The case against Yahweh ben Yahweh

Hulon Mitchell Jr., also known as Yahweh ben Yahweh, is led into the federal courthouse in New Orleans by FBI agents, Nov. 7, 1990, after his arrest on racketeering charges.

Assistant US Attorney Richard Scruggs gets a box of files from then Florida State Attorney Janet Reno's office. One of his prosecutor's calls it "Janet Reno's "trash." Scruggs has heard of Yahweh Ben Yahweh and knows trying to convict the spiritual leader will be difficult and dangerous. But, it has to be done. Thirty years later, he reflects on the case, never before speaking publicly about it, except to The Florida Files. How he hated star witness Robert Rozier, but had to play nice with him in the courtroom. Scruggs answers the question: Did the government pay witnesses to lie to convict Yahweh?

To listen, click on your podcast provider below

For six weeks, the FBI plots precision pre-dawn raids on the Yahwehs. Former Local News 10 reporter Rad Berky is sitting in a car in the early morning of Nov. 7, 1990, outside of the "Temple of Love" with his cameraman after getting a tip. They are waiting for something to happen. It does. There is shouting and then a grenade. It's about 5 a.m.

"We were told to not go wandering around and all of a sudden it just happened," Berky says. "The first thing I remember hearing was a helicopter, and then a bright light shining over the warehouse, and the people shouted, banging on doors, a flash-bang grenade had gone off. Remember the Yahwehs were all inside asleep."

Berky says an FBI hostage rescue team was brought in from Quantico because there was so much concern that there would be a large amount of weaponry inside. The hostage rescue team is the one that's used only for the biggest cases involving the FBI, Berky says. 

"As the sun started to come up, we could see how many different police agencies were actually there and the show of force they had brought," Berky says.

There were no weapons found that morning during inside the "Temple of Love."

In New Orleans, it's a little before 4 a.m. Yahweh Ben Yahweh is asleep in his hotel room on the 14th floor of the historic Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, just a block off of Bourbon Street. News outlets report that it is the jingle of the telephone that wakes him. It's an FBI agent calling from the lobby to tell him that they have a warrant for his arrest.

Then-Eyewitness News reporter Mel Taylor goes to New Orleans. He reports on Nov. 9, 1990.

Attorneys for Yahweh ben Yahweh fight to have the religious leader released from custody after his arrest on federal racketeering charges in New Orleans and returned to Miami.

"Tonight, Yahweh ben Yahweh is in a federal prison about 60 miles outside of New Orleans," Taylor reports. "The self-proclaimed son of God was arrested on Wednesday, charged with racketeering and giving the orders to kill 14 people. Yahweh ben Yahweh's attorney, Ellis Rubin, told a federal magistrate in New Orleans that Yahweh ben Yahweh is the same person named in the grand jury indictment. Until now, he refused to give his name. By identifying himself, it means he will automatically be sent back to Miami for a bond hearing and face trial."

The government is expected to ask for no bond, which incites Rubin.

"He should be allowed out on bond because he meets the typical criteria for bond," Rubin says. "He has roots in the community. He's not liable to flee. He can put up a bond. And he is essential to a religion. He is the spiritual leader of many thousands of people."

Yahweh's account of his arrest

In 1994, while incarcerated, Yahweh ben Yahweh writes a different version of the story in a missive he titles,   "The Persecution of Yahweh Ben Yahweh."

He writes in the third person: "In New Orleans, Yahweh ben Yahweh, the Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Yahweh, was forcefully apprehended by dozens of FBI agents. Contrary to their press release, FBI agents stormed into his quarters at 3:30 in the morning. Although no resistance was offered and no weapons of any kind were found, pump shotguns, M16s and handguns were pointed at his head, neck, heart and other vital organs." He says the FBI strip-searched him.

Federal authorities storm Yahweh ben Yahweh's fortress-like headquarters, known as the "Temple of Love" in Miami's Liberty City, in 1990.

He calls the raids on the "Temple of Love" an "illegal guerilla invasion" of the holy Temple and other properties. He says defenseless women and children were taken into the street with guns pointed to their heads, made to lie down in the street with their faces to the ground and their hands cuffed behind their backs.

