He says York and a woman named Chandra Lampkin showed him a cartoon porn video, and Lampkin touched the boy's private parts. York was naked from the waist down.
The boy's older sister, now 18, claims York began abusing her when she was 8. York told her that having sex with him was a religious ritual, she says, a "great secret" that she should never reveal.
"If we do that, we would go to heaven with the angels and we would never die," she says York told her.
The brother and sister account for more than half of the 116 sexual child abuse charges in a state indictment issued May 14 against York, Lampkin and other members of the group. York also faces federal charges in the case.
The two children and their mother joined York's group in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1986, when it was called the Ansaru Allah Community, and followed York to Georgia in 1993. The mother thought she was joining a disciplined Islamic sect that would protect her kids from drugs and gangs. She says she knew nothing about the sexual abuse until late 2000.
"I had no idea," she says. "My main objective of going there was for the safety of my children, not knowing I'm walking them into the lion's den of a pedophiler. That never crossed my mind."
These and other former members of the Nuwaubian sect have painted a detailed and bizarre picture of life inside the group. Among their allegations:
"The group separated children from their parents, allowing visits only once a week. Children slept on floors and ate little, at times crammed 30 to a trailer. They were denied schooling. They were beaten, sometimes with boards, for small infractions.
"Despite his followers' living conditions, York lived in luxury just a few feet away. One of his houses had an indoor swimming pool and a recording studio.
"The group's activities generated large amounts of cash. When York was arrested, he was carrying $10,000, and investigators found another $400,000 at the group's properties in Athens and Putnam County. The annual Savior's Day festival, a weeklong celebration of York's birthday, brought in $500,000, according to one of his sons.
"York controlled the sexual behavior of the group's members, deciding when husbands and wives could have sex. York had sex with anyone he wanted, whenever he wanted to, former followers say. Investigators say he appears to have at least 100 offspring.
York has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and has not been arraigned on the state charges. His lawyer, Ed Garland of Atlanta, declined comment, saying he still is investigating the case.
York's supporters, among them state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, have claimed the allegations are false, accusing law enforcement officials of targeting York because of his race and beliefs.
A year before York's arrest, one of his children, an adult son, was instrumental in leading authorities to his father's alleged victims. Once a member of the group, the son broke away and now works to help other York followers get out of the group.
"He is not a savior," his son says. "The only savior's day is the day you walk out of that place. That's the only day you save yourself."
York gets his start
Saadik Redd became one of York's followers in 1970. Redd had just converted to Islam. York was launching a career as a spiritual leader by forming the Nubian Islamic Hebrews in Brooklyn.
Redd says he rapidly gained York's trust. For eight years he served as York's driver. He was there as the group flourished in Brooklyn's Bushwick Avenue neighborhood.
York's group has gone through frequent incarnations. He changed its name to the Ansaru Allah Community, but it still centered on Islam. Redd traveled with York to Trinidad to establish a branch of the group, and in 1978, Redd set up branches in Baltimore and Washington.
Redd was one of York's most ardent believers, even though he claims he overheard York planning to dupe his followers with false theology.
"The ultimate success of a con man is to make the person who's being conned make excuses for the con man," Redd says. "If I can get you to deny reality, then I have in fact controlled your mind."
By the late 1970s, Redd says, he grew frustrated with York and his teachings. In 1981, he left the group when his brother convinced him that York was not teaching "true Islam."
York had between 2,000 and 3,000 followers in the 1970s, according to Redd. The group occupied as many as 30 buildings in the Bushwick Avenue neighborhood. York had a recording studio, and Redd says York used his image to attract followers.
"He dressed slick. The whole image thing was going for him. So a lot of the street people looked up to him. And a lot of the up-and-coming rappers looked up to him because he had a musical studio," Redd says.
Redd sometimes lived in the "barracks" with other men. It was like living in an abandoned house - no heat, no hot water, no beds. More often he lived in York's house, where conditions were "totally opposite from how the people lived," Redd says.
He says the group's only real purpose was to feed its leader's ego. York often bragged about his sexual conquests, he says.
"Whatever he wants, he gets, literally," Redd says. "He wants control. He just wants to dominate. He would meet a person and their wife, and sleep with their wife just to show that he had control over you."
Several years after he left the group, Redd says, he cooperated with the FBI in New York and provided information about alleged criminal activity within the group.
Redd's name appears in a 1993 FBI report as having traveled with York to Trinidad. The report also cites unnamed former members of the group as informants who accuse York's followers of crimes such as arson, bank robbery, weapons stockpiling and murder.
The report recommends a "full domestic security/terrorism investigation" of the group, but that doesn't appear to have happened. The report was issued around the time York and his followers moved to Georgia. It was forwarded to the FBI Atlanta office, where agents monitored York for a short time after the move, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation documents.
