Nuwaubians keep land for now
July 1, 2004
Gary Tanner and Sharon E. Crawford, Telegraph Staff Writers
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday July 1, 2004
Judge rules property will stay with sect until decision on York
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that $1.7 million in land tied to the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors will remain in the hands of its members until the court decides whether the sect’s leader, convicted child molester Malachi York, will get a new trial.
U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal said there was no evidence shown during the hearing Wednesday that anyone other than York owned the two pieces of property, but he would delay a final ruling on whether federal officials could seize the property until York’s motion for a new trial was decided.
“That may be a matter of months,” U.S. Attorney Max Wood said after the hearing.
The decision came after a group of York’s supporters said the pieces of property – including the 476-acre compound in Putnam County – belonged to them and not York.
Last year, federal prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against York to seize the two pieces of property and more than $430,000 in cash seized at the time of York’s arrest. Wood said it was still not known whether any funds from the properties will be used to pay restitution to York’s victims.
“We’re exploring all our options,” Wood said. Traditionally, money collected from seized properties go to law enforcement agencies that work the case.
Attorneys for York – who was sentenced in April to 135 years in federal prison for child molestation and racketeering – have filed a motion for a new trial and a notice of intent to appeal his criminal conviction. Wood said York is being held in the Jones County jail while his case is pending.
Royal said it could take up to a year and a half before York’s criminal case is concluded.
Alabama attorney Robert Ratliff, who represented the group opposing the seizure Wednesday, said York deeded both pieces of property to his followers.
Follower Anthony Evans, who described himself as an elder of the church, testified he and two others are the legal owners of the Putnam County property. Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has said approximately 50 people still live on the property.
Representatives from the York Family Partnership, who claim to be the owner of York’s $750,000 house in Athens, said they have control of the residence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Verda Colvin argued ownership of the Putnam County property was never legally transferred from Malachi York. She also argued the family partnership was set up after York was criminally charged and was an attempt to shelter assets from forfeiture.
“The Athens property was not transferred until after York’s arrest,” Colvin said. “And at that time, Malachi York still had 99 percent of the ownership in that property.”
Ratliff presented witnesses who said York transferred ownership of the Putnam County property in 1999 to a group of nine of his followers. Evans testified the group volunteered to take over the land and work to resolve “zoning problems” that had been occupying much of York’s time. Putnam County officials had cited York for a number of building code and zoning violations.
“(The property) went from hand to hand,” Evans said. “Dr. York signed it over to us, and we tried to keep it in our hands and take care of it.”
Colvin asked if the main reason the transfer was to relieve York of his legal problems related to the property. Prosecutors allege York was trying to get out of the legal battle with Putnam County by turning over the property with the understanding that it remained in his control.
“It was connected to that, yes, because we were really trying to work with the county,” Evans said.
Government expert witness Wayne Crowley later testified that three attempts to transfer title of the Putnam County property from York to others in his group were invalid because they never filed a required transfer tax document.
Ratliff asked Crowley if transfers to charitable or religious groups are tax-exempt.
“There would be no tax, but there must be a tax declaration explaining why no tax is owed,” Crowley said.
On one deed, the Putnam County property was described as being from an entity called Tama Re Enterprises to the nine group members. Crowley said he could find no evidence of a business or other entity by that name. The final deed transfer showed ownership going from York to the Evanses and Richardson in exchange for “$10 and love and respect.”
Atlanta lawyer Douglas Thompson, who set up the York Family Partnership and a related corporation that owns the Athens house, testified the intent was not to prevent forfeiture.
“We wanted to establish some control for Rev. York on a day-to-day basis,” as he dealt with the criminal charges against him, Thompson said.
In his closing statement, Ratliff said that if Royal does award the property to the government, it should only be 30 acres where the criminal acts are alleged to have taken place.
“It’s not unheard of to partition seized property like that, but we don’t think it’s appropriate in this case,” Wood said after the hearing.
Royal said that testimony during York’s criminal trial showed that abuse occurred throughout the property and not just where there was housing.
“There was considerable testimony at trial that people were not allowed to leave the compound,” Royal said. “Whatever was included in the compound was more than just the 30 acres you have mentioned.”
In her closing remarks, Colvin asked that Royal order the Athens house sold because the property is in foreclosure and accrues more than $140 in fines per day.
York Family Partnership vice president Richelle York Davis, said the mortgage payments are not in arrears. Davis identified herself as York’s non-biological daughter, but testified she has not been legally adopted by him.
Wood said he didn’t know if anyone was living in the Athens-Clarke County property.
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