Numerous girls were sexually abused by members of a quasi-religious group once headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, whose alleged leaders stand accused of child labor trafficking, prosecutors say.
Federal prosecutors alleged “systemic and pervasive sexual and physical abuse” of children within the group previously known as the United Nation of Islam, which a federal judge in Kansas labeled a cult.
Of the more than 15 examples of sexual abuse detailed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas, one is attributed to one of the defendants in the child labor case: Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, who allegedly “engaged in sexual relationships” with underage girls, including one of the Justice Department’s witnesses.
Prosecutors said Jenkins and the girl were “married” — arrangements that were allegedly forced by the cult’s leader and were not legal — when she was 15. She gave birth to a child at 16, prosecutors wrote.
Jenkins’ lawyer did not return a call or email seeking comment. The Star could not reach Jenkins, who has not been charged with sex abuse in the federal case.
Eight of the sect’s alleged leaders were indicted in 2021 on accusations that they persuaded parents across the U.S. to send their kids to an unlicensed school they ran in KCK. But instead of education, they forced children as young as 8 to work 16-hour days at their businesses, prosecutors say.
The indictment alleged children were physically beaten, but made no mention of sexual abuse. But in responding to pre-trial motions, prosecutors recently disclosed sexual abuse accusations against other members of the group. That included at least six examples of girls being married off to adult men.
The United Nation of Islam, or UNOI, was founded by a truck driver, Royall Jenkins, after he left Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. Eventually amassing hundreds of followers, Jenkins moved his group’s headquarters in the late 1990s to Kansas City, Kansas, which he called “Heaven.” The group ran businesses along Quindaro Boulevard with names like Your Diner and Your Service Station.
Jenkins claimed he was abducted in 1978 by angels who showed him how to rule on Earth. Representing himself as Allah, or God, Jenkins also “married” and sexually abused multiple underage girls, prosecutors alleged in court records in May.
One of Jenkins’ many “wives” once told an underage girl that it was her “duty” to have sex with Jenkins, prosecutors said.
Referred to in court documents as an unindicted co-conspirator, Jenkins died of COVID-19 complications in 2021 — weeks before he would have been indicted.
A weeks-long trial is set to begin March 4 for seven defendants who have pleaded not guilty. An eighth, Etenia Kinard, pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit forced labor and faces up to five years in prison.
In court filings, two of the defendants argued that Royall Jenkins and others were more culpable than they were, while others contended the indictment should have been tossed because the statute of limitations had expired. A lawyer for another said he “vigorously denies” the forced labor allegations.
UNOI was dismantled in 2012 or 2013, but turned into two organizations known as the “Value Creators” and “The Promise Keepers.” Whether those groups operate today remains unclear, but the sect reportedly opened a restaurant, the Royall Touch, in 2018 across from the federal courthouse in KCK. A sign on its door last month said it closed in July but would open at a new location.
Prosecutors’ recent filings also reveal that suspicions about the group were reported to authorities. In 2010, for example, a woman told police — though it’s unclear where or which agency — that the group moved her children “from Kansas to New Jersey and Georgia without her permission.”
The FBI briefly looked into a report in 2008 about Jenkins and “potential fraud-related activity regarding welfare proceeds,” prosecutors said, but a case was not pursued.
CHILDHOODS ‘RIPPED’ FROM SURVIVORS
Prosecutors allege the United Nation of Islam controlled all aspects of the children’s lives, which included restricting their meals and refusing them medical attention if they were injured.
Kids were sent to work at businesses across the U.S., including in Newark and Cincinnati, and their parents could go months without knowing where they were, prosecutors said.
Today, some UNOI survivors are advocates in the anti-trafficking movement, such as Kendra Ross, who in 2018 won a nearly $8 million judgment against the sect in federal court in KCK. Their public comments also provide insight into what kind of testimony might be given at trial.
Ross, who could not be reached by The Star, is now a consultant at the Washington, D.C.-based Human Trafficking Legal Center, whose website says she plans to become a lawyer. Among other things, she has briefed D.C.’s attorney general on labor trafficking, it says.
Speaking in 2018 on Megyn Kelly Today, Ross said there was “no age limit” for when girls could be forced into “marriages,” including one girl she heard of who was 13. The cult arranged a marriage between a man, who practiced polygamy, and Ross when she was 20, according to her lawsuit, which centered on the 40,000 hours of labor she said she was forced to do across the U.S.
“I will have to manage this lifetime of trauma,” Ross told Megyn Kelly. “And it’s not fair.”
In court, Ross’ lawyer said Ross, like many men, women and children, was treated “like an unpaid servant, a slave.” After Ross won her lawsuit, a judge in Kansas ordered that Jenkins be arrested for failing to appear in court, but he went into hiding. The FBI was never able to interview him.
Another survivor, Elijah Muhammed, shared his story in a 2020 TEDx Talk in Dayton, Ohio. It was in 2002, he said, that a UNOI official called his parents, who were members of the group, and told them it was time for their sons to begin “their pilgrimage to manhood” and move to Wyandotte County.
The next evening, Muhammed and his brother were taken 600 miles in the back of an 18-wheeler as if they were “packages being sent out for delivery,” he said. Once in KCK, they were packed “like sardines” with dozens of boys and men in an apartment.
Muhammed, who The Star also could not reach, described acts of violence, including when he was struck with a phone book for once being late to work at a UNOI restaurant, sending him to the ground bloody. Kids had their bones broken and faces swollen in beatings, he said.
At the TEDx Talk event, Muhammed also recalled a friend of his being attacked by four men, who kicked him down a flight of stairs. Muhammed was 12 at the time.
“To add insult to injury, one of the guys literally poured salt on (his) wounds,” he said.
Like other survivors, Muhammed said his childhood was “ripped” from him. He also noted that when a friend of his died of an illness, Royall Jenkins claimed she “killed herself by becoming ill.”
In filings this year, prosecutors included the death among dozens of examples of physical abuse within the group. The 14-year-old girl, whose name was Shaquanta Williams, died of cancer after Jenkins “refused to allow” her to go to a hospital, prosecutors said.
An obituary published in The Star said Williams, of Wichita, died April 19, 2009, at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Speaking to his followers that day, Jenkins claimed the girl “willed herself into extreme illness” because she missed her father, according to a recording of his speech.
“Shaquanta begged to go to the hospital,” Muhammed said in a 2018 interview with the A&E series, Cults and Extreme Belief, which did an episode on UNOI. “And they did not take her.”
Prosecutors, in recent court records, pointed to other times when injured children were refused medical attention. That included when a youth member was allegedly punched in the face, giving him a permanent scar, and vomited blood for days.
All the while, the group received glowing press coverage and recognition from officials for bringing business to Quindaro Boulevard. That members were not paid for work was not a secret; one teenage boy told The Star in 1999 he worked since he was 10, but had “never been paid.”
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