'Just a messed up life'
Two years before Redd left the group, in 1979, a 9-year-old girl and her mother moved into its Brooklyn neighborhood.
The girl is now 32, and though she says she was never sexually abused, she describes her life in York's sect as brutal and impoverished. The woman asked not to be identified, saying she fears for her safety.
"I was taken away from my mother," she says. "She had nothing to do with us. We could only see our parents on Fridays because Fridays was the day we'd do a special prayer."
For a brief period, she says, government officials forced York to put all of the children into school, but other than that she never attended public school after joining the group. She went to what was called "Muslim class" and was taught some Arabic.
Children lived together according to age and gender.
As punishment, the girls were sometimes beaten on their hands and feet with lumber - what she described as "thick wood, like when you're building a building."
For nine years she never slept on a bed.
"We slept on floors. We had to eat with our hands. We ate what (York) wanted us to eat. ... It's just a messed up life he caused me to go through."
She says she was among a group of girls raised as virgins who were to marry men from the Sudan. But she was thrown out of the group when she turned 18, she says, because York accused her of conspiring to leave. Fourteen years later, she has been unable to straighten out her life.
"What's so bad about it is that when I was put out in this world, as (York) says, it's like I was lost," the woman says. "I didn't know the reality of this world because we was always taken care of. We didn't have to cook. Our clothes was made for us. The only thing we was taught is how to take care of family, how to take care of your husband and how to take care of babies.
The men went out peddling everyday, she says, selling oils, trinkets and York's literature on the street. She believes that was how York made most of his money.
She says York rewarded the men who brought in the most money by allowing them to have sex with their wives. But York had sex, or as the woman called it, "have intimate," with whomever he chose.
She says it took her a long time to stop believing that York was an angel, and she was left with no religious beliefs.
"I'm mad that he didn't teach us ... nothing about getting a job and going to school. ... If we wanted to go to school, we got put out (of the group). We couldn't go to school out here (away from York's community). He said it was the devil's school."
She says her mother and siblings remain in the group. She sought help at a mental hospital in New Jersey after she was kicked out. The people there felt sorry for her, she says, but offered no help.
"I struggle every day and just shake my head. He messed me up."
Camp Jazzir Abba
York's organization had tentacles reaching out to dozens of U.S. cities.
Redd helped establish communities in Baltimore and Washington and the first overseas community in Trinidad. At least one community was formed in England. York's headquarters remained in Brooklyn until about 1983, when York bought an 81-acre camp just outside the town of Liberty in Sullivan County, N.Y.
Every summer, Sullivan County's population grows from about 70,000 to as much as 300,000 as ethnic and religious groups from New York City retreat to the countryside. But for some local officials and neighbors, York's group stood out from other camps in the area.
"Whenever you went there, you were greeted with armed people at the gate and guard dogs," says Pam Winters, the building inspector in Liberty. "We were glad to see them go."
Winters says there were frequent building code and land-use violations at the camp, known as Camp Jazzir Abba. In many respects the problems county officials in New York experienced with York's group mirror problems Putnam County officials have run into.
Winters said the town of Liberty had to take the Ansaru Allah Community to court to force the group to move unpermitted homes off the property.
At the camp were roughly a half-dozen bungalows and an enormous house that York's followers built around a double-wide trailer. The house contained an indoor swimming pool and a recording studio. It is now gutted and falling in.
Patrick Burns, who lives within a mile of the rural camp, says he told his wife to change her jogging habits after seeing armed guards patrolling the camp's perimeter.
"Everybody was paranoid," Burns says.
York and his followers abandoned Camp Jazzir Abba in 1993 when they moved to Georgia. Five years later, Sullivan County took the property because York and a co-owner failed to pay taxes for several years.
When the group moved south, the Ansaru Allah Community became the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.
When the trouble with building codes began in Putnam County, York moved to an apartment in Athens, then bought a house in an upscale neighborhood off Timothy Road. York's followers, who in Putnam County live in crowded trailers, refer to the house as "the mansion."
In New York, the group was perceived by outsiders to be an Islamic sect. In Georgia, the group's literature claimed that York was from another planet.
Brother, sister speak out
The brother and sister who claim York molested them joined the group with their older sister and mother in October 1986. The boy was almost a year old, and his sister was 2. They are now 16 and 18.
The mother says her daughters were separated and housed with other girls their ages, but initially her son lived with her. She cared for girls of different ages at first. Then she did office work, first translating York's books into Spanish and then working on the group's mail-order marketing. She says she was never paid for any of these jobs.
She knew her children's living conditions were poor, that they slept on floors and ate inadequate meals. But she says she expected to make sacrifices before things got better.
The family moved to Putnam County in 1993. Living conditions in the village were no better than in New York.
"(York) lived in a nice house, and everybody else, they lived in broken down homes," says the sister who is now 18 and named in the indictment as one of York's victims. "They had a girls' house. That's where all the girls lived. The sink was falling through the floor. We had holes all over the floor, and one time some girl fell through the shower."
