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
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
Neighbors have complained about a 40-foot pyramid the group
erected on the Egyptian-themed compound, along with statues of
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.
"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
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.