Fifty agents and Metro Dade police circle the "Temple of Love." Yahweh's writings are correct: the FBI has riot pump shotguns, M16 assault rifles and 9 mm pistols. They are wearing body armor. They carry with them 17 photographs, one of each of the Yahwehs named in the indictment. They search through buses and cars on the property. They take 12 to 15 people out of the temple and order them to lie down on their stomachs in the asphalt parking lot.

One Yahweh woman is interviewed by Local 10 News and describes what happened.

"Lots of men. Machine guns. Guns in the face," a Yahweh follower tells Local 10 News after the FBI raid. "That's what I saw. It was dark."

"Lots of men," says the woman wearing the Yahweh's famous white turbans and robes. "Machine guns, guns in the face. That's what I saw. It was dark."

Synchronized raids in seven states

While all of this is happening in Louisiana and Florida, across five other states, FBI teams are banging on other doors. They are synchronized raids. Yahweh ben Yahweh's right-hand woman, deputy second in charge at the "Temple of Love," Judith Israel, real name Linda Gaines, is arrested as she drives a white Lincoln sedan from a garage under the Arts Center Tower, an upscale high-rise apartment building in Atlanta.

Another Yahweh is taken in, found in Durham, N.C.

A van carrying a group of group members from Louisiana on their way to a speaking engagement in Texas is stopped near Lafayette. Yahweh tells in his "Persecution" missive what happened. 

"The bus was pulled off to the side of the road, and FBI agents approached the windows with heavy artillery. Women and children were made to lie face down on the highway with their hands cuffed behind their backs. All the men were arrested without warrant or probable cause." 

He writes that the men were strip-searched and separated. He calls it a nationwide terrorist attack on the Nation of Yahweh and says the media is colluding with the FBI to harass Yahweh members. 

On Nov. 13, 1990, Taylor reports:

Yahweh ben Yahweh returns to South Florida after his arrest in New Orleans while he awaits federal charges.

"Along with an escort of federal marshals, a brown van carried Yahweh ben Yahweh to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in south Dade. He was arrested last week in New Orleans."

Three others were moved to the facility: James M. Littlejohn, who, in the indictment is named in the Racketeering Act 11: Homicide of James Myers.

"Littlejohn told Rozier about killing a white man. Littlejohn said that he had been taught by Yahweh to stab the victim in the kidney area to cause the victim to go into shock. When police found Myers, he had been stabbed in the back and kidney area. Although both ears had been cut, neither had been severed from his body."

Brian K. Lewis is named in the Racketeering Act 16: "Lewis stabbed and Killed Echevarria, a white Cuban male, but sustained severe injuries himself when his hand slid down the knife blade during the stabbing. Lewis almost lost his fingers, but they were saved through surgery. Echevarria had been stabbed so severely that medical experts describe the murder as 'overkill.'"

Former Vietnam veteran James Louis Mack was in a group of Yahweh disciples who beat up a man caught stealing roofing paper from the temple, the Miami Herald reported. Prosecutors said that Mack was one of Yahweh's Death Angels. 

Yahweh ben Yahweh says that the arrests reveal diabolical and wicked plans to shut down all black men who are doing well. He wants everyone to know that's what the government and the media are doing to Yahweh ben Yahweh.

Football player-turned-Yahweh-turned star prosecution witness

Yahweh member Robert Rozier, a former defensive end for the St. Louis Cardinals, pleads guilty to the murders of two tenants of an apartment building that Yahweh ben Yahweh purchases in Opa-locka. Rozier pleads guilty to two other murders.

Rozier's star had faded quickly in the NFL, playing only six games for the Cardinals amid rumors of drug use and petty crime. Then he played in Canada, but that didn't last long either.

The former star football player becomes the star prosecution witness. 

Yahweh's lawyer Ellis Rubin calls reporters to his office to blast the government's key witness.

"I'm just curious as to, with all of this press attention, why not one organization has taken it upon themselves to say, 'Hey, who is making the accusations? What's his background? What's his credibility?'" attorney Ellis Rubin tells reporters.

