Aug 22, 2008

3 more indicted in Texas FLDS probe

Ben Winslow
Deseret News
August 22, 2008

ELDORADO, Texas — One by one, the women of the Fundamentalist LDS Church were called before the grand jury to testify in secret about allegations of crimes within the Utah-based polygamous sect.

By the end of the day, three felony indictments were handed down.

"There's three different indictments, three different names," Schleicher County court clerk Peggy Williams confirmed late Thursday. She would not say who was indicted or what the charges were.

The Texas Attorney General's Office, which is prosecuting the cases, also declined comment on the indictments.

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran told the Deseret News he had not yet received any arrest warrants.

"Whatever they hand to us, we will actively pursue if it is an arrest warrant," he said.

The indictments came at the end of a nerve-wracking day for members of the FLDS Church. The young women arrived at the Schleicher County Memorial Building in the morning. There, they waited for most of the day as the weather in this tiny west Texas town turned hot and humid and thunderstorms moved in.

To pass the time, a few of the women whipped out digital cameras and took pictures of everything around them. One smiled as she posed for a picture with a Texas Ranger. They joked with a Deseret News photographer about who would have the better pictures.

When it came time to testify, an officer would walk out to where they were waiting. Their attorneys would escort them to the doors, but the women went in alone. The grand jury was meeting in a building that often serves as a one-room courthouse, complete with folding chairs and a card table acting as a judge's bench.

Throughout the proceedings, the young women would often walk out of the building and huddle with their attorneys, a nervous look on their faces. They would then go back in to resume their testimony. This happened numerous times, leading to speculation that some young women were refusing to answer questions under their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

"This has been a very painful process for the people," said FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop. "It's certainly had a tremendous toll on everyone involved. My heart certainly goes out to every one of these girls involved."

Jessop also testified, but he could not say what he told the panel because of laws dictating grand jury secrecy.

"We certainly believe there's a God, and we believe he will judge," Jessop said Thursday. "All those who judge will be judged themselves."

The grand jury is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 23.

Six men were indicted by the grand jury last month. FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, 52; Raymond Merril Jessop, 36; Allan Eugene Keate, 56; Merril Leroy Jessop, 33; and Michael Emack, 57; were charged with sexual assault, accusing them of relationships with underage girls.

Merril Leroy Jessop also was charged with bigamy, and FLDS community physician Lloyd Hammond Barlow, 38, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failure to report child abuse. The men are scheduled to be arraigned here on Sept. 8.

Jeffs will get notice of the arraignment, Williams said, but he may not be there. The FLDS leader is currently in an Arizona jail awaiting trial on sexual misconduct charges there, accused of performing underage marriages. He is scheduled for a hearing in Kingman, Ariz., today.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah and sentenced to a pair of five-years-to-life sentences for rape as an accomplice, having performed a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

Texas authorities have said they would seek to extradite him to the Lone Star state.

The criminal probe into the FLDS Church stems from the April raid on the group's YFZ Ranch near here based on a call from someone claiming to be an abused teenager. Child welfare authorities placed 440 children in state protective custody while investigating other abuse allegations. The original call is believed to be a hoax.

The children were returned to their parents when two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly.


140,000 council chief goes on 5,000 course to protect herself against 'abrasions of the world'

Daily Mail (UK)
August 22, 2008

A town hall boss is spending 5,000 of taxpayers money to go on a self-awareness training course in Germany and Florida to teach her to 'like herself'.

Dr Allison Fraser, who has been in charge of Sandwell Council in the West Midlands over the last two years, will attend courses in the Avatar Professional Course to learn how to become 'more likeable'.

Chief Executive Dr Fraser - who has an annual salary package of 140,000 - has already spent a week in Willingen, Germany earlier this month to take part in the first section of her course and will resume it in Orlando, Florida in October.

In Florida, she will discover if she can 'like herself' at the Rosen Plaza Hotel at the resort's International Drive.

The 'Pro course literature' even suggests she could 'stroll down International Drive while doing your course exercises'.

Dr Francis will then be able to 'experience a recovery of enthusiasm and inspiration for your own personal vision and for the World'.

Yesterday the critics of the council leader claimed she had herself 'lost touch' by attending the course which has links to the controversial Church of Scientology.

The Avatar website claims their course teaches people how to become 'more real, authentic' and will even 'protect themselves against the abrasions of the world' and 'gain a connection with the undefined self'.

The course even claims to teach students how to 'obtain the keys to successfully operate in the world'.

The Avatar was established by Harry Palmer, a former missionary in the controversial Church of Scientology and it is further claimed he devised the Avatar theory during a prolonged session in a flotation tank.

