Blood & Money: Revelations

As a judge prepares to decide whether Yusuf Bey is fit for trial, Berkeley police prepare an arrest in a 21-year-old murder case. 4, 2003
By Chris Thompson

The case of Yusuf Bey, the powerful and once-admired Oakland Black Muslim patriarch who has been charged with 27 felony counts of rape and lewd conduct with a minor, is growing more sordid every day. As Bey's criminal attorney Lorna Brown works to convince Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman that the minister is dying of cancer and too sick to participate in his own defense, new details are emerging in the case against him. A reports from the Oakland Police Department suggests that Bey's alleged sexual misconduct may have been far more sadistic than previously reported, and that the Bey family conspiracy of silence may extend from the young men who surround the minister all the way up to the harem of "wives" who help run his business.

According to court documents, Bey's associates allegedly bribed and threatened witnesses, arranged for young girls to be brought to Bey for sexual acts, and stalked lawyers preparing a civil suit on behalf of his alleged victims. And according to a detective in the Berkeley Homicide Division, the Berkeley Police Department is closing in on two onetime Bey employees suspected of murder.

One way or another, time is running out for Yusuf Bey. If the mountain of DNA evidence assembled by the district attorney's office leads to a conviction, there's a good chance the 67-year-old Black Muslim leader could die in prison. And even if he manages to secure a continuance in his trial, court documents submitted by his attorney suggest he could be dead within twelve months. For years, Bey has spoken about his colon cancer during the weekly sermons broadcast on the cable television station Soul Beat, praising the combination of diet and faith he says has helped him beat back the disease. But according to testimony by Bey's oncologist and a declaration filed by Brown, Bey's cancer has spread to his liver and spleen, his bladder and prostate have been severely impacted, and he now lives in constant, wracking pain.

Some observers see a ruse in Bey's sudden health problems. But if he really is dying, there's a certain poignancy in someone's apparent misdeeds catching up with him near the end of his life. In a motion submitted to the court, his attorney described a man strikingly different from the confident leader Oakland has grown up with. "During our meeting, I noticed that Dr. Bey was perspiring heavily, his color was poor and slightly yellow, and that he appeared to be in obvious discomfort," Brown wrote. "In addition, the defendant had difficulty staying on track, maintaining attention to the conversation."

Four months ago, Bey had surgery to remove his prostate gland, and his personal physician Geoffrey Watson claims to have prescribed numerous medications for Bey's pain and "bladder spasms." These drugs, Watson says, have left Bey addled and drowsy. On May 21, Bey's oncologist Tom Lee testified that even if Bey were receiving chemotherapy, he would not be expected to live more than eighteen months. Judge Goodman will hear remaining testimony about Bey's condition on June 10, after which he will rule on Brown's motion to delay the trial until Bey is coherent enough to participate in his own defense. "We're waiting and hoping that he will be better and can come to court," Brown says.

However dire Bey's current condition might be, court records suggest that he has used his medical condition in the past as a ruse to dodge the Oakland police and stall their investigation. According to a police report filed by Investigator Jim Saleda of Oakland's Special Victims Unit, Bey exploited his health problems to avoid providing a DNA sample to police -- the very evidence prosecutors say links him conclusively to the 1982 rape of a thirteen-year-old girl. According to the report, Saleda talked with Muhammad Bey, Yusuf Bey's son and personal attorney, and wanted to secure a DNA sample from his father that day. Muhammad Bey replied that his father had a "medical appointment for cancer treatment" that afternoon, and after a few rounds of negotiation, it was agreed that he would come in at 4:30 p.m., a few hours after the appointment. When the elder Bey didn't show up, Saleda called Muhammad Bey and left a message asking him to call back. Five minutes later, Muhammad Bey called Saleda and claimed that Bey had just gotten back home and "was now in bed, too tired to make our appointment."

