Police raid Agape Ministries of God doomsday cult propertiesy

Adelaide Now, Australia/May 22, 2010

Police believe they know where Adelaide doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo and two of his henchmen are hiding, after a third day of raids yesterday uncovered even more ammunition in a fifth shipping container.

The mother of one of the Agape Ministries founding members also revealed she had complained of their activities months ago to Families SA, reporting that her two grandchildren, girls aged six and eight, had been promised in marriage to middle-aged men.

On Thursday, police raided 12 properties owned by the sect in Adelaide and south of the city, including its Oakden headquarters, and charged four men.

They are hunting Leo and two of his associates after former members alleged he was behind a scheme involving millions of dollars donated by sect members.

Superintendent Jim Jeffery said police yesterday found metal bed frames inside a shipping container dumped behind an O.G. Rd business in Klemzig. They contained a hidden cache of ammunition.

Police have alleged that the containers appear to have been packed ready for transport overseas.

Supt Jeffery said police had a "fair idea" of where to find the missing cult leader.

"We've been able to ascertain where we believe Mr Leo and two of his close leaders are and at this point in time - or at an appropriate time - we will attempt to locate and speak to them," he said.

The leaders, who believe the Apocalypse is coming in 2012, espouse a puritanical life which forbids swearing and sex before marriage.

But, like all the best cults, the rules are different for the chosen few.

Leo and his inner sanctum of disciples have free rein to choose congregation members' daughters as their "little brides" once they reach legal age, according to an Adelaide couple who say they were lucky to escape the cult's clutches.

John and Julie - not their real names - have told The Advertiser of the bizarre belief system which has been hardwired into the minds of followers by Leo, known to converts as the benevolent "Brother Rock".

Another Adelaide woman, Lesley Baligod, said her son Raphael had been among those who started the cult in the mid-1990s.

She said she contacted Families SA two months ago over concerns for the safety of her two young grandchildren.

Mrs Baligod said she believed they had been living with a senior cult member known as "The Enforcer" - a man responsible for carrying out death threats on anyone planning to leave the church.

"I spoke to a staffer at the department and detailed what I believe were serious threats to my granddaughters' welfare," she said.

"I explained that this was a cult; that they were planning to travel to a remote island in Vanuatu where they would be isolated from the rest of the world while they prepared for the end of the world.

"I also have concerns about the intentions of cult members towards my grandchildren and that they were living with an undesirable person.

"I detailed my fears about the behaviour of cult leader Rocco Leo but was told that on evidence nothing could be done."

Mrs Baligod said her eight-year-old granddaughter had been promised in marriage to "The Enforcer" and the six-year-old to another senior "thug".

She said at least 12 children were associated with the cult.

Senior staffers from Families SA spent 30 minutes with the two young girls yesterday and an hour with Raphael and his wife.

The girls' parents denied they had been living with another cult member or that the organisation was preparing for the end of the world.

Families SA said they found no evidence that the children were in any danger.

Former cult member John said Brother Rock preaches that "there is no Jesus, there is no God, there are no Saints and there are no Angels".

"There is just the Lord and Brother Rock, who is the anointed Man of God," John explained.

Aligned with similar 2012 Doomsday theories, convicted criminal Leo has convinced his flock that the Earth's population will be unwittingly implanted with mind-controlling microchips.

"They truly believe in this Armageddon, you know, the end of the world in 2012. That's what he kept saying, `we are going to run out of time because all the people in the world are going to have these chips'," John said.

Brother Rock also preached that once these mircochips were inside each of us, we could be monitored by omnipotent powers who could "flick a switch" and have anyone killed at a moment's notice.

"And I said to them, why out of the cajillion people in the world is the Lord only going to save a couple of hundred people from Oakden in little old Adelaide?" said John.

"And the answer was 'because He is' and that's when it got to the point when I started to disbelieve."

Julie chimes in: "That's what they are running away from - being chipped."

Brother Rock's solution? Move his entire church and congregation to a remote island in Vanuatu.

Julie said disciples are forbidden to have sex before marriage and lovemaking even between couples is dirty and should be reserved for procreation.

Julie and John also said they felt chills when another senior elder earmarked an eight-year-old girl as one of his "little brides" at a barbecue for cult members.