The Avatar website yesterday contained some of Mr Palmer's words of wisdom including the statement: 'There seems to be some kind of evolution going on in consciousness. Some sort of collective adaptation that we're developing or awakening to wisdom.'

Yesterday Dr Fraser was unavailable for comment on the course as she looked forward to gaining further ' wisdom' by travelling to Orlando and International Drive described in the Avatar brochure as one of the ' most dynamic vacation destinations' in the world.

However, Tony Mallam, chairman of Sandwell's Sons of Rest clubs, which faces closure through budget cuts, stormed: 'It beggars belief. I think people have lost touch with the simple things.

'She should be concentrating on Sandwell, not flying round the world.'

In America, campaigners against Mr Palmer's radical outlook have set up an on-line petition to get the Avatar Course investigated, describing it as a 'quasi-religious cult with roots in Scientology.'

But Sandwell Council leader Bill Thomas claimed in a statement that the course was 'good value for money' and he added:

'It is certainly very important that she has access to these training courses. This is considered to be one of the best course around.

'The course was approved by the Labour group and the other main political parties.'

He added that Dr Fraser has 'ultimate responsibility' for a budget of 1billion a year and the course would help her 'gain even more experience'.

In June this year, Sandwell Council offered the jobless in the area free lessons in 'personal grooming and stress management' in a move designed to help them get off the dole queue.

Critics described the five week 'Look Good, Feel Good' course as 'ridiculous' after it was launched by the council's Adult and Family Learning Service.

Meanwhile, news of the council chief's self awareness course trip comes after it emerged that another Midlands council has spent almost 1million on spin doctors each year.

Dudley Council spent 945,000 on public relations in the last financial year by employing 18 full-time Press officers.

Aug 16, 2008

34 more polygamist sect custody cases dropped

Dallas Morning News
August 16, 2008

SAN ANTONIO – Custody cases involving 34 children taken from a polygamist sect's West Texas ranch were dropped this week because child welfare authorities no longer believe court oversight is needed, an agency spokeswoman said Friday.

The action brings to 66 the number of cases dismissed of the approximately 440 children that the state had taken from the sect in a raid this year, then was forced by courts to return.

Child Protective Services investigators have continued to review the cases since the children's return. Last week, officials persuaded the district court in San Angelo to dismiss 32 cases and on Thursday asked, and got, the court to dismiss 34 more.

The remaining cases are under review. In addition, CPS is seeking the return to state custody of eight children whose mothers have refused to limit their children's contact with men accused of being involved in underage marriages.
Hearings in those cases are scheduled to begin in San Angelo on Monday.

Aug 15, 2008

Abbotsford faith healer proves divisive for Christians

Douglas Todd
Vancouver Sun

August 15, 2008

Followers of controversial B.C. preacher line up and pray for a miracle

With his full-body Jesus tattoos and facial piercings, Todd Bentley looks more like a bike-gang member or World Wrestling Federation fighter than an evangelical preacher.

But in the past few months, the burly B.C. bad boy has turned into the hottest, most divisive Christian faith healer in North America.

Bentley, 32, who preaches about once being a young criminal in Gibsons and who now bases his ministry in the Bible Belt city of Abbotsford, has drawn roughly 300,000 people since April to his wild revival meetings in southern Florida.

Up to 10,000 people a day have been flocking to a Florida baseball stadium to lose themselves in ecstatic music and appeal to Bentley for divine healing, which the T-shirted, bling-wearing redhead sometimes offers by kneeing the sick in the stomach or kicking them with his biker boots and shouting "Bam!"

Despite drawing tremendous crowds to his mesmerizing, rock-music-filled services, Bentley has sharply polarized North American evangelicals.

A number of rival conservative Christian radio hosts, apocalypticists and charismatics have attacked the Canadian preacher for, among other things, claiming to have gone to heaven and met and talked with angels, Jesus and the apostle Paul.

Those critics have called his ministry "demonic," "occult," "deceitful" and "plain silly."

Bentley's growing legions of defenders, however, say God often uses "flawed people" to perform miracles and heal the sick.

Bentley's controversial revival meetings, which have been running every day in Florida for more than 18 weeks -- replete with people writhing on floors in religious ecstasy -- have also taken a toll on Bentley's family.

His large Abbotsford office, called Fresh Fire Ministries, acknowledged Monday on its website that Bentley and his wife, Shonnah, who have three children, have separated.

His wife and children have returned to Canada.

Bentley also announced he will end his Florida revival, called The Outpouring, on Aug. 23.

The revival has been mostly running in Lakeland, Fla., east of Tampa Bay, both at Ignited Church (where it started) and on the spring training ground of baseball's Detroit Tigers.

Bentley's imminent departure from The Outpouring, so he can instead travel throughout North America and to Britain, has come in the midst of rising media coverage questioning the authenticity of his healings.