"I'm not calling you out. I have no right to do that," Rubin says to a room full of reporters. "I'm just curious as to, with all of this press attention, why not one organization has taken it upon themselves to say, 'Hey, who is making the accusations? What's his background? What's his credibility?' Yahweh ben Yahweh has credibility. He has no criminal record. He's done good work in this area."

Venita Mitchell has theories about her father's fall from grace. She believes, on one hand, it is divinely ordered. She believes, on the other, that there were bad people who were using the "Temple of Love" to hide out and commit these acts on their own.

"What man fails to realize is it was already prophesied that they would do what they did to him. And, believe it or not, they did it to the letter," she says. "If you read the scriptures and you read what happened to him, it happened to the letter. There are many of us who will never be plucked from Yahweh ben Yahweh's hand because we know of his innocence. They prosecuted him, but they persecuted an innocent man. The one promised to come would come in Yahweh's name. Yahweh ben Yahweh's father OK'd him to having that name."

Yahweh ben Yahweh, in one of his preachings, says that the coming of the son of Yahweh is simultaneous with the end of the world. 

"It goes together," he says. "Don't you think Satan knows that?" he asks his congregation. "You think the leaders and rulers of this world that with my coming is the end of them. What do you expect them to do, applaud? Do you think they are happy? Do you think they are not worried? Soon as I show up among you, that's the sign. The sign of the end of this world's rulership; so, the government of America just has to face up to it's your end, baby."

Mitchell says she has seen for herself proof of her father's divinity when, one night in 1987, UFOs came to the "Temple of Love." She says her father gave the lighted orbs a direction.

"My father, he raised his hand and gave them a sign, and they started dropping down and joining into two single lines," she says. "The people that were out there were crying and hollering 'Yahweh' because they witnessed a miracle. There were hundreds of us that were there, and can't nobody tell us what we saw that night. We know what we saw. We were a witness."

Mitchell did not live full time at the "Temple of Love." She was living in Georgia at the time. 

"We have never been told we had to quit out jobs to be considered full time or working with the Nation of Yehweh," she says. "We were never told that we had to leave our cities in order to come to Miami and practice the laws of Yahweh. Yahweh ben Yahweh encouraged people to stay in their cities."

Janet Reno asks feds to investigate Nation of Yahweh

It is the federal government that is investigating Yahweh ben Yahweh. Miami-born Janet Reno, who would eventually become the first female attorney general for the United States, is the state attorney for Miami-Dade County. Reno asks the feds to handle the case against Yahweh ben Yahweh and his "Temple of Love." 

Janet Reno was the state attorney for Miami-Dade County in 1990.

"It's a decade's worth of largely unprosecuted allegations of homicide, child abuse and fraud," Sydney P. Freedberg so eloquently writes in her book, "Brother Love."

Why the feds and not the state? There are three factors that the state attorney cites as a better fit to prosecute this case. Freedberg sorts it out. It's legalese, some of it complicated, some not.

For one, the feds could use the Internal Revenue Service to trace where Yahweh ben Yahweh and the Nation of Yahweh are obtaining their money. 

Secondly, witnesses could go into the federal witness protection program, which might get people to talk more.

And third, the matter of pre-trial discovery, Florida ruled that the accused had the right to know evidence that prosecutors planned to use at the trial. The state rules are more lax in that instance than the federal law. 

Richard Scruggs, then an assistant U.S. attorney, became the lead prosecutor in the case against Yahweh ben Yahweh.

"I had it from 1989 through the conviction in 1992," he says.

Scruggs, now retired, has never spoken publicly about the case. 

"No, I have never spoken," he says. "Never talked about it before other than at the trial."

It is a 25-page federal indictment that is handed up to a federal grand jury in Miami, which charges 18 specific instances of racketeering that includes 14 killings, two attempted killings and extortion, plus arson for that Delray Beach firebombing. The lost black tribe of Israel's spiritual leader is charged, as are 16 of his followers, including 15 Death Angels and Yahweh's deputy.

The indictment goes on to say: "Not all of the members of the temple supporter or were engaged in homicidal activities that are the subject of this case. Not all the members of the temple took Yahweh's fierce injunctions literally. This case involves the prosecution of specific people for their unlawful conduct. The case is not the prosecution of a religion."

