City housing inspectors are slated to visit the Dorchester headquarters of the Twelve Tribes cult today to look into allegations that they may be running an illegal rooming house, among other possible violations.
As many as 50 members of the controversial sect live at the group's commune on Melville Avenue in Dorchester but the house is listed only as a single family home, according to city records. Under state law, an illegal rooming house is one where more than five unrelated adults are living.
Inspectors are also probing whether the group may have drilled illegal wells on the property. Sources told the Herald all of the sect's properties - including the Dorchester location - have wells which are drilled by a member who runs a drilling business.
"They never get permits for anything," the source said. "But no one wants to get involved when religion is involved. That's what makes (investigating them) difficult." Lisa Timberlake, spokeswoman for the city's Inspectional Services Department, said there would be a "full investigation" and "complete inspection" of the property.
According to the source, the group left their Providence house three years ago after officials found 70 people living in a single family home and cited them for housing code violations. The group, which also ran an unpermitted print shop out of the house, left Providence and has not returned.
The fundamentalist sect also had problems at their Oak Hill, N.Y., commune when there were so many people living in one house they overflowed the septic system and contaminated a neighbor's well, the source said. In recent years, neighbors in Dorchester have complained that members have handed out anti-gay literature, hosted loud celebrations and run illegal businesses out of the house.
A two-part series in the Herald this week detailed allegations that the cult beats their children, practices child labor and is racist and homophobic. The 3,000-member group, which runs the Common Ground Cafe in Lower Mills, has more than 30 compounds worldwide, including sites in Hyannis, Plymouth, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Those who've left the group describe the cult as a brainwashing sham religion that sucks members dry of their money and property and forces them into a life of indentured servitude.
The sect has been embroiled in a number of child custody scandals, in addition to an ongoing child labor probe in New York, and there have been investigations into newborn deaths. Ex-members also say kids have died of preventable diseases such as whooping cough and hepatitis over the years because children are not vaccinated or taken to doctors.
Members admit that adults are permitted to strike kids with thin sticks but they say it is merely discipline, not abuse. They also admit that children sometimes work with them in their shops and factories but deny violating child labor laws.
While their teachings say that blacks are naturally subservient to whites and they preach that Martin Luther King "deserved to be killed," members deny they are racist, pointing out that there are black members.