FBI, deputies arrest 7 Ohio men in attacks on Amish

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The FBI and local sheriff's deputies this morning raided an Amish compound in Ohio and arrested seven men, including reputed breakaway sect leader Sam Mullet, on federal hate crimes charges in connection to a series of beard-cutting attacks against other Amish across Ohio.

Agents and deputies swept into the compound in the village of Bergholz, Jefferson County, at 6 a.m. and took the men into custody without incident.

In addition to Mr. Mullet, agents arrested three of his sons: Johnny, Lester and Daniel, along with a nephew, Eli Miller, and a minister, Levi Miller, who is unrelated to the Mullet clan. Also arrested was Sam Mullet's son-in-law, Emanuel Shrock, implicated in the most recent beard-cutting attack against his own father in Jefferson County.

All the men were jailed in Youngstown, Ohio, and arraigned by federal Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert this afternoon, where they learned of the charges against them. They will be held at least until a detention hearing and a preliminary examination next week.

According to an FBI affidavit prepared by an agent from the Canton resident office, Mr. Mullet and other Amish leaders have been feuding for years because of accusations that Mr. Mullet, 66, the bishop in Bergholz and father to 18 children, runs his community like a dictator, doling out discipline for disobedience that includes beatings and forcing men to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop.

Sam Mullet also has taken women into his home to "cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy," according to the affidavit, echoing long-standing claims raised in depositions as part of a protracted civil case that Mr. Mullet filed against Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla over a 2007 incident in which the sheriff forcibly removed Mr. Mullet's daughter's children from the Bergholz compound as part of a custody dispute.

Sam Mullet became bishop in 2003. Two years later, eight families moved away from Bergholz because they didn't like how Mr. Mullet was running the church and the community. As a result, Mr. Mullet ex-communicated those families, the FBI said. Other Amish bishops then questioned whether that action was consistent with Amish beliefs.

In 2005 or 2006, the affidavit said, 300 church leaders met in Ulysses, Pa., to discuss Sam Mullet and his clan. Seven bishops selected to examine his practices determined that the ex-communication would not be recognized because they said Mr. Mullet had acted out of revenge to punish the families for leaving his fold.

The families were allowed to relocate to other Ohio counties, including Trumbull and Carroll counties.

The beard-cuttings, according to the FBI, were retaliation for the actions of the bishops in effectively overturning Mr. Mullet's decision to ex-communicate the eight families.

One of the bishops who was among the seven involved in the decision had his beard cut on Oct. 4, according to the affidavit, when Mr. Mullet's sons and followers attacked the man at his house in Holmes County.

During that attack, the bishop pleaded with the Mullet clan not to cut his beard. One attacker told the bishop that since he was a Christian, he should not resist. When the bishop replied that the attackers were also Christians, one of the men said, "We're not Christians," according to the FBI.

The men then sliced off his beard and cut his head, leaving him bleeding.

A few hours later, according to the affidavit, the men attacked another bishop in Carroll County. In each attack, the FBI said, one member of the Mullet clan used a camera to record images of the shorn bishops.

The FBI also said Johnny Mullet, Lester Mullet, Daniel Mullet and Eli Miller all confessed to beard-cutting crimes in interviews with sheriff's deputies. In addition, Johnny Mullet said he discussed the attacks with his father, although he said Sam Mullet did not send him to carry them out. Johnny Mullet said the beard-cuttings were committed out of "anger and revenge," according to the FBI.

Sheriff Abdalla, who has battled Sam Mullet for years in court, has long described him as a dangerous cult leader but had been unable to gather enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

Last month, however, the sheriff and his counterpart in Holmes County, Tim Zimmerly, asked the FBI in Cleveland for help. Sheriff Abdalla said agents from the Canton office wasted no time and quickly pieced together a historical case against the Mullets.

He said this morning that those who have been intimidated and bullied by Mr. Mullet over the years should no longer fear him.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., Sheriff Abdalla said, "Free at last."

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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