Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania yesterday accused two Amish men of buying cocaine from a gang called the Pagan Motorcycle Club and distributing the drug to other young members of the religious group at parties known as "hoedowns."
"We've seen plenty of underage drinking cases but a drug case is unheard of" among the Amish, said John Pyfer, who is representing Abner Stoltzfus, 24. The other defendant is Abner King Stoltzfus, 23, who is no relation.
The case in Lancaster County underscores the vulnerability of the Amish, who have seen suburban development and tourism encroach on their once secluded lives. The suburbanites and the gawkers have made it difficult for the Amish to close their eyes to what they consider the corrupting influences of modernity. Members of the sect do not have electricity or plumbing in their homes, and still make their way around the county in horse-drawn buggies. The two men accused belong to the most conservative Amish sect, the Old Order Amish.
Most work as farmers or craftsmen, and do not stray far from their homes. Abner Stoltzfus worked as a roofer, Pyfer said, and met Pagan members on his work trips outside Lancaster.
The two men were indicted yesterday on charges of participating in a conspiracy to distribute more than $1 million worth of cocaine and methamphetamine. Federal prosecutors placed most of the blame on eight members of the motorcycle gang, who were described as reckless and violent. Emory Edward Reed, president of the Pagans' Chester County chapter, broke one of the defendant's legs with an ax handle when he refused an order, and knocked out the other defendant's teeth when he failed to pay on time.
While members of the biker gang were known as habitual lawbreakers, no one from the Amish had ever been involved in such serious criminal activity, attorneys said. The two Amish men allegedly bought the drugs from gang members between 1992 and 1997 and distributed them at parties of youth groups known as the Antiques, the Crickets and the Pilgrims. A juvenile identified only as CS also participated in the conspiracy, according to prosecutors, but was not charged in the indictment.
Pyfer said "it was pretty clear" his client had been addicted to cocaine, although he no longer is. No date has been set for the arraignment, but Pyfer said his client would plead not guilty.
During the five years the two men were allegedly distributing cocaine, they were participating in an Amish rite of passage translated loosely in English as "sowing your wild oats," said Pyfer. Amish men between the ages of 16 and 24 take a long break from the rigid rules of the community to decide if they want to opt out. During the break, the men drink and drive "bright, gaudy cars," said Pyfer, while "their parents are looking the other way." Taking drugs is not an accepted part of that rite, however.