But Saleda had reason to believe otherwise. His report says that he had police officers staking out Yusuf Bey's home above Your Black Muslim Bakery on San Pablo Avenue, where Bey had arrived more than an hour earlier than his son had claimed. "The officers watching the bakery noted that there seemed to be an unusual amount of activity," Saleda wrote. "It appeared as if the bakery people were performing counter-surveillance and scrutinizing patrons and/or passers-by."

But this allegation pales in comparison to the arsenal of chilling testimony about Bey to be found in Saleda's report, which Bey's attorney declined to answer questions about. For more than thirty years, thousands of Oakland residents have regarded Yusuf Bey as a model of black empowerment and dignity, a man who built a chain of businesses up from scratch, rehabilitated and employed countless troubled young men, and preached a gospel of self-reliance and racial pride. Mayors to ministers have treated "Dr. Bey" with deference and respect, disregarding shadowy rumors about his harem of young girls and the violence that seems to follow many of his associates. But if the information in Saleda's report is true, Bey's alleged sexual predation is worse than even the last few months of revelations suggest.

When the story of Bey's arrest first broke, initial reports alleged that he raped one girl at the age of thirteen, and possibly when she was as young as ten. But according to Saleda's report, the first victim to come forward claimed that "the suspect continued to molest her from the time she was eight years old until the time she was able to get away from him."

And she claimed that Bey did much more than rape her. According to Saleda's report, Bey sodomized the girl on three or four occasions and forced her to orally copulate with him. "The victim said that the suspect would urinate in her mouth," Saleda wrote. "She said if she spilled any of the urine, she would be beaten by the suspect. The victim said the suspect also defecated in her mouth, she said she thought he did this to try in [sic] kill her by making her ill. The victim said he did these acts to a majority of his female victims. ... The victim said the suspect used to tell her he was going to take her to San Francisco to prostitute her."

According to Saleda's report, the victim's sister corroborated her account and claimed that she too had been raped by Bey: "[Name redacted] said that he liked to slap her when he was having sex with her. [Name redacted] said that the suspect did a lot of very bad things. [Name redacted] said that she has blocked a lot of the bad things out that happened when she was a child. ... [Name redacted] said she remembered one time that the suspect was 'messing with her' and had her sister, the victim, locked in the closet."

Bey allegedly didn't stop with these two girls. At one point during the investigation, the first victim told Saleda a staggering detail. She claimed that Bey "had fathered 42 children, a number of them born to victims of molestation," Saleda wrote. An anonymous caller later repeated that figure to Saleda and added, "the suspect had two to four additional children, in addition to the 42 known. The caller said these children were an embarrassment to the suspect because they were half-white." If this is true, Bey will have been exposed not just as a rapist but a hypocrite. For years, he has taught his followers that white people are subhuman by-products of a sinister experiment in genetic engineering.

The emotional devastation Bey's alleged rapes have sown inside his Black Muslim organization appears to be terrible, according to the report. For instance, the victim's sister claimed "she had heard that the suspect not only molested her family, but also molested his blood children as well." Saleda's report suggests that Bey molested boys as well as girls, including his own sons. "The victim relayed a story about one of the suspect's other sons who tried to commit suicide by running out onto a busy street, after it was revealed to other people within the suspect's organization that he had been molested by the suspect," Saleda wrote.

Two people alleged to Saleda that the women in Bey's family were forced to organize to protect their children. According to the report, one anonymous caller "said that the suspect had about nine wives and he started having sex with them when they were minors. The caller said that the wives had to band together to prevent the suspect from molesting the children. The caller said that it was well known that females did not go to the suspect's room alone." And Bey's first victim told Saleda, "[I]t is well known by other family members that the children should avoid being alone with the suspect. The victim said that most of the kids go to see the suspect in a group."

Perhaps the most ominous detail in Saleda's report occurred when he was well into his investigation. Five days after Yusuf Bey turned himself in last September, Berkeley police Detective Russell Lopes made a phone call to Saleda. Lopes said that he was working on his own investigation into the Bey family. This time, the crime was murder.