London's Express on Sunday started a campaign last month to keep the Canadian revivalist out of Great Britain and, as of this week, Fresh Fire Ministries "postponed" a planned gathering in Birmingham, England.

Bentley was not available for an interview Thursday with The Vancouver Sun. An official at Fresh Fire Ministries, Bruce Merz, avoided answering questions, directing The Sun to the ministry's website for information.

The Fresh Fire website said the intense "worldwide awakening" started by Bentley in Florida has created "pressures and burdens ... which have helped to create an atmosphere of fatigue and stress that has exacerbated existing issues in [the Bentleys'] relationship. We want to affirm that there has been no sexual immorality on the part of either Todd or Shonnah."

How did this once-troubled young man from B.C. become the most dramatic Canadian faith-healer to hit the United States since Ontario's Aimee Semple MacPherson first stormed Los Angeles in the early 20th century with a mixture of Hollywood show biz and Christian revivalism?

Bentley preaches in public about his rough-and-tumble early days, including near-fatal drug overdoses, criminal burglaries and stints in prison.

Bentley has acknowledged in the conservative Christian publication, Charisma, that at age 14 he was arrested for sexually assaulting children in B.C.

In addition, Fresh Fire Ministries' website says: "In his late teens, Todd had a dramatic encounter with the saving and delivering power of God. This experience brought Todd out of a lifestyle of drug and alcohol addiction without cravings or withdrawal symptoms. He was also delivered from a lifestyle involving criminal activity, youth prisons, drugs, sex, satanic music and bondage."

Charisma magazine (which serves so-called charismatic Christians, including those who speak "in tongues" -- indecipherable utterances that are considered God-given) reported in an earlier article that Bentley was making a name for himself as a faith healer in B.C. almost 10 years ago, particularly in Kelowna and Abbotsford.

Internet videos of Bentley's faith healing in Florida reveal the intense emotion and theatricality of his revival meetings. The videos, available online through YouTube and other sources, show Bentley running toward a man with colon cancer and kneeing him in the stomach. The man buckles, wavers, smiles wanly and finally falls on the stage.

Bentley then tells the man, in front of the cheering congregation: "I had to be obedient to the Lord, sir. Why did the preacher just knee you in the gut? I tell you the Lord is working in you. You felt a quivering."

Several videos show people falling on the stage after Bentley heals them in a variety of ways, including by apparently punching one and kicking another.

Another video, which compares Bentley's events to a "rave," shows a thin woman dancing to pounding drum music while in an apparent trance. She repeatedly mimics shooting at the congregation with a gun.

In one of many Bentley books, CDs and DVDs that are available on the Fresh Fire website, the B.C. evangelist amusingly describes meeting the apostle Paul in heaven.

"As unbelievable as it may sound, I actually saw the apostle Paul come walking toward me onto the bridge," Bentley says.

"You might be wondering how I knew immediately that it was Paul. I just perceived it by divine knowledge and revelation. People have asked me what he looked like, and so I will attempt to describe his appearance. He was short, not more than 5'1" or 5'2" (I'm 5'6").... Looking very Jewish with a short, trimmed, white beard, my first thought was of a monk in a monastery! He actually had jolly cheeks and I thought: Paul, you've got a little weight on you! I mean he wasn't fat but he looked a little pudgy!"

Bob Burkinshaw, of Trinity Western University in Langley, an evangelical independent school, says he is aware of people who are "quite excited" about Bentley, who has drawn thousands to his revival meetings at a Pentecostal church in Abbotsford.

"But I suppose I'm one of those who is moderately skeptical. These things are rarely black and white," said Burkinshaw, a specialist in Canadian church history at the private evangelical university.

Evangelical Christians believe God does heal the sick, but "the issue is one of method," Burkinshaw said. "Many say, 'God doesn't do command performances.'"

Bentley's on-the-edge faith-healing appeals to "people on the margins of respectable society," a U.S. subculture Burkinshaw says was drawn to revivalism during much of the early 20th century, before evangelicalism expanded into the middle- and upper-classes.

Rather than thinking of Bentley's followers as gullible, passive sheep, Burkinshaw suggested understanding them as people who come to the events planning to build on the mesmerizing music and passionate preaching so they can "experience God's presence."

Told about Bentley's marriage breakdown and plans to end the four-month long revival in Florida, Burkinshaw said, "I'm sure the demands of that kind of life can be extreme, putting pressures on families."

Bentley's most recent posting on the Fresh Fire website makes it clear that, although his plans are changing, he's nowhere near giving up his mission.

Bentley will be conducting faith healing events in Spokane, Wash., and then Abbotsford on Sept 17. He also expects to lead revivals at dozens of other North American, and possible British, venues in the coming months.

