Federal authorities and D.C. police raided a meeting in the basement of All Souls Unitarian Church last night and arrested three members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a religious sect that has attracted the attention of investigators probing a variety of fraud schemes.
Participating in the 9:30 p.m. raid were more than 20 members of a task force that includes U.s. Postal investigators, the FBI and Secret Service that is investigating members of the sect. An estimate 45 to 50 Black Hebrew Israelities were attending the meeting, described as a "conference" by the FBI.
Participants in the meeting seemed "stunned but calm," and the meeting continued after the raiders left the church at 16th and Harvard streets NW with their three prisoners, according to an FBI spokesman.
One of those taken into custody was Asiel Ben Israel, 33, also known as Bruce Green, leader of the Washington Black Hebrew congregation. The FBI charged him with interstate transportation of stolen property. The FBI said he is suspected of the transportation of stolen securities but did not elaborate.
Also arrested were Lionel Winfield, 27, a Postal Service mail carrier who works at the Merifield Post Office in Fairfax County, and Glenn O. Crockwell, 29, whose occupation was not available. Winfield, listed at 4915 13th St. NW, was charged with making false statements on a passport application, and Crockwell, of 219 14th St. NW, with another passport violation.
A member of the all Souls Unitarian congregation said its minister, the Rev. David Eaton, was out of town and could not be reached for comment last night. She said Eaton did not know about the raid. All Souls has long been known for its hospitality to nonconforming groups.
A federal investigator said last night's raid was conceived after a raid on a Hyattsville apartment June 2 in which a large quantity of documents, allegedly including stolen mail and forged checks, was seized. As a result of that seizure, Ben Israel was identified as a suspect in a theft case, the investigator said.
The June 2 raid was on the apartment of Edwin J. Goodwine, a member of the Black Hebrews, who is being sought on a charge of possessing stolen mail. t
The Black Hebrew movement was started in the 1960s by Ben Ami Carter, who is now leader and "messiah" to more than 1,000 members of the sect. He has led an exodus to Israel where many of his followers live in three encampments.
Prince Asiel, the sect's international spokesman, has denied in interviews that any of the organizaton's members have been involved in criminal activity and asserted that the FBI is harassing the sect. Last night he was sitting near Ben Israel during the raid at the church. He denied knowledge of any of Ben Israel's activities and said he came to Washington after hearing of the Hyattsville raid "to make a personal investigation."
According to the FBI, more than 40 members of the Black Hebrew sect have either been arrested or are wanted on charges of carrying out fraud schemes that investigators say were designed to raise money for the movement.