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Mooneys arrested for distribution, possession of peyote

By Nick Nelson - Daily Herald - | Jun 24, 2005

Local medicine man James Warren “Flaming Eagle” Mooney was out walking his dog Thursday morning when agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration approached him with an arrest warrant.

James Mooney and his wife, Linda, were arrested near their Spanish Fork home on 16 combined drug charges involving possession and distribution of peyote. Each of the charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Nicholas Stark, an Ogden man with ties to Oklevueha EarthWalks Native America Church, which the Mooneys founded in 1997, was also named in the federal indictment. In the indictment, which was filed June 15 but sealed until Thursday morning, Stark was charged for distribution and possession of peyote and for possession of coca leaves.

The Mooneys and Stark have an initial hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Alba at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City at 11 a.m. today. Linda Mooney was booked at Davis County Jail and James Mooney at Weber County Jail on Thursday evening to be held until the arraignment.

In June 2004, the Utah Supreme Court exonerated the Mooneys from more than a dozen felony drug charges the Utah County Attorney’s Office had brought against them in November 2000. The landmark ruling stated that religious leaders like Mooney could not be prosecuted for distributing peyote to non-American Indians as part of a legitimate religious ceremony — even if those leaders are not members of federally recognized American Indian tribe.

But the state court’s ruling is not binding on courts or agencies, and federal courts have ruled in the past that the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus and a Schedule I controlled substance, is illegal except in “bona fide” religious ceremonies by members of federally recognized tribes.

U.S. Attorney Paul Warner stated in a news release Thursday that the Mooneys and Stark, who do not claim membership in a federally recognized tribe, broke federal drug laws.

“We believe the Mooneys and Mr. Stark are not allowed to use peyote under federal law,” he said. “Drug dealers engaged in the distribution of a controlled substance are going to be prosecuted.”

Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City, said the indictment also challenges James Mooney’s status as American Indian and his tribal membership.

“The indictment alleges that he is not a Native American, not a member of a federally recognized tribe and therefore is not entitled under federal law to possess or distribute a controlled substance,” she said. Rydalch said federal prosecutors would push to have the Mooneys jailed until the case is resolved because the couple is a risk to the community.

Kathryn Collard, a Salt Lake attorney who represented the Mooneys and Oklevueha EarthWalks in Utah courts, blasted the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for what she described as a “witch hunt” against her former clients.

“I think it’s the drug war run amok,” she said. “I think they do it because they can. They have the power, they have the money, they have hundreds of attorneys and all kinds of people to do their bidding.”

The Mooneys’ current attorney, Randall Marshall, was out of town Thursday and did not return telephone calls.

David Hamblin, a friend of the Mooneys and a spiritual leader of Oklevueha EarthWalks, said Mooney was out walking his dog and speaking to Hamblin on a mobile phone Thursday morning when federal agents stopped Mooney.

“He was approached by DEA agents that told him to take his dog back home and that they were going to arrest him,” Hamblin said. “I could hear their voices on the phone.”

Justin Schoenrock, James Mooney’s 26-year-old stepson who was at the Mooney’s home Thursday, said the agents arrested Mooney just before 9 a.m.

He said his mother, Linda Mooney, called him from her workplace at about the same time and said she would come home shortly. Linda Mooney was arrested as she drove home from her workplace, Schoenrock said. He said the agents gave no explanation of the arrest.

“They didn’t tell me anything,” he said.

Schoenrock said the Mooney’s younger children were out of state visiting family when their parents were arrested.

DEA agents visited the Mooneys’ home and the office of a former bookkeeper for Oklevueha EarthWalks last week but did not serve any warrants.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.


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