Sounding as enthusiastic as ever, Bentley reassures his followers and asks for their continued support. "Pray for us as we walk the land, carrying the precious ark of His healing presence for His glory into those fields white and ripe for harvest. More details will be forthcoming!"

He signs off his message:


A new-style evangelical pastor ascends the political stage

Jane Lampman
Christian Science Monitor

August 15, 2008

Pastor Rick Warren interviews Obama and McCain in a live broadcast Saturday.

Bestselling author. A Southern Baptist minister who breaks the conservative mold. Touted by some as the likely successor to Billy Graham.

On Saturday, pastor Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," will do what no one else has yet accomplished: bring the presumptive GOP and Democratic presidential nominees onto the same stage to discuss their views.

It's a sign of religion's importance in the 2008 presidential campaign. The event, back-to-back one-hour interviews at Mr. Warren's California megachurch, will be broadcast live on CNN and streamed on the Web. It also represents the emergence of a new style of evangelical leadership on the national stage, which is not tied to a single party and has broadened its social agenda beyond that of the religious right.

"This is absolutely a changing of the guard, and it suggests that the new guard of the evangelical movement is able to generate the attention and focus of both parties," says D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University and author of "Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite."

Warren personally invited the two candidates – "friends of mine" – via their cellphones. His event at the Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, Calif., – the nation's fourth-largest church – has among its aims "helping the Church regain credibility and encouraging our society to return to civility."

"This is a critical time for our nation, and the American people deserve to hear both candidates speak from the heart – without interruption – in a civil and thoughtful format absent the partisan 'gotcha' questions that typically produce heat instead of light," Warren said on announcing the event, called a Saddleback Civil Forum.

His questions will focus on how the candidates lead and make decisions and will cover five topics: leadership, stewardship, worldview, compassion issues, and their vision for America.

"This can be important as a model for a religious leader who is bipartisan in reaching out to find out about candidates," says C. WeltonGaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, in Washington, which has criticized some uses of religion in the campaign. "He's putting himself on center stage at a critical moment, with a tremendous amount of responsibility riding on his shoulders."

There's little doubt the forum will capture a large audience. Many Evangelicals have been in a quandary over the election, not ready to embrace Senator McCain yet suspicious of Senator Obama. Millions of Americans are eager to get a more intimate look at the men vying to lead them. And Warren's stature among a broad spectrum of Christians and others who have read his books or signed onto his global mentoring program for churches (some 400,000) is itself a draw.

Widely seen as the most influential pastor in America, with a large overseas following as well, Warren has gone through the transition that he is now encouraging other Evangelicals to make – from strictly soul-saving to a broader agenda that includes attacking poverty and HIV/AIDS globally.

"He's representative of Evangelicals who now see that the gospel message is more than just about getting people into heaven; it's about how we use our spiritual resources to make this world a better place," says Kurt Fredrickson, director of the ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., where Warren got his doctorate.

After building his own church from one family in 1980 to 23,000 in weekly attendance, the affable preacher began teaching other clergy how to reach out and "grow" their congregations. The late management guru Peter Drucker praised his model and called him "a genius."

Warren wrote books that became bestsellers published in 50 languages. His "Purpose-Driven Life" is the bestselling nonfiction hardback book in history aside from the Bible. Praying to know what to do with this growing wealth and influence, the down-to-earth pastor, who regularly preaches in Hawaiian shirt and khakis, says God woke him up: "He told me to use my influence for those who have no influence."

With the encouragement of his wife, Kay, he took up the HIV/AIDS issue at a time when many Evangelicals still viewed it as punishment from God. And he's designed perhaps the most ambitious (some say naive) development plan ever conceived, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, to mobilize a billion Christians to attack global evils. The energetic globe-trotter has begun implementing the plan in Rwanda, in alliance with that country's president.

"He's a visionary ... who sees the potential for the church to be a service organization and a transformative agent in the world," says Randall Balmer, a religion historian at Columbia University. "He thinks big, he dreams big, and he's pulled off some remarkable things."

Many leaders have spurred the broadening of the evangelical agenda, including Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals (on the environment), Jim Wallis of Sojourners (on poverty), and David Gushee of Mercer University (on torture). They have all sparked criticism from the religious right, which insists on hewing to a tight social agenda on abortion, homosexuality, and the courts.

Warren, too, is the frequent brunt of criticism. While theologically conservative and an opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, he has been criticized for reaching out to leaders such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama. But he likes to respond, "I'm not left wing and I'm not right wing. I'm for the whole bird. You have to have two wings to fly."

Young Evangelicals are also pushing the community more toward the center with their concerns for social justice and environmental issues.

The feeling has grown that it's time to pull back from too close a connection to one political party. This has created an opening for Democrats, which Obama has tried to take advantage of, meeting with prominent evangelical leaders and reaching out to youths.

