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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A disputed American Indian leader and his wife who were described by a federal prosecutor as "drug dealers" pleaded not guilty Friday to charges they wrongfully consumed and distributed peyote for religious ceremonies.
James "Flaming Eagle" Mooney, 61, and his wife Linda, 51, entered the pleas through their court-appointed attorneys to numerous drug counts. They were arrested Thursday after being indicted by a federal grand jury.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Alba scheduled a detention hearing for Tuesday and a status hearing Aug. 15.
Mooney claims to be a member of the Oklevueha Band of Yamassee Seminole Indians and formed a church under that membership in 1997. He openly uses and distributes the hallucinogen in religious ceremonies, which is allowed under federal law by members of recognized tribes.
However, federal prosecutors say the tribal membership Mooney claims was fraudulently obtained. Court documents say the tribe revoked it and asked him to stop using their name in connection with his religious activities.
The Oklevueha Band is not a federally recognized tribe and does not use peyote in its religious ceremonies, according to court documents.
After Friday's short hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lambert called the Mooneys' activities an insult to true members of the Native American Church.
"Mr. Mooney is not a member of a Native American tribe. He is not a member of the Native American Church," Lambert said. "They possessed peyote in violation of the law. Basically, they were drug dealers"
Mary Corporon, an attorney representing Linda Mooney in the hearing declined to comment. James Mooney's federal public defender, Kristen Angelos, didn't immediately return a phone message Friday seeking comment.
Eileen Quintana, a member of the Navajo tribe living in Spanish Fork, attended Friday's hearing and opposes the Mooneys' involvement in the church. Quintana said even though non-Indians may love her culture, they should not be taking part in what she called "the most sacred thing for our people."
But a man calling himself Mountain Goat Climbs High claimed the case against the Mooneys is nothing but religious discrimination. The church member said he's never seen the Mooneys misuse peyote.
The grand jury indictments came a year after the Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled Mooney could not be prosecuted under state laws for including non-American Indians in ceremonies.
In April, Mooney filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Utah County officials who unsuccessfully prosecuted him seeking the return of seized property, including 12,000 peyote buttons, and unspecified monetary damages.
The grand jury also indicted Nicholas Stark, 54, a fellow member of the Mooney's church, but he has yet to receive a summons.
The Mooneys face multiple counts of conspiracy to possess peyote with intent to distribute, conspiracy to distribute peyote, distribution of peyote and possession of peyote with intent to distribute. James Mooney was additionally charged with one count of attempted possession of peyote with intent to distribute. Stark was charged with one count each of possession of peyote with intent to distribute and possession of coca leaves. James Mooney faces 14 counts, his wife seven, and Stark three.
The maximum penalty for each count is up to 20 years in federal prison, except for the possession of coca leaves, which is a misdemeanor and carries up to one year in prison.
Mooney ordered released from jail pending trial July 7, 2005 - kutv.com
Federal prosecutors lost an appeal Thursday to keep a self-described medicine man in jail pending his trial on charges of peyote possession and distribution.
After a two hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart ruled that James "Flaming Eagle" Mooney didn't pose a threat to the community and was not a flight risk.
The ruling upholds a decision Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Samuel Alba. Federal prosecutors had appealed that decision to Stewart.
"During four years of state prosecution the defendant posed no problem. He has no criminal history. Although warned that he may be prosecuted at the federal level, he did not flee," Stewart said.
Mooney, 61, and his wife Linda were arrested last month on felony drug charges for their involvement in peyote ceremonies for the Oklevueha EarthWalks Native American Church, which the couple founded in 1997.
Linda Mooney, 51, was released at a detention hearing last week.
Federal defendants are usually released pending trial. But those facing charges that carry penalties of 10 years or more -; like the Mooneys - are usually detained unless the court is convinced otherwise.
Veda Travis, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's office, argued Mooney's defense had not proved he should be released.
She said Mooney had continued to use and distribute peyote while the Utah County Attorney's office prosecuted him for giving peyote to non-American Indian church visitors.
"If James Mooney's released he will continue to desecrate the sacred ceremonies of Native Americans," Travis said.
Travis also pointed to testimony from a former Mooney employee who said the church leader felt the federal government was after him and believed his church should "arm ourselves to protect ourselves from the government."
Travis likened the threat to the kind of rhetoric that lead to law enforcement standoffs at places like Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho.
Mooney's attorney Steven Killpack called the assumption "tremendously exaggerated."
"Here we have a man who has lived under the umbrella of prosecution since 2000, he has never missed a hearing," Killpack said.
Stewart ruled Mooney could be released, agreeing with several conditions Alba imposed during the earlier detention hearing.
He also ordered Mooney to seek employment, have a mental evaluation, and refrain from contact with his church, and said regular drug testing should specifically test for mescaline, the hallucinogenic drug found in peyote.
In a 2000 raid, police seized 12,000 peyote buttons from the Mooney's church in Benjamin. The Mooneys were charged with drug felonies. Those charges were dropped in 2004 after the Utah Supreme Court ruled that church members, regardless of race, can use peyote.
Federal law states that only church members who are members of federally recognized tribes may use the drug.
Mooney claims to be a member of the Oklevueha Band of Yamassee Seminole Indians. Prosecutors allege that membership was revoked, the tribe is not federally recognized, and does not use peyote in religious ceremonies.
wow this is ridiculous. i really want to send money to these people so they can get the legal council they deserve. i doubt that public defender of theirs is much of a litigator. wow. this has put me in an activist mood, i think i will be ranting at work today.