On April 11, 1982, Berkeley cops found the body of a 31-year-old man named Ronald Allen lying on Frontage Road, at the entrance to the West Berkeley landfill. In life, Allen was a delivery driver for Bey's Your Black Muslim Bakery outlet on East 14th Street, but someone ended all that with a shotgun. Allen had been shot multiple times at point-blank range; his torso was virtually infested with buckshot. Homicide detectives began their investigation, but every lead dried up. Eventually, the police retired the case to the cold file, and life went on.

In 1995, an informant came forward with information about the killers, but homicide detectives were too swamped with cases to work on it. Last year, Detective Lopes picked up the file and went to work. "I'm like a one-person cold-case squad," he says. "I open up a handful of cold cases every year." Now, Lopes says, he has identified two men, former bakery employees and Bey associates, as the prime suspects in Allen's murder. "We know that he was murdered on Frontage Road," he says. "We also know now that it was committed by somebody associated with the Black Muslim bakery. We're going to be making some visits very soon to these folks."

Lopes will not name the suspects, but says he also intends to question Yusuf Bey about the killing. "The victim, the suspects, the motive revolves around events connected with the bakery back in 1982," he says. "I can say that Yusuf Bey is one person that we will attempt to interview."

After twenty years of commanding the admiration of his followers, Bey faces disgrace, prison, and death. If Judge Goodman decides that Bey is fit to stand trial on June 10, he faces virtually airtight evidence that could put him in prison till the day he dies. David Washington, an attorney for several of Bey's alleged victims, has been investigating the extent of Bey's assets and is working on a civil suit that, if successful, could cripple the organization's finances. According to Saleda's report, several Black Muslims were seen lingering across the street from Washington's law office.

This is hardly the only time that Bey's followers are named in the report. From the first page to the last, Saleda's report details dozens of instances in which Bey's associates allegedly colluded in what may have been a twenty-year conspiracy of sexual crimes. For instance, one woman told Saleda that "two of the suspect's wives set her up to be molested by the suspect." On two occasions, Saleda wrote, "One of the suspect's wives ... came to the school and told her that the suspect wanted to see her. On one occasion, she asked [the wife] why the suspect wanted to see and [the wife] said, 'You know why.' [Name redacted] said that [the wife] asked her if it hurt, and when [name redacted] told her it did, [the wife] told [name redacted] it would pass."

Other witnesses and alleged victims have told Saleda that Bey's male associates have threatened to hurt them if they ever came forward. "The child's mother indicated that the suspect presented a serious physical danger to her and her child, as well as other children," Saleda wrote at one point. "The child's mother said that the Muslim brothers had been stopping the girl and telling her they were watching her. She said they told the child that she had better get back to the bakery. The child's mother said that the men involved with the suspect are from prison and are capable of killing her and her family." Another victim, who had already come forward, told Saleda that her niece had learned some troubling news: "The 'boys' at the bakery were talking about doing physical harm to the victim if they ever saw her."

If Bey is indeed guilty of all the allegations against him, one thing is clear: he wasn't working alone. But so far, the district attorney's office has charged no one but Bey with any crime relating to these events. Teresa Ortega, the prosecutor handling the case, is thoroughly familiar with Saleda's report. She says investigations are still ongoing, but refused to say whether anyone else will be arrested or charged. Given Saleda's dogged and thorough investigation of this affair, if Ortega just stops with Bey, she will have allowed a monstrous evil to go unchecked.

It wouldn't be the first time Oakland gave the Bey organization a pass. For twenty years, caseworkers with Alameda County Child Protective Services knew about the little girls who complained of rape, but apparently did nothing. Now that several alleged victims have sued the county for negligence, officials with Child Protective Services refuse to comment on anything related to the Bey affair. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that caseworkers have done the slightest thing to guarantee the safety of the many children who surround Yusuf Bey to this day.

Throughout the years, we've seen two kinds of official responses to Bey's alleged crimes: the bureaucrats and politicians who couldn't be bothered, and Jim Saleda. It's up to Teresa Ortega and her colleagues to decide whom they want to emulate.

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