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Sect leader promised salvation via sex, teen says

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/June 2, 2002
By Bill Osinski

 

Orlando -- It began, the girl said, when the man they all called "the lamb" told her that submitting to his sexual desires was her ticket to heaven.

She was 12; he was 50 or 51.

Nuwaubian leader Dwight York started summoning her to do cleaning chores in his home on the sect's farm in Putnam county, she said.

Soon after that, the encounters with York at the farm where her mother had brought her to live turned sexual, she said. It would continue for about the next 2 1/2 years -- sometimes every night -- and she obeyed, she said.

Sometimes, other adults and children were present or participating with York in the sex acts, she said.

"If you do this, you'll go to heaven, you'll be saved," she said York told her during their encounters.

"I knew it was wrong from the get-go," she said.

Now 17, the girl has broken free of the farm and York's influence.

She has told her story, first to her father and then to a Putnam County grand jury that recently indicted York, now 56, on 116 counts related to molesting underage girls and boys. Those charges were brought shortly after York's arrest May 8 on federal charges of transporting children across state lines for illegal sexual activity. The girl is named as a victim in 13 counts of the state indictment and as a witness in four others.

The girl and her father spoke with the Journal-Constitution at their home in Orlando.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who spearheaded the four-year investigation that lead to York's arrest, said he has not personally interviewed the girl or others who testified before the state grand jury. But he said he believes they are credible witnesses.

"I think the indictment speaks for itself," Sills said. "Could all these people be lying? Yes. But could a spaceship land tomorrow in the back of the jail? In the same way, yes."

The sheriff said he has "never been involved in a child molestation case where so many people have come forward."

During a recent hearing at which York was denied bond, an FBI agent testified that the government has identified 35 people allegedly molested by York as children. The victims were as young as four, the agent testified.

'The story is too crazy

The 17-year-old girl is on the honor roll in her high school and plans to go to college. She can speak dry-eyed and matter-of-factly about her experience inside the Nuwaubian group, even laughing at times at what she sees now as a bizarre but difficult experience in the cultlike group.

Ed Garland, York's defense attorney, declined to comment for this story. He has previously suggested that the witnesses against York may have been coached by either their relatives or by police.

The girl denied that she has received any form of coaching.

"No one would know how to coach me," she said. "The story is too crazy."

Regardless of what happens in court, the girl's family has been shattered and divided by their associations with York's groups.

The girl's mother and one of her older sisters remain loyal to York; the mother continues to live on the 400-acre Putnam County farm that is the base for York's group, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.

York and 100 to 200 of his followers came to Georgia in 1993 from Brooklyn, N.Y., where they had formed a group called Ansaru Allah Community.

In New York, the group was Muslim-oriented in ideology, costume and religious practices; while in Georgia, they have adopted practice and garb from ancient Egypt and have decorated their farm with Egyptian-style pyramids, obelisks and statues.

York is referred to as the "master teacher" and "the lamb." In some of the group's literature, York claims to be a godlike being from a planet he calls Rizq.

The girl's family's entanglement with York goes back to the early 1970s in Trinidad. York went there to establish a branch of his group, which was then based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and called Ansaru Allah Community, the father said.

He said York's brand of black historical consciousness mixed with observance of Islamic religious practices appealed to him, and he became affiliated with the group, which did not practice communal living in Trinidad, as it did in Brooklyn.

The father married a woman who had become pregnant by York. They raised that child, a daughter, and had six children of their own, including the 17-year-old, he said.

In the early 1980s, his wife took the eldest daughter to Brooklyn to meet York -- her biological father, who had never supported her, he said. They decided to stay, his wife becoming one of York's wives, he said.

The father said he and his children followed the woman to the Ansaru Allah Community, but stayed only a few months. "I couldn't even talk to her," he said about his wife.

Some of the apartments in the complex of apartment houses on Bushwick Avenue were rat infested, and others had no electricity and open holes in the floors, the father said.

The men and women lived in separate buildings, with the women staying in the community and doing York's office work, while the men were sent out to the streets of New York to peddle things like incense and York's books and pamphlets, he said.

He said he worked and lived in the New York area and kept the children with him. His wife would stay with the family for periods of time, but would also return to Ansaru Allah.

The couple separated for good in the early 1990s, with the wife taking their four daughters back with her to York -- who at that time spent most of his time at his rural estate in Sullivan County, New York. The couple's two sons were grown by this time.

In 1994, the mother and the couple's two youngest daughters went to the farm in Putnam County; the older two daughters had left on their own. By this time, York had changed the name of the group to the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors; most of the Islamic practices and ideology were dropped. And he promised to lead a select group of his followers to a form of extragalactic salvation, the father said.

The girl, who is the fifth of six children, said the living conditions for her and the other children were "very bad."

Their doublewide trailer had no air-conditioning, broken windows and cracked plywood floors, she said. Their food consisted mostly of staples, such as oatmeal, rice, beans, carrots and cabbage, she said.

When she was about 12, she and some other girls her age started being called to York's house on the farm. She was told she was to help keep house for York, she said.

Some of the women in the group started to ask her sexually explicit questions, such as, "Have you ever been with a boy?" she said. They told her about some of the sexual things that York might want her to do, she said.

After York would have sex with her, he would order her not to tell anyone, especially her mother, about what he did with her, she said.

"He said if I told her, she would be punished," the girl said.

So the girl kept her meetings with York a secret. She said she knew she wanted to leave, but she also knew she'd have to be older before she could manage to find her way out.

In the meantime, she worked in York's office, sometimes preparing stories for the Nuwaubian newspaper. One night in 1999, she sneaked back into York's office and called her father in New York asking him to come to Georgia to get her.

"She said something bad had happened to her, but she wouldn't say what," the father said.

The next day, the father and two of the girl's older siblings arrived at the Nuwaubian compound. They were allowed past the security gate because the guard didn't recognize them, he said. His daughter had been watching for them and made a run for the car.

Her mother saw her leaving and called to her.

She assured her mother that she wanted to leave, and she did, taking nothing but the clothes she was wearing. A few months later, the father sent a plane ticket for the youngest daughter, and she rejoined him in New York.

He divorced his wife not long after getting his daughters back, and his ex-wife remains on the Nuwaubian compound, as far as he knows. He said he still cannot understand why his wife, an educated woman, remains loyal to York.

After his daughter rejoined him, she was moody, rebellious and reluctant to discuss any details of her life in the Nuwaubian community, he said.

A desire to tell the public

But about a year ago, he overheard her and her younger sister talking about how York had molested her. He said he was outraged and shocked, but he was able to persuade his daughter to tell the full story.

"It was like his spell over her was broken," he said.

He called the police in Florida, who told him he would have to report the crime to Georgia authorities.

Within a day or two, he took his daughter to FBI offices in Orlando to be interviewed by the agents working on the York investigation.

The father said he wants the justice system to deal fairly but harshly with York. He agreed to be interviewed and to allow his daughter to be interviewed for this story, he said, because he wants people to know how his family was damaged.

"York has no respect for humanity. Somebody had to stand up to him," the father said. "And I had to stand up for my daughter."

The father said he has contacted an attorney in Georgia for the purpose of filing civil litigation against York.

He added that although his daughter has not spoken to him about the details of her experiences with York, he is tormented by visions of her screaming, all to no avail.

"All the time my daughter was screaming, there was no one to help her," he said. "For every scream my daughter screamed, he should spend 10 years in jail."

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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