Federal investigators have reported seizing a large quantity of stolen mail, forged checks and documents from a Hyattsville garden apartment that law enforcement officials say was the headquarters for members of a radical religious sect.
FBI agents and U.S. Postal inspectors on June 2 entered the apartment of Edwin J. Goodwin, a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who is being sought on a charge of possessing stolen mail. They said they found a hoard of material they believe is evidence of a massive fraud scheme that has plagued area banks and businesses.
A 126-page catalogue filed with a federal magistrate in Upper Marlboro, lists these items confiscated from Goodwin's ground-floor apartment at 7914 15th Ave.; more than 7,000 blank personal checks, 340 allegedly forged birth certificates, 244 allegedly stolen or phony IDs, 57 passports and at least $50,000 worth of checks allegedly stolen from the U.S. Treasury and banks. In addition, investigators said more than 2,000 allegedly stolen letters addressed to homes and businesses in Northwest Washington, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring were found scattered throughout Goodwine's apartment.
Mike Hearst, assistant postal inspector in charge of external crime, said all the seized documents, which include Black Hebrew literature and a set of notes that he said explain how to defraud banks, airlines and credit card companies, are believed connected with members of the Black Hebrew sect.
The Black Hebrews were started during the 1960s by Ben-Ami Carter in Chicago after he became convinced that the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were black. Since then, Carter has led an exodus to Israel where more than 1,000 of his followers now live in three encampments.
Prince Asiel, the Black Hebrews' international spokesman, denied in a recent interview that any of the organization's members have been involved in criminal activity and asserted that the FBI is harrassing the sect.
Goodwine, a Hampton Institute business administration graduate and a New Jersey native, joined the group during college, according to a relative, and then moved to the Washington area. On May 11, he was arrested and charged with possessing mail stolen in a rash of postal jeep break-ins that started in November. He was freed on bail and is being sought on a bench warrant.
According to the FBI, Goodwine is one of 11 Black Hebrew Israelites who are wanted in the Washington area on charges ranging from bank and check fraud to interstate transportation of stolen property. Nationally, the FBI said, more than 35 are listed as fugitives after carrying out fraud schemes that the FBI believes were designed to raise money for the movement.
Last week, a state and federal task force, including investigators from the Secret Service, FBI, Postal Service and the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, was created to investigate Black Hebrews, suspected of taking part in fraud schemes.
At the State Department, a spokesman for Consular Affairs said Black Hebrew passport fraud has been a continuing problem, and "where these [seized] passports came from is being actively investigated."