"There is a lady whose son has gone there and her granddaughter is eight or whatever and (the elder) said `I'll take that one'," Julie said.

"They stake claims on little children, she would be eight that little girl and he would be close to 50 and says that when she is of legal age she will be one of my wives."

Brother Rock conducts these illegitimate weddings inside the heavily fortified Oakden church, patrolled by snarling German Shepherd guard dogs trained to attack on command.

Neighbours say sect members have become increasingly detached in recent times as they prepare for impending doom.

Shipping containers have raised suspicions the group was swinging into action a plan to relocate to a Pacific island, with members recently liquidating assets and selling homes.

Sitting at their kitchen table sipping cappuccino, it seems incongruous that John and Julie could find themselves entangled in the net of a Doomsday cult.

But desperation is a powerful emotion.

Stricken by a debilitating illness that confounded John's doctors and specialists, Julie sought help from one of the Agape Ministries' elders who claimed to have healing powers.

"We were at our worst, we were vulnerable, we were desperate ... she rang up (the elder) and said can you please help - at that point I would have cut my legs off for this to go away, I had been to doctors, specialists," John recalled.

Ten days later - after stopping medication and repeating phrases from the cult's Bible - John said the illness was completely gone.

Despite the "miracle" cure, it was less than a year before John and Julie suspected there was something very wrong inside Brother Rock's Oakden church, which had been transformed from a rundown former mental hospital into a salubrious Versace-like palace.

John - a successful small businessman in his own right - said Brother Rock is selective about who he will allow into the fold.

"There would be no one in that congregation who would be from Davoren Park or Salisbury or Elizabeth, not unless you were a wealthy business owner," he said.

Those who do file into the Oakden compound for weekly prayer sessions fork out 10 per cent of all their income for the enlightenment which Brother Rock affords them.

Julie and John say they were fearful for what could have happened if Leo had succeeded in his apparent scheme to relocate his congregation to an island in Vanuatu.

"They're saying that Brother Rock is taking us all to this island, he's paying for everything - well of course he's paying, with your bloody money stupid," a frustrated Julie says.

"The idea of this island in Vanuatu was for Brother Rock to get them there at his so-called expense with their own money, build all these houses, and then of course he would have all their money and he would never go back there again and he would have all their money," John says.

"If he's not convicted of any criminal offence that money is legally his because he hasn't stolen it and they have given it to him freely."

John said: "One night I took (another potential member) aside and I said, go on the internet and look up Waco."

In 1993, 82 members of the Branch Davidian sect, including self-proclaimed Messiah David Koresh, died during a fiery 50-day siege inside their compound at Waco, Texas.

"That is basically the only thing in my head ... if you read about Waco and what happened, that's what I thought was going to happen, he's going to get them all on this farm and poison them all or make them commit suicide which is how you are going to be with the Lord by taking this," John said.

Brother Rock has also convinced his followers that he received Divine powers when he came back from the dead when he was four years old.

After drowning and being dead for four hours, his mother held his corpse up to God and he was miraculously revived, they believe.

Whole families of converts also have no cause to doubt their leader when he tells them he and other elders are immortal, and that he has visited a Tongan man who is 189 years old.

While Leo remains on the run and with the sect seemingly in tatters, John and Julie said they feel genuinely sorry for its followers, who they described as mainly "lovely people".

Reporter Frank Pangallo, of Channel 7's Today Tonight program, exposed the sect this week after an investigation which began in March.

Worried church members contacted the program with stories of missing money, bullying and intimidation by the cult leaders, he said.

"Rocco Leo and his cohorts are extremely dangerous people," Pangallo said. "They're people who deal in high-powered firearms and they intended to set-up their own paramilitary group."

Senator Nick Xenophon - who says he warned the government of the activities of the cult months ago - said authorities needed to seize the assets of the Agape Ministries.

"I think the first priority has to be the welfare of the children," he said. "Just yesterday I spoke to people who lost their home with this organisation by the money they have handed over to them."

When The Advertiser visited the Leo family home at Campbelltown yesterday, a woman who identified herself as Rocco Leo's daughter said her father was not home and she did not want to comment.

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