According to a poll released this week by the Barna Group, among "self-reported Evangelicals" (40 percent of Americans) who say they are likely to vote, McCain holds a narrow 39 percent to 37 percent lead over Obama. Among those Barna defines as true Evangelicals (comprising the 8 percent of Americans who meet Barna's doctrinal criteria), McCain holds a 61 percent to 17 percent lead.

Other polls haven't found any Democratic inroads. "I think the polling done at this point is not fine-grained enough to see the effect of Obama's outreach," Dr. Lindsay says.

The nature of Evangelicals' political clout is changing, perhaps even diluting. Their vote may be up for grabs. But it's clear from this Saturday's forum that both parties see them as a key constituency.

Aug 12, 2008

4 more in 'cult' cited in death

Gus G. Sentementes and Annie Linskey
Baltimore Sun
August 12, 2008

5, including boy's mother, charged with starving him

Baltimore police have obtained warrants charging four more members of what authorities call a religious cult in the death of 2-year-old Javon Thompson, whose body was found in May in a suitcase in Philadelphia. The warrants bring the number of people charged in the boy's death to five.

Charged with murder in warrants were Queen Antoinette, 40, Trevia Williams, 20, Marcus Cobbs, 21, and Steven Bynum, 42. All but Bynum are in jail on other charges, and the Warrant Apprehension Task Force is looking for Bynum in the New York area, said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the city's Police Department.

With the most recent charges, police have charged all but two known adults associated with the tiny religious group, 1 Mind Ministries, in the boy's death. The gruesome details of that crime were outlined in a 12-page statement of charges written over the weekend by homicide Detective Vernon Parker.

Police say the five suspects belonged to a small group of adults and children who operated for a time in East and West Baltimore. Police allege that the victim's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, 21, the first to be charged with murder, and others neglected Javon and allowed the boy to starve to death because they thought he was a demon for not saying amen after he was fed, according to police charging documents.

Javon is believed to have died in December 2006 in a West Baltimore house, according to police charging documents. The cause of death was ruled homicide by unspecified means, according to court papers.

In early February 2007, police say, the group fled to Philadelphia, taking the boy's body in a green suitcase with wheels. They stayed at various places, settling for about a week at the home of a man the group befriended, according to police. Police found Javon's body in a shed behind the house in May this year. He was wearing a diaper.

DNA evidence provided preliminary confirmation that the remains are those of Javon, according to a police source close to the investigation. Authorities are awaiting complete results.

In early May, three members of the group - including its alleged leader, Toni Ellsberry, also known as Queen Antoinette - were arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on outstanding warrants connected to an unrelated Baltimore case in which they are accused of assaulting a city officer who had gone to their home to retrieve a child involved in a custody dispute. The suspects were returned to Baltimore and held on charges that they had failed to show up for a court date.

Ramkissoon, also known as Princess Marie, was to have had a bail hearing in district court in Baltimore yesterday, but the proceeding was postponed because she was under psychiatric observation at the Women's Detention Center, according to court and correctional officials.

Judge Charles A. Chiapparelli postponed Ramkissoon's hearing until this morning. Ramkissoon and the other four are charged with first- and second-degree murder, child abuse, assault, reckless endangerment and conspiracy charges, police said.

Ramkissoon's mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, said she was pleased to hear that others have been charged in her grandson's death. Referring to her daughter, Khadan-Newton said: "She had no control. They made the rules."

She still struggles with why her daughter joined the group. "I don't think my daughter knew what she was getting into," she said. "The baby's father was in jail. She was going through a long time."

Ramkissoon was with the other members in Brooklyn, but when they were arrested in May she returned to Baltimore and was staying at the Mattie B. Uzzle Outreach Center in the 1200 block of N. Chester St. in East Baltimore. A woman answering the door there yesterday declined to comment.

In court documents charging Ramkissoon, Parker, the homicide detective, recounts eyewitness accounts from a source within the religious group. The source said the group's leader, Queen Antoinette, "had a problem with baby Javon, who would not comply with mealtime ritual by saying 'Amen' after meals," Parker wrote. "The more the Queen pressed Javon, the more resistant he became."

The child stopped getting food and water, and he became thin with dark circles under his eyes, according to the document. Javonstopped breathing and was placed in a back room of a house in the 3200 block of Auchentoroly Terrace. At one point everyone was instructed to pray around the boy's body, the document said.

"The Queen told everyone that 'God was going to raise Javon from the dead,'" according to Parker's statement of charges. "That resurrection never took place."

After the child died, Bynum rented a silver Chevrolet Impala from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and drove to Philadelphia, according to court documents. Records obtained by the detective showed that the car was rented from Feb. 13-16, 2007.

