August 21, 2009

Lawyer withdraws guilty plea for York

Nuwaubian leader likely to face new charges, including racketeering

Macon Telegraph/October 25, 2003
By Rob Peecher
A federal court judge determined Friday that Nuwaubian leader Malachi York withdrew his previous guilty plea to financial and child sex charges.

York did not directly answer questions from the court about his plea, but U.S. District Court Judge Ashley Royal determined through York's attorney that he wished to change his plea to "not guilty."

York faces federal charges of transporting children across state lines for sex and evading financial reporting requirements.

Also Friday, York's defense attorneys said they have been put on notice by the government that York will likely face a new round of indictments that include racketeering charges.

York's trial is scheduled for early January. U.S. marshals led York, whose head was newly shaved, into the Macon courtroom in an orange Jones County Jail jumpsuit. His ankles and wrists were bound. He sat at the defense table, flanked by his attorneys, Frank Rubino, Manny Arora and Ed Garland.

When Royal entered the courtroom, York refused to stand up. Two U.S. marshals pulled him to his feet and held him up until Royal told those in the courtroom to be seated.

Royal - who got the case after Judge Hugh Lawson recused himself - began the hearing by saying he was going to pick up where Lawson left off, signaling he would not accept the negotiated plea agreement between York and the government. Lawson, before recusing himself, had said he would not accept a 15-year sentence for York.

Royal also ruled Friday that, based on a recent psychiatric evaulation, York is competent to stand trial. Royal then asked if York would withdraw his guilty plea.

Rubino, one of his attorneys, said he had met with York for four hours the previous day.

"I think he will allow us to withdraw his plea of guilty and reinstate a plea of not guilty," Rubino said.

Typically, a defendant enters his plea on the record, but when Royal asked York to say whether he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea, York declined to give an affirmative response.

"As a private citizen and a secured party, I accept this for value," York said.

Royal then asked York a series of questions intended to illicit a direct answer, and York said only, "I accept this for value."

"With all due respect, if I respond to that question I'll be putting myself back in the public," York finally said. "I prefer not to participate in this forum. That's why I have an international attorney sitting here, and he can speak for me."

The language York used is similar to language in "common law" filings his followers have made in courts in Atlanta, Macon and Putnam County - where York's cult group, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, has a 476-acre compound. The common law filings are similar to those used primarily in western states by anti-government militias.

Rubino made some effort to interpret for the judge.

"The defendant believes that somehow the uniform commercial code has some jurisdiction - I'm scratching for words here, please understand - over this court," Rubino said. "I don't understand this theory, and I don't propound it because I don't understand it. But he is the client, and I do my best to represent him."

York, who in 1993 moved from New York to Georgia with his followers and settled on a farm west of Eatonton, faces both federal and state charges of molesting children. He also faces federal charges of avoiding financial reporting requirements. York was arrested May 8, 2002. In January, he pleaded guilty to 77 state charges of molesting children. He also pleaded guilty to one federal charge of taking children across state lines for the purpose of having sex with them and another of avoiding financial reporting requirements.

Royal did not rule on any outstanding motions during the nearly 30-minute hearing. However, the defense attorneys said they had received correspondence from the U.S. Attorney's Office suggesting that York in November will likely face a new, superceding indictment that also will allege racketeering crimes.

Also, Rubino took exception to a notice from the U.S. Attorney's Office responding to the defense's witness list.

York apparently is on the list to testify, but federal law allows the government to prosecute both the defendant and his attorneys for perjury if the defendant changes his story from what he said when he pleaded guilty.

Rubino called the notice "a veiled threat," but Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie said he was only following federal law.

Outside the courthouse, York's followers stood along Third Street carrying signs proclaiming their Indian heritage, and some played drums. This summer, York stood before Judge Lawson and claimed he is an "indigenous and sovereign" person and demanded that he be released to his "own people." During that and later hearings, York's followers have shown up wearing Native American-style clothing and playing drums.

"Not all Indians are Redskins," one of the signs said. "There are many black Indian tribes," another said.

York and his followers have also claimed Egyptians heritage.

York has claimed to be an angel or a being from another planet. He and his followers have also claimed to be Muslims, Jews and Christians.

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