Called a danger to community: Witnesses testify James “Flaming Eagle” had threatened them for cooperating in an investigation
A federal magistrate said Tuesday that a Utah County man who promotes the use of peyote in American Indian religious ceremonies is a danger to the community and ordered him held until his trial on drug charges.
But U.S. Magistrate Samuel Alba allowed Linda Mooney, 51, wife and co-defendant of James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney, to be released from jail pending the trial. The two were arrested Thursday after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of illegal possession and distribution of the hallucinogenic cactuses.
A third defendant, Nicholas Stark, 54, of Ogden, was not arrested and has been issued a summons in the case.
Alba handed down his decision after hearing testimony that James Mooney, 61, allegedly continued to obtain peyote for his Oklevueha Earthwalks Native American Church after his 2000 arrest on state drug charges. In addition, several witnesses said Mooney had threatened them with financial ruin – and worse – for cooperating in an investigation of whether the Mooneys had the legal right to use the substance.
Peyote can be used legally only by members of the Native American Church. James Mooney obtained a membership card in 1997 to the Oklevueha Band of Yamassee Seminole Indians, which is a tribe that is not federally recognized and one that traditionally does not use peyote. The tribe revoked the card a few months later, but Mooney allegedly continued to use it to get peyote.
In a 2000 raid, police seized 12,000 peyote buttons from the church in Benjamin. The Mooneys were charged with drug felonies. Those charges were dropped in 2004 after the Utah Supreme Court ruled that church members, regardless of race, legally can use peyote.
But federal authorities contend that only church members who also are enrolled in federally recognized tribes are eligible to use the substance.
At the hearing Tuesday, Jim Pritchard said Mooney suspected him of being a confidential informant for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. Pritchard, who with an associate used to conduct American Indians ceremonies for state prison inmates, testified that Mooney called his associate and said he should tell the prisoners “to get rid of me.” But his associate did not comply.
Pritchard and another witness, Terri Holland, a former employee at the Oklevueha Earthwalks Church, both said the Mooneys accused them in a federal lawsuit of violating their constitutional rights. The legal action, which also names Utah County officials as defendants, is pending.
Holland said James Mooney accused her of lying to investigators and said there could be serious repercussion. Her former boss said he wouldn’t sue her if she made a five-minute video saying she had been manipulated into testifying against Mooney. She refused.
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