When the state of Florida wouldn't prosecute the case, federal prosecutors brought charges against the cult leader and members under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, the first time the law was employed against a religious organization. 

Rozier's con job

Scruggs explains what was presented to him by the state attorney's office and says he was shocked.

"Other than a bunch of homicide files where there were no suspects or no nothing, but a bunch of homicide files," he says. "What we had was what we called a proffer, an offer made to a prosecutor to provide information in exchange for some form of immunity and/or a plea agreement. I never saw a proffer like this."

Scruggs explains that Rozier's attorney provided this 20-page or so narrative of murder and mayhem, which was 90 percent of what ended up in trial, but everywhere it had the murderer's name, it was left blank. 

"Now there is an estimation 10, 11, 12 murders discussed all with blanks," Scruggs says. "The state attorney's office cut a deal with Rozier that he would plead guilty to two manslaughter charges and that he would get a 22-year sentence, 11 years for each. So then Rozier has a deal and everyone signs it up. Rozier fills in the names, and that's where it got interesting. He fills his name under six of them. In my opinion, he pulled off the biggest con of a lifetime on that one."

Now it comes over to the U.S. attorney's office. That deal, Scruggs said, earned Rozier's sweetheart deal the moniker of "Janet Reno's trash -- that the U.S. attorney got stuck with Janet Reno's trash."

Convicted serial killer Robert Rozier testifies in the trial of Yahweh ben Yahweh, but defense attorneys question his credibility.

I ask Scruggs about the theories of Robert Rozier and Khalil Amani being paid off by the government to lie. Venita Mitchell tells me that Rozier had murdered others before he arrived at the "Temple of Love" and then killed while at the temple, using Yahweh ben Yahweh as an excuse and saying that the spiritual leader directed him to do the killings. I tell Scruggs, and he firmly dismisses the idea.

"If he's killed before and was a murderer before he came into the temple and was ready to go, those people would have to tell me who he had murdered and where were those cases," Scruggs says. "He was a self-indulgent football player. Prior to being with the Yahwehs, I would put him as a con man. I don't shy away from that. He wasn't violent from what we saw. We looked for that. If I could have found something that he had done had he murdered somewhere else that wasn't covered by that proper, I would have prosecuted him myself."

Scruggs goes to New York, where he is now in federal custody, in Otisville, N.Y., at a top security prison.

"I go up to meet him and we went at each other," Scruggs says. "It was like oil and water. I told him he conned the state attorney's office and I was going to try to get out of that deal anyway I could. I dared him to lie to him or commit perjury because I would charge him to the hilt."

Scruggs has a grudge against Rozier for the con he had cut with the state. Still, he must deal with his witness in court. He does, but outside of the court, he tells Novicki she will have to talk to him. 

"From that day forward after that Otisville meeting, we couldn't talk to each other," he says.

Scruggs tried and tried to get that deal turned around after seeing him put his name next to six names.

"The only thing he was protected by was the individuals that entered into that plea agreement with him," he says. "I can't stress how much I tried to violate that deal and prosecute him."

He answers my questions about the conspiracy theories.

"These conspiracies and the point of view of the defense -- that the government did this and the state did this, or the mysterious they. Well, in this case, you've got the mysterious 'they' are being interviewed right now. If it was anyone, it would be me," he says. "I was in charge of everything having to do with the prosecution and the investigation of the case. It would be me personally. Although I do understand it is a tactic, I am personally offended that I would pay Rozier to lie, when just the opposite is true. Not only did I not pay him, I couldn't even speak to him."

Attorney Alcee Hastings, now the U.S. representative for Florida's 20th Congressional District, who is also representing Yahweh ben Yahweh, says: "My client's not guilty, ok, and all we seek in this particular matter is a fair trial in front of an impartial judge and 12 reasonable men and women."

Up next on the Florida Files. Were the severed ear cases a sign that Yahweh was linked to an overseas terrorist group? And an interview with the Yahweh who is the Blacks for Trump guy. Plus, murder in the midst of the trial.