The group stayed at the Red Roof Inn near the Philadelphia airport through March 9, when they were evicted, according to charging documents. Next they lived for a while on the streets, and Bynum left the group, according to charging documents.

On March 16, the group encountered the Philadelphia police who notified the city's social services department, which took two "school-aged children," according to the charging documents.

Queen Antionette then befriended Samuel Morgan, an elderly man living in South Philadelphia. "The Queen was able to gain the confidence of Morgan, who allowed the group to stay at his residence approximately one week," Parker wrote.

The group - it is unclear how many people were left - decided to go to Brooklyn. But they stored their belongings in Philadelphia - leaving behind the green suitcase, police allege.

After receiving a tip from a caseworker with the New York City Administration for Children's Services in early February, Baltimore homicide detectives went to Philadelphia and found the suitcase in early May.,0,4021858.story

Aug 11, 2008

25 students got no-good degrees from New Birth campus

Christopher Quinn
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
August 11, 2008

Twenty-five students who attended a satellite program of North Carolina Central University at Bishop Eddie Long's Lithonia megachurch earned bachelor's degrees that are not recognized by the school's accrediting agency.

A school spokeswoman said 39 other students were in the program earlier this year when it was shut down.

Long and the school, in Durham, started the satellite campus four years ago. They closed it in June after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools learned of it, reviewed the program and refused to sanction it. All extension programs have to be approved by SACS for degrees to be recognized.

Tom Benberg, chief of staff at the Commission on Colleges at SACS, said any degrees earned in the program at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, "would not be a degree from an accredited operation."

Long released a statement saying the church has partnered with various education programs to hold classes at the church.

"Regrettably, the university did not seek appropriate approvals at that time prior to launching the program. Last month [SACS] denied approval for NCCU to continue the program offerings at the New Birth site."

Long said the church and the school are continuing to work toward getting the program recognized by SACS so it can continue.

Long is a graduate of NCCU, a school trustee and announced a $1 million gift to university last week.

The University of North Carolina system, of which NCCU is part, learned of the program last week, according to a spokeswoman. The program should have been vetted by the system's board of governors.

Erskine Bowles, president the University of North Carolina system, said in a written statement, "I can think of no justifiable reason why the former NCCU leadership would have completely ignored and failed to abide by the appropriate approval process in creating this program. Such action is contrary to all university policy."
Bowles continued, "This circumstance is one of many problems Chancellor [Charlie] Nelms inherited when he arrived last year, and he has managed each of them professionally and effectively."
The university system and the staff at NCCU are investigating the situation and trying to answer the legal and academic questions caused by it, said Joni Worthington, vice president of communications at UNC.
The school and Long's church tried to get the program approved ex post facto, but SACS denied their request in June.

A SACS report said the program did not prove that faculty was qualified or that it had adequate library and learning resources. The program was unable to measure whether students were adequately leaning the subject matters and it did not provide an adequate financial statement from the program.

NCCU provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a list of 11 NCCU faculty members who taught in the program, all of whom had graduate degrees. However, four were listed as non-compliant because they had no graduate course work in the classes they were teaching. The university paid the teachers and their travel expenses.

The program also had adjunct faculty members from the Atlanta area.

The college offered business, criminal justice and hospitality degrees at New Birth. The program began under then-Chancellor JamesAmmons of NCCU, who left to become president of Florida A&M University in 2007.

Calls and an e-mail Monday morning to Ammons were not returned. Ammons was engaged in board meetings there, an A&M spokeswoman said.

A statement from Chancellor Nelms at NCCU denied responsibility for the program. A university spokeswoman referred questions to Kimberly Phifer-McGhee, director of distance education at NCCU.

Phifer-McGhee said she did not know why or how the program started, did not know how much the university paid to run the program, or why SACS was not notified of it.

"I was not part of the leadership," she said.

She said that faculty members had degrees, but may not have had course work to teach what they were teaching at the school.

The university is trying to work out a program that would allow current students to remain in school in good standing, she said.

Benberg said that SACS would not likely recognize the degrees already awarded.

"I am not aware that we have ever done that," he said.

Aug 9, 2008

5 Christian bikers accused of weapons and gang crimes

Tony Barboza
Los Angeles Times
August 9, 2008

Orange County prosecutors scale back charges against the Set Free Soldiers in a Newport Beach bar brawl with members of the Hells Angels, one of whom faces a weapons charge.

Five members of a Christian motorcycle gang were charged Friday with a variety of felony weapons and gang crimes after high-profile raids this week targeting the Anaheim-based group.

The charges marked a retreat from Wednesday, when authorities arrested seven members of the Set Free Soldiers, including founder and pastor Phillip Aguilar, on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. An eighth member was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
The charges were in connection with a double stabbing during a bar brawl with the Hells Angels late last month.

