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Court: Amish sect leader can afford to pay for attorney

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:27 AM EDT, Tue May 1, 2012
Amish sect leader Samuel Mullet Sr. must pay for his own legal defense after making millions off an oil-and-gas deal.
Amish sect leader Samuel Mullet Sr. must pay for his own legal defense after making millions off an oil-and-gas deal.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amish men's beards and Amish women's hair is a symbol of their faith
  • Samuel Mullet Sr. makes $2 million on an oil-and-gas deal
  • Authorities say Mullet "exercised control" over his Amish sect
  • Five incidents occurred between September and November, Justice Department says

(CNN) -- The leader of an Amish sect in Ohio, who was indicted on federal charges for allegedly shaving the beards and cutting the hair of community members, must pay for his own legal defense after making millions off an oil-and-gas deal, court documents show.

Previously ruled indigent, Samuel Mullet Sr. received about $2 million in early March by leasing the rights to his 800-acre farm in Bergholz and will now have to foot the bill for his public defender should he choose to keep him, the judge ruled Monday. He is free to retain private counsel, should he choose to do so.

The proceeds from the lease allowed Mullet to "free the farm of all outstanding debt and mortgages," court documents said.

Because of his newfound wealth, Mullet must pay the public defender twice his normal government subsidized rate -- $250 per hour, a court order signed by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said. Mullet, who is the bishop of the Amish community in Bergholz, also was ordered to pay an hourly rate of $125 for legal work performed before the ruling was made.

In December, 12 members -- 10 men and two women -- of the breakaway Amish sect were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to violate the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. They were also charged with obstruction of justice in the five incidents, which prosecutors said occurred between September and November.

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Mullet is being held without bond, because the court considers him a threat to the community and a flight risk. He has offered to secure his pretrial release through either a "significant cash bond" or by "pledging his property," court documents said.

The trial is scheduled to start August 27.

The manner in which Amish men wear their beards and Amish women wear their hair are symbols of their faith, authorities have said.

Mullet "exerted control over the Bergholz community by taking the wives of other men into his home, and by overseeing various means of disciplining community members, including corporal punishment," prosecutors said. As a result of religious disputes with other Ohio Amish, the assaults "on their perceived religious enemies" were planned and carried out.

The assaults involved the use of hired drivers, as the Amish do not operate motorized vehicles, authorities said.

"The assaults all entailed using scissors and battery-powered clippers to forcibly cut or shave the beard hair of the male victims and the head hair of the female victims," authorities said. "During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims."

During some of the incidents, those who attempted to intervene and protect or rescue the victims were injured, officials said. Afterward, some of the defendants allegedly discussed "concealing photographs and other evidence of the assaults."

In addition to the other charges, Mullet Sr., Lester Mullet, Levi Miller and Lester Miller are accused of concealing or attempting to conceal evidence including a camera, photographs "and an over-the-counter medication that was allegedly placed in the drink of one of the assault victims," the Justice Department said.

"Every American has the right to worship in the manner of his or her choosing without fear of violent interference," Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, said in December.

The maximum penalty for the conspiracy count is five years in prison upon conviction, authorities said. The hate crimes charges would be punishable by a maximum of life in prison, while the maximum penalty for an obstruction conviction would be 20 years in prison.

An FBI affidavit in the case says that Mullet in some cases forced members "to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop" and beat those who appeared to disobey him.

Mullet had been "counseling" married women in the sect, "taking them into his home so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy," a sworn statement from an FBI agent said.

Seven men were arrested in November as part of a raid on Mullet's 800-acre compound, authorities said.

When CNN asked Mullet in October whether he was behind the beard-cutting incidents, he asked, "Beard-cutting is a crime, is it?" He denied allegations that he was running a cult.

Asked about what was, at the time, the start of a federal investigation, Mullet said, "We're not guilty, so we have nothing to hide. If they want to come and check us out, we'd be glad to see them here."

CNN's Chuck Hadad, Gary Tuchman and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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