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FBI: Kids from 4 to 18 abused in sect

DATE: 05-14-2002
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

Eatonton --- The child molestation case against Nuwaubian leader Dwight York escalated Monday in state and federal court.

In Eatonton, a Putnam County grand jury issued a 116-count indictment of the 56-year-old leader of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a quasi-religious group whose 150 to 200 members live in a rural compound that features huge pyramids and a large gate covered with hieroglyphics.

York was charged with 74 counts of child molestation, 29 counts of aggravated child molestation and related charges, including one count of rape.

In Macon, an FBI agent testified at a bond hearing in U.S. District Court that authorities have identified as many as 35 victims, whose age at the time of the alleged crimes ranged from 4 to 18.

York is in federal custody after being arrested Wednesday by FBI agents in Baldwin County as an army of federal and local officers swooped down on the compound in Putnam County. York's associate, Kathy Johnson, who was arrested with him on the federal charges, also was named in five counts of the state indictment.

Three other members of the Nuwaubian group --- identified as Chandra Lampkin, Kadijah Merritt and Esther Cole --- were indicted on state charges of child molestation.

Fred Bright, district attorney for the judicial circuit that includes Putnam County, said the state indictment accuses York of molesting at least five children repeatedly "and in just about every way imaginable."

The indictments crown a four-year investigation by the FBI and the Putnam County sheriff's office. It began when a local social service agency received anonymous allegations that children were being sexually abused at the Nuwaubians' 400-acre ranch.

York and the Nuwaubians have frequently criticized Putnam County authorities for what they contend is racial discrimination and harassment.

Assistant District Attorney Dawn Baskin said there were no ulterior motives to the state's charges.

"There's nothing political about child molestation," she said.

All the alleged crimes were committed at the Nuwaubian compound, Bright said.

FBI agent Jalaine Ward testified at the bond hearing in federal court in Macon regarding the scope of the government's case against York.

York said to have ruled with iron hand

The government has statements from approximately 15 witnesses who testified that York sodomized and had sexual intercourse with children, Ward testified. In some of these encounters, the acts were photographed and videotaped, she said.

The agent's testimony depicted a long-standing pattern of York's having sex with children within his community.

The incidents started at his group's bases in New York and continued after the sect moved in 1993 to a Putnam County farm and - -- in the alleged acts that make this case a federal matter --- during an estimated 15 to 20 trips to Disney World in Florida over the past four years, investigators say.

"York controls everything that goes on" at the compound, Ward said, summarizing witness descriptions of life at the former cattle ranch, which the Nuwaubians have decorated with Egyptian-style pyramids and statuary. In some Nuwaubian literature, York is called the group's savior or god.

Ward said York controlled what and how much his followers ate, how much money they were permitted, and whether they could come and go at the compound.

The federal prosecutor wants to deny York bail, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Claude Hicks indicated he would not rule on that matter before today, when the bond hearing resumes.

Hicks ruled that defense attorneys could review the 50-page affidavit used to support York's arrest, but he also gave prosecutors time to black out the names of victims mentioned in the document.

Defense lawyer demands to see papers

Defense attorney Ed Garland of Atlanta argued he should have access to unedited versions of the federal investigative document.

"We are here, really, in the dark," Garland told the court. "If a confidential informant is also a victim, then they are not entitled to be shielded."

Hicks rejected that argument, but Garland renewed his demand for the documents as he started to cross-examine Ward. It was then the hearing was adjourned for the day.

In her testimony, the FBI agent said children typically were separated from adults at the Nuwaubian compound. They were not allowed contact with their natural parents without York's permission, she said.

Witnesses have stated that Johnson, York's associate, was an active participant in some of the sex acts with the children, Ward said. Johnson brought children to York for sex and instructed them on sexual techniques, the agent said.

Ward also testified that some of the children were intimidated and threatened by York. One of the females who accused York said he "threatened to shoot her in the head" if she reported the sexual abuse to authorities, Ward said.

In a search of the farm conducted last week during the massive raid by authorities, federal agents confiscated more than 30 weapons, about a dozen of which were found in York's house, Ward testified.

United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors founder Dwight York is escorted
from federal court in Macon. / ROBERT SEAY / Associated Press
Kathy Johnson is escorted from the federal courthouse in Macon. She
is accused of participating in the sexual abuse of children. /
DANIEL BARRY / Assocaited Press

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution