Feds accuse Kansas 'cult' of running unpaid child labor network

Feds accuse Kansas 'cult' of running unpaid child labor network
© Greg Nash

A federal grand jury in Kansas indicted eight people for their alleged involvement in a forced labor scheme involving businesses around the U.S. that were owned by an organization that has frequently been described as a "cult."

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the eight indicted individuals who took part in running the the United Nation of Islam (UNOI) coerced multiple minors into forced labor at UNOI-owned and operated businesses in states including Kansas, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut and Ohio. Their alleged scheme took place from 2000 to 2012.

The eight individuals who were charged are: Kaaba Majeed, Yunus Rassoul, James Staton, Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, Randolph Rodney Hadley, Jacelyn Greenwell, Etenia Kinard and Dana Peach.

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They have been charged with conspiracy to commit forced labor and forced labor.

Prosecutors have accused the defendants of using numerous tactics to coerce their victims into performing forced labor including separating them from their families, withholding food, physical and verbal abuse, psychological manipulation, isolation and suggestions that they would experience tragic consequences if they left the UNOI.

They are also accused of controlling what these children viewed and read and did not allow them to consume materials that were not affiliated with UNOI. The children were also allegedly forbidden from speaking without permission, speaking to someone of the opposite sex or a person who was not part of UNOI.

When the alleged victims were allowed to speak with their families, the calls were often monitored. Even though their victims were school-aged children, the DOJ accused the UNOI members of failing to provide "an adequate or legitimate education."

The defendants faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 if convicted.

The UNOI was founded by the late Royall Jenkins whose teachings went against those taught by mainstream Islam, such as claiming that he himself was Allah. He claimed to have been abducted by angels and taken through the galaxy on a spaceship, during which he was taught how to govern.

Jenkins began recruiting members to the UNOI in Maryland but later set up the organization's headquarters in Kansas during the 1990's.

The organization has frequently been described as a "cult" by the media as well as by former members.

In 2018, a judge awarded former member Kendra Ross nearly $8 million in damages and restitution for a human trafficking lawsuit brought against the organization, The New York Times reported. Ross was forced to work in various businesses across the country, endured physical and emotional abuse and was forced into marrying a polygamist member.

According to the indictment, the UNOI operated at least 10 businesses across the country — restaurants, bakeries, gas stations and other businesses — using unpaid members of the organization.

The organization persuaded members who were parents to send their children to Kansas City, Kansas, saying that they would be attending a UNOI-run school and work in a business that it operated. However, they did not inform parents that their children would be working extended hours and in some cases be sent to work at businesses in other cities.

Prosecutors said these children lived in crowded conditions and often ate restrictive diets, at times being forced to "cleanse" by only drinking lemon juice for several days. In comparison, the defendants and their immediate families lived in spacious homes, ate how they wished and worked when they wanted.