Attorneys argue Nuwaubian leader's appeal in court

Atlanta, USA - The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is determining whether the child sex charge conviction of jailed religious sect leader Dwight "Malachi" York should be overturned after his attorneys Wednesday made their appeal in court, saying the original trial was flawed.

York, the founder of the predominantly black Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, was sentenced in April to 135 years in federal prison for molesting 14 boys and girls whose parents were members of his group.

His attorney, Adrian Patrick of Athens, Ga., said federal prosecutors improperly applied federal racketeering laws and the grand jury was tainted by pretrial publicity. Dozens of York's supporters filled the courtroom and many others heard the attorneys' arguments by speaker in an empty courtroom next door.

"We feel very confident with the appeal," Patrick said outside the courthouse after the hearing, surrounded by about 100 of York's supporters. York "wants to be released because he feels he was unconstitutionally convicted."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Moultrie countered by arguing that York's organization was created solely for the leader's personal gratification. He added that news accounts of York and his followers did not bias the grand jury.

"Mr. York was concerned about two things - sex with children and money," Moultrie said. "He simply used his enterprise for unlawful sex with children and for money."

It is unclear when the appeals judges will make a decision on the case. Patrick said the decision could come within a month.

Patrick told the panel that federal prosecutors should not have combined charges of interstate transportation of minors with money structuring provisions in federal "RICO" racketeering laws in the same trial because they were not related. Having both in the same trial made the jury "more likely to convict on the RICO charge," he said.

But Moultrie argued that previous rulings by the appeals court as well as the U.S. Supreme Court have shown the government does not have to prove the charges are directly related as long as there is a common purpose and participants. Moultrie said some of the same people who helped transport children also helped shelter money for York.

"Mr. York ... was very serious in committing these disparate crimes for one purpose - his own personal benefit," Moultrie said.

Patrick also said that federal prosecutors improperly sought an enlarged indictment against York before a grand jury in Macon, even though a judge already had moved the trial to Brunswick, Ga., because of negative pretrial publicity.

"There's no way in fairness that they should have gone back to that (Macon) jury pool," Patrick said.

Tuesday, the Putnam County Sheriff's Office received a check for nearly $546,000 for sale of York's 476-acre Nuwaubian compound. The federal government seized the property in August 2004 and sold it in June.

The IRS also received about $99,270 from the sale, and about $350,000 went to the FBI.

York founded the Nuwaubian group in New York in the late 1960s and moved it to rural Putnam County in 1993.

About $1 million worth of property and cash were seized in Athens from York also, but have not been liquidated yet, said Pete Peterman, acting U.S. Attorney.

The prosecutor said that when that property is sold, the proceeds will be split by the same agencies.