Black Miamians reacted with anger and relief Wednesday to the indictment of their most visible millionaire, Yahweh Ben Yahweh, and 16 members of his sect.
While operations of Yahweh hotels, apartments and grocery stores continued as usual after the arrest, dozens of neighbors said the image of Yahwehs as peaceful and friendly has disappeared forever.
"It's about time they arrested these people, " said Bobbie Cox, who lives behind the Temple of Love headquarters, 2766 NW 62nd St. "They've killed people, taken over all the buildings, and they scare me." Yahweh's arrest, she said, will end the "brainwashing of innocent people."
Another temple neighbor, Louise Miller, disagreed: "They should arrest those people dealing crack cocaine, not innocent religious people. The Yahwehs don't beg and they don't bother anybody -- this is all racist."
Never miss a local story.
At the Yahweh Education Center in Little Haiti, dozens of students in white turbans filed into school. Neighbors said the school opened on time even though the supreme leader was arrested before sunrise.
At other Yahweh-owned businesses -- three hotels, two grocery stores and a Miami Beach restaurant -- white-robed workers showed up on time and made no sign anything had changed.
None would respond to questions.
Mabelean Sands, who lives near the Little Haiti school, said she thought Yahweh Ben Yahweh's arrest would clean up the area.
"Yahweh should be in jail because he's crooked, he's a rip- off, " she said. "People give him everything they own and then if they want to leave, they are beat up."
Sands said she expected a childhood friend named James -- who left the sect and fled to the Bahamas in 1988 -- to return soon. "If he's alive, he'll call, " she said.
At 1859 NW 83rd Terr., neighbors said four of the accused sect members were arrested before dawn. The wood-paneled house had a Volvo sedan and a BMW 325i in the driveway. "They don't bother us. They keep to themselves, " said Lena Roundtree, who lives nearby.
At Yahweh Resort Villas in Little Haiti, a grocery store apartment complex on Northwest 61st Street, dozens more Yahweh members silently boarded buses Wednesday morning. They would not name their destination, but neighbors said the buses depart early each day for Yahweh workplaces around Dade.
"They're very strange, but they've cleaned up the neighborhood, " said Mary Grant, who owns a hair salon near the Villas.
Others agreed that the Yahwehs have improved once-blighted areas. But federal agents' allegations convinced many the courtesy is a mask.
George Copeland, a neighbor of the Overtown grocery store, said the indictments had convinced him never to shop at the store again. "You can't tell a killer by the way he looks, " he said. "This is it for me."
Herald Staff Writers Joe Tanfani and and Sharony Andrews contributed to this report.