Yahweh Ben Yahweh, the politically influential preacher who commands a white-robed religious sect and a multimillion-dollar real-estate empire, was charged Wednesday with masterminding 14 murders and terrorizing his disciples into silence.
In a 25-page indictment, a federal grand jury in Miami also accused Yahweh, whose real name is Hulon Mitchell Jr., of other crimes: He directed the firebombing of a block of Delray Beach houses. He ordered the beatings of devotees who failed to make collection quotas. And he made "both adult and minor female followers" have sex with him.
Indicted with Mitchell, 55, were 15 so-called "Death Angels." Allegedly, they committed the 14 homicides.
Also charged was Judith Israel, 43, born Linda Gaines, his companion. She is the "financial brains" of the sect, which owns $8 million in property in Dade.
The grand jury charged Yahweh and the co-defendants with operating a racketeering enterprise while masquerading as religious people in white robes and turbans.
In a 5 a.m. raid Wednesday, more than 50 FBI and Metro-Dade SWAT units, some wearing flak jackets and helmets and carrying riot shotguns and M-16s, swept down on the sect's Liberty City- based Temple of Love headquarters at 2766 NW 62nd St.
Lawmen took into custody seven defendants in Miami. They arrested five others in predawn raids in Atlanta; Durham, N.C.; and Lafayette, La. Four defendants are still at large.
Yahweh, who says he realized he was divine at age 3 and whose name means "God, the son of God" in Hebrew, was arrested at 4:45 a.m. at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans, a block from Bourbon Street.
Approximately 35 FBI agents, some of whom had tailed the sect leader since Monday, swarmed the hotel lobby.
One agent called upstairs and asked the sect leader, in New Orleans on a speaking tour, to surrender. He complied, without resistance. With his bodyguards, Yahweh came downstairs in a white robe and a gold clasp pinned to his turban. He left in handcuffs.
In announcing the indictment, U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen called the Yahwehs "a cult." The charges, he said, "brought to an end an era of extreme violence" and a "reign of terror" in South Florida.
"The defendants engaged in violence as a mechanism for keeping discipline and violence as a mechanism for making money, " Lehtinen said. He said the violence was directed at everyone in the community, not one ethnic group.
"Yahweh Ben Yahweh trusted no one, " Lehtinen said, noting that the sect leader refused to accept a killer's word. "He made them bring back parts of the body."
The Yahwehs, who found a niche in Miami after the Liberty City riots of 1980, once boasted of 12,000 members. Their dogma: Yahwehs are "true Jews" dwelling in the land of the "white devil."
In recent years, though, with press disclosure about murders and child abuse, the sect toned down its harsh rhetoric and promoted its economic improvements in poor neighborhoods and joined the Chamber of Commerce.
At a press conference two hours before the government formally announced the indictment, Ellis Rubin, Yahweh's attorney, said his innocent clients couldn't get a fair trial in Dade because of bad publicity.
Rubin denounced the FBI for "swooping down on" the Yahwehs, as if they were "common criminals." Previously, Yahweh had informed the U.S. Attorney that he would surrender peacefully if indicted, Rubin said.