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Medicine man, wife arrested again on peyote charges

Published: Thursday, June 23 2005 1:58 p.m. MDT

SPANISH FORK — Medicine man James "Flaming Eagle" Mooney and his wife, Linda, were arrested Thursday by Drug Enforcement Agency officials.

DEA agents originally attempted last week to arrest the Mooneys at their home in Benjamin, but were unable to take them into custody because they were out of town visiting relatives.

The Mooneys and Nicholas Stark, of Ogden, were indicted June 15 by a grand jury. Those indictments were unsealed Thursday, according to a statement by Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Salt Lake City.

Stark was not arrested Thursday. A summons will be issued for Stark to appear in court, Rydalch said.

The three were charged with conspiracy to possess peyote with intent to distribute, conspiracy to distribute peyote, distribution of peyote, possession of peyote with intent to distribute, possession of coca leaves and attempted possession of peyote with the intent to distribute.

Peyote — a hallucinogenic drug used in American Indian religious ceremonies — is a controlled substance under federal law.

With the exception of the count relating to possession of coca leaves, which is a misdemeanor, the maximum potential penalty for each count is up to 20 years in prison, Rydalch said.

Congress has recognized that American Indians who are members of federally recognized tribes may continue to use peyote in religious observances.

Federal prosecutors allege the Mooneys and Stark are not members of an Indian tribe.

"The traditional ceremonial use of peyote by Native Americans as a religious sacrament has been protected by (the) federal government for many years. However, the law very clearly defines who can use peyote and who can't," U.S. Attorney Paul M. Warner said. "We believe the Mooneys and Mr. Stark are not allowed to use peyote under federal laws. Drug dealers engaged in the distribution of a controlled substance are going to be prosecuted."

The Mooneys were arrested in 2000 for distributing peyote to non-American Indians at their Oklevueha EarthWalks Native American Church of Utah.

They were acquitted in 2004 when the Utah Supreme Court ruled they could distribute peyote to non-American Indians, but the federal government was not bound by the decision and continued its investigation.

And in April, Mooney filed a civil-rights lawsuit against Utah County officials who led the failed criminal prosecution.

Mooney, who claims membership in the Seminole Indian tribe, alleged Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion. He also alleges unconstitutional seizure of peyote buttons from his church.

The suit also named Utah County deputy attorney David Wayment and members of the Utah County Sheriff's Office as defendants.

Despite the state high court's ruling in his favor, Mooney alleges the state has refused to return some 18,000 peyote buttons seized during an October 2000 raid on his church. The U.S. Attorney's Office also has put Mooney on notice that he could face federal charges if he uses peyote in church ceremonies.

Mooney alleges Bryson and others have abused their authority and attempted to intimidate him into no longer including peyote in his ceremonies, which Mooney said he hasn't done since he was first charged but is anxious to resume.


E-mail: jtwitchell@desnews.com

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