On Friday, the Orange County district attorney's filed just one attempted murder charge, against Jose Quinones, 42, and charged Glenn Schoeman, 56, with being an accessory after the fact. They were being held on $1-million and $100,000 bail, respectively.

Aguilar, 60, the group's leader and pastor; his 29-year-old son, Matthew Aguilar; and Michael Timanus Jr., 29, face felony charges of illegal weapons possession.
They were expected to post bail, which was set at $50,000 each, according to their attorneys.

Phillip and Matthew Aguilar also were charged with possessing brass knuckles.

All five were accused of street terrorism for being part of a criminal street gang.

One Hells Angel member, John Lloyd, 41, also was charged with having a loaded firearm in a vehicle.

Additional charges may be filed, said Deputy District Atty. Erik Petersen, adding that the Set Free Soldiers are a violent street gang because "they carry on a pattern of criminal gang activity."

Set Free members say they are a Christian ministry that helps rehabilitate ex-convicts and recovering drug addicts. But authorities maintain that they are an outlaw motorcycle gang.

In Wednesday's raids in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Rancho Santa Margarita and Norco, more than 150 police, SWAT teams and federal agents arrested eight Set Free Soldiers and three Hells Angels.

The raids included four homes that Aguilar owns in the 300 block of South Archer Street in Anaheim, where authorities found multiple firearms.

The arrests followed a July 27 fight between Set Free members and Hells Angels at a Newport Beach bar.

Police said Set Free members stabbed two Hells Angels and one Hells Angel struck a Set Free member in the head with a pool ball.

Attorneys on both sides said the case will hinge on a surveillance video taken of the brawl.

Sandra Aguilar, Phillip Aguilar's wife, said after the court hearing that the group had been unfairly targeted by police, who she said terrorized the group's children and grandchildren during the raids and "turned our homes upside down."

"They cannot believe that we're Christians because we have tattoos and ride motorcycles," she said. "It's sheep in wolf's clothing.",0,4535714.story

Aug 7, 2008

4 polygamist sect members post bond in Texas

Michelle Roberts
Associated Press
August 7, 2008

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Four polygamist sect members indicted on charges of sexual assault of a child were released from jail late Wednesday after posting bond.

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said the men — Raymond Merrill Jessop, 36; Allan Eugene Keate, 56; Michael George Emack, 57; and Merrill Leroy Jessop, 33 — posted bonds of $100,000 per charge and were likely headed home to the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. They had been jailed since turning themselves in more than a week ago.

Each of the men from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which runs the YFZ Ranch, was indicted last month on one count of sexual assault of a child. Merrill Leroy Jessop faces an additional charge of bigamy.

Under the conditions of their bonds, the men must stay in Schleicher County unless they notify authorities and must stay away from their alleged victims.

They were indicted July 22 along with imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who was also charged with sexual assault of a child, and Lloyd Hammon Barlow, a 38-year-old physician who was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failure to report child abuse. Barlow posted bond last week.

Prosecutors have declined to provide details on what the men are accused of doing, but documents from a separate custody case included a journal entry from Jeffs indicating Raymond Merrill Jessop was married to Jeffs' daughter the day after she turned 15.

The journal entry also indicates Merrill Leroy Jessop married another sect daughter that day, though it's not clear how old she was.

Jeffs is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on charges related to the marriage of underage girls to older sect members there. He was convicted in Utah last year as an accomplice to rape for marrying a girl to her cousin.

Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult.

The state's bigamy statute applies to legal marriages and to couples who purport to marry, a lower standard adopted in part to target unions like the spiritual marriages practiced by FLDS members.

Prosecutors and law enforcement say their investigation continues.
Child Protective Services, which launched the initial investigation into possible underage marriages, is also still investigating. On Tuesday, CPS asked a judge to place eight children in foster care, saying their mothers refuse to limit their contact with men accused of being involved in underage marriages.

The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glory in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

7 Christian bikers arrested in Orange County raid

Tony Barboza and H. G. Reza, Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times
August 7, 2008

Long controversial for its aggressive evangelism aimed at those with a troubled past -- ex-convicts and drug addicts among them -- the Anaheim-based Christian motorcycle gang known as the Set Free Soldiers found itself in deeper trouble Wednesday when its leader and half a dozen members were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

The arrests, which followed a double stabbing in a brawl with the Hells Angels at a Newport Beach bar July 27, was the latest brush with the law for the group of black-leather-clad bikers, which has straddled the line between Christian outreach group and outlaw motorcycle gang.

By late Wednesday, authorities had arrested 10 members of the Set Free Soldiers and the Hells Angels during raids in Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Rancho Santa Margarita that started at 5 a.m., said Sgt. Evan Sailor of the Newport Beach Police Department.