In the three-bedroom double-wide trailer where she lived, she says, there were as many as 30 girls and one or two adult women.
Her brother lived in a barn with male members of the group.
The children say they worked constantly, painting or building the pyramids and other Egyptian-style structures on the Nuwaubian compound. The 18-year-old describes punishments similar to those experienced by the woman who grew up with the group in Brooklyn.
"Say somebody broke a vase or something and one of the girls don't want to fess up and say they did it," she says. "So everybody in the whole group would get a beating from the lady who was watching us. Sometimes they'd beat you on the hand, sometimes they beat you on the feet with a ruler or a hairbrush, a wooden hairbrush. As you get older, they started beating you with boards and extension cords."
She says living conditions always grew worse in early summer when the Nuwaubians prepared for Savior's Day.
"That's the time we was basically scraping for food, because they would cut down our food budget because (York) was always trying to get money to pay for the books so he could sell them on Savior's Day. So we basically would be eating bread and water," she says.
The brother and sister, two of the five victims named in the indictment, say the sexual abuse started just before the move to Georgia and continued about once a week for six years. The indictment accuses York of having sex with victims, having sex with children or adults in the victims' presence, and watching while the victims had sex with each other or adults.
The brother and sister say their abuse ended about the time York moved to Athens in 1999.
Their mother moved to Athens with York. She says she has two younger daughters, both fathered by York.
By the time York moved back to Putnam County within the past year, the brother and sister had left the group.
In late 2000, the oldest daughter, who is now 27, was kicked out of the group. The now-18-year-old daughter saw her sister's removal as her chance to escape. When her sister came to the Putnam County farm to retrieve some personal items, the younger girl asked her sister to come back for her.
"I told her a spot to come pick me up at, a spot (on the road) up near the woods," the 18-year-old recalls.
She packed her belongings in trash bags, pretended to take out the trash and escaped when her sister drove in front of the Nuwaubian compound.
Their mother says she knew nothing about the sexual abuse until her daughters escaped and told her. She says she felt betrayed by York.
York's son rebels
Also referred to as "family day," Savior's Day generated large amounts of money for York, authorities say. York's son, who led authorities to his father, says the event brought York about $500,000 a year.
Savior's Day typically lasted from four days to a week and, at its height in 1999, drew an estimated 4,000 people from around the world.
Many of those 4,000 were family members on the outside, paying $50 entry fees to see loved ones who were members of the group, says York's son, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing his fear of retaliation.
Relatives also were charged for food, beds, campground space and numerous other things. During the festival, York also sold incense, oils and books.
"If you pay to get into the function, you're allowed to see your family members," York's son says. "So that's kind of why he had such a huge turnout all those years, was because people were paying ... not to see him or care about what he said, but the majority of people were paying to see family members. That's why this guy was making half a million dollars in just three or four days."
York's son says he saw a videotape of York having sex with a child a number of years ago, but waited before going to authorities. He knew his father had government connections and feared he might be able to quash any investigation.
He says he decided to go to Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills after seeing some Nuwaubian-produced pamphlets about the sheriff. If the Nuwaubians hated Sills as much as the fliers suggested, the son says, he believed he could trust the sheriff. Sills brought in the FBI.
A year before York's arrest, the son was introducing Sills and federal agents to children later named in the indictment. Others also claimed they had been molested by York, but the cases were so old that the statute of limitations had expired, according to law enforcement sources.
York's son is involved in what he calls a kind of underground railroad to help former members get out of the group and straighten out their lives. He has an e-mail account so members of the group who want out can write him for help.
Since York's arrest some followers have left the group, but many remain. Guards still are posted at the front gate of the village, and York's followers are often seen on the property and out in the community.
York's son says those who remain loyal to York are scared because they have been in the group for so long.
That was true for the mother of the 16- and 18-year-old who say York molested them. Even after hearing her children's accusations, the mother says, she was uncertain of what to do. She had not had a job in 14 years. She had no money, no car, no personal belongings other than some clothes.
She left the group, with her son and two youngest daughters, about a week after learning about the allegations.
The mother says she still has difficulty reconciling the man she believed in for 14 years with the man she now believes molested her children.
"I still can say I have respect for York as a grand master teacher," she says.
Since leaving the group, the 18-year-old has obtained her GED and is now attending college. Her brother, who like his sister never attended school, is now enrolled in high school.
The sister says she believes many of York's loyal followers know that her allegations are true but refuse to admit it.
"They used to see him with children all the time. Children spend the night at his house, and (the followers) just want to be blind and not even see that it really happened. I think they're trying to be blind....
"They're just trying to stick up for him because they wasted their whole life.... There's people 30 to 50 years old, and what are they going to do now?"
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