A top Yahweh member, linked to four murders in the massive racketeering indictment against Yahweh Ben Yahweh and his disciples, surrendered to FBI agents in Washington, D.C., an FBI spokesman said Thursday.
Aher Israel, 33, born Carl Douglas Perry, became the 14th indicted church member to be arrested when he turned himself in late Wednesday. He heard agents were scouring the Washington area for him, FBI spokesman Paul Miller said. Three other indicted church members still are being sought.
Meanwhile, in Miami, lawyer Ellis Rubin said he has begun assembling a defense team and is preparing a strategy that includes impeached federal judge Alcee Hastings in a special public relations role for the Yahweh businesses.
"Alcee is going to do some damage control, " Rubin said.
Part of the courtroom strategy, Rubin said, would be emphasizing Yahweh's good works and praise from community leaders -- such as a glowing proclamation bestowed last month by Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez.
"Yahweh Ben Yahweh is a very popular person in the county, " Rubin said in an interview in which he shifted one strategic position -- his vow to seek a trial outside Dade. "Dade County may be the best place, " he said.
While Rubin was happy to speak of Yahweh's good standing with Miami's establishment, at Miami City Hall, Suarez and Commissioner Miller Dawkins Thursday didn't want to talk about the white-turbaned sect leader.
Suarez, who proclaimed Oct. 7 "Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day, " dodged television crews seeking interviews. He would only say, "We had no involvement in the criminal investigation. They didn't advise us of that. Maybe they didn't have to."
Dawkins wouldn't answer questions, saying only: "I have nothing to add that the media has not already reported. I'm standing by what the media has reported. I'll continue to stand by what the media reports. If the media reports something different tomorrow, I'll stand by that."
He would not clarify.
Rubin said he would focus on the defense of Yahweh, who was born Hulon Mitchell Jr., and his companion, Judith Israel. A team of lawyers will defend the 15 other church members, he said.
Hastings will try to convince customers to continue patronizing the various Yahweh enterprises, including motels, apartments and a grocery store, Rubin said. The Yahwehs have a multimillion dollar real estate empire that they don't want to collapse.
Hastings has worked on legal matters for Yahweh commercial properties before, Rubin added.
Hastings flew Wednesday to New Orleans to discuss business matters with Yahweh. Rubin said he planned to fly there today to make an afternoon appearance at an extradition hearing for the sect leader. Rubin said Yahweh will waive extradition.
Rubin stressed that the roles of Hastings and other attorneys haven't been set completely -- but Rubin said he is sure he will be in charge.
"There can only be a quarterback and since I have done the research, I think they'll stick with the pro, the modest pro, " Rubin said, laughing.
He said some attorneys have contacted him, but declined to name them.
In Washington, Aher, who federal officials have called one of the "top five" Yahwehs, appeared Thursday morning before a U.S. magistrate. The indictment ties Aher to four Yahweh murders within two months in 1986 -- including a stabbing in which the killers cut off the ears of a white victim as a symbol of a "confirmed kill."
Aher was a member of the ultra-secret "Brotherhood, " and was required to murder a "white devil" and bring back a severed body part as proof of the killing to leader Yahweh Ben Yahweh, according to Wednesday's indictment.
Still at large Thursday night were Ahez Israel, 39, born Rufus Pace; Absalom Israel, 28, born Ardmore Canton III; and Abiri Israel, 25, born Dexter Leon Grant.
"We're looking for them in South Florida as well as other areas, " Miller said.
Herald staff writer Carl Goldfarb contributed to this report.