The operation involved more than 150 officers, including SWAT teams and federal drug enforcement agents.

Seven members of the Set Free Soldiers, including leader Phil Aguilar, 60, have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and are each being held on $1-million bail, police said.
Three members of the Hells Angels are also in custody, including John Phillip Lloyd, a 41-year-old Costa Mesa man charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The other two were arrested on drug charges.

Others are still being sought on arrest warrants.

The arrests stemmed from a 15-person brawl at the Newport Beach bar Blackie's by the Sea, where Set Free members allegedly stabbed two Hells Angels members.

During the brawl, the Hells Angels also allegedly struck one of the Set Free members in the head with a pool ball.

On its website, which appeared to have been taken down Wednesday evening, Set Free Soldiers call themselves "a group of men who love Jesus and love to ride hard."

"We are not your normal motorcycle club," the statement reads. "Some say we are too good for the bad guys, and too bad for the good guys."

Aguilar, a Harley-riding ex-convict and former drug addict who served time for child abuse in the 1970s, converted to Christianity in prison. He became the founding pastor of Set Free Worldwide Ministries in 1982. But he and his ministry have been highly controversial.

His page describes Aguilar as pastor or "the Chief" of the group. Next to his photo is the statement: "Sinner or Saint you be the judge!"

Police said that through its ministry, the gang recruited people discharged from parole, state prison and county jails and has an outreach program for convicted felons.

Although Set Free has been praised for its streetwise approach, its detractors say it is an autocratic organization that exerts too much control over its members by confiscating their belongings and forcing them to break off relationships with friends and families.

Law enforcement officials and former members say that the group has devolved into a motorcycle gang like any other, and that it has ties to the Mongols, an outlaw biker gang that has engaged in warfare with the Hells Angels.

Set Free chapters in the Midwest have provided security at Mongol funerals, said Steve Cook, an Independence, Mo., police officer and president of the Midwest Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Assn.

"It is an outlaw club," Cook said. "Their supposed Christian affiliation doesn't change my opinion."

A former Set Free member said Aguilar has performed Mongol weddings and officiated at their funerals. The man, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said he left the group about five years ago when Aguilar began taking the church in a new direction and started recruiting tattooed bikers. Some members carry guns, he said.

"Phil always wanted to be somebody in the outlaw biker world, and he's been hiding behind the cross for a long time," the former member said. "When he began recruiting members, he figured the badder they were the better."

Members of other Christian motorcycle groups said they are afraid Set Free's troubles will give them all a bad name.

"It puts all of us Christian bikers in a negative light, that all of a sudden we're gangs too," said Radawn McKinney, vice president of a motorcycle ministry based in Orange. "We're not all thugs and don't have gang behavior. We have to go out and do God's work."

Despite Set Free's hard-core reputation -- its website features videos of members in fistfights -- some who have worked with the group were surprised at the gravity of the charges.

Sandie Moore, 52, a retired nurse who lives in Fountain Valley, said Wednesday's arrests shocked her. She said she had worked with Aguilar's group on charity events for organizations such as the Children's Hospital of Orange County, where they had provided security.

"What I saw today is far, far, far from how I know them," Moore said. "I can't believe they are being portrayed as thugs. I think maybe some of them who haven't corrected their ways got rowdy, but their behavior is totally contrary to how they acted in front of me."
Carol Cantiberos, 47, of Buena Park, a Set Free member who lived at one of its group homes in Anaheim for three weeks and goes to its church services every Saturday, said Aguilar and the gang helped her stay sober for the last 86 days.

"He doesn't ask you about your history or what you've done bad; he just accepts you with open arms," she said. "I don't believe he would do anything unless he was protecting himself, because he's turned around."

But news of the raid was no surprise to Rose Lambie, 65, who lives three houses down from one of the four South Archer Street homes in Anaheim that were targeted. Aguilar owns several houses in the 300 block of South Archer.

Aguilar, she said, is well-known and the gang had "taken over the neighborhood in a lot of ways."

She said the gang has a history of intimidating neighbors, who had met with one another and with police to raise concerns about their behavior.

Ronald Enroth, a sociology professor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara who featured Set Free in his 1992 book "Churches That Abuse," said the group is a "control-centered, authoritarian organization" that has displayed cult-like behavior, even as it cozied up to mainstream evangelical groups and Aguilar appeared on Trinity Broadcasting Network programs.

"They feel they're reaching a kind of person the larger religious community can't reach," Enroth said. "A lot of people on the margins of society may have been helped, but they are not always aware of the tentacles that an organization like this can have on their lives."

Times staff writer Francisco Vara-Orta contributed to this report.,0,2191642.story