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‘Cult’ preacher worked kids as slaves at North Carolina fish restaurants: sheriff

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A religious cult in North Carolina allegedly forced children to work as slaves in fish markets to fund the group’s operations.

Authorities in Cumberland County have arrested four members of the group based at McCollum Ranch and have issued warrants for six others, reported WRAL-TV.

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The group lives on a compound based at the ranch and operates at least three John C’s Fish Markets and mobile grills in Fayetteville and another in Lumberton, authorities said.

John McCollum, who runs the fish markets, was arrested on charges of operating a continuing criminal enterprise, involuntary servitude of a minor, obtaining property by false pretense and conspiracy.

Former residents told investigators that group members forced their children as young as 9 to work full time for little or no pay at the fish markets, where they lifted heavy boxes, cleaned and iced fish, and performed construction and maintenance after hours on the grills.

Raleigh police said a woman told them in March that the group had used her personal information to create a phony high school transcript to apply for financial aid at Wake Technical Community College that was later used to fund the religious group.

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John McCollum, who runs the fish markets, was arrested on charges of operating a continuing criminal enterprise, involuntary servitude of a minor, obtaining property by false pretense and conspiracy.

Brenda Joyce Hall, who managed what police say was a bogus home school operation at the ranch, created fake high school transcripts to get teens into online programs at Wake Tech and other schools, authorities said.

Hall, Cornelia McDonald and Pamela Puga Luna were each arrested on the same charges as McCollum.

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Warrants were issued on the same charges for Shirley McNatt, Daffene Edge, Kassia Rogers, Irish Williams, Shirnitka McNatt and Earlene Hayat.

Investigators have been trying to gather evidence against the group for months, but the case stalled until authorities located a 15-year-old who had run away from the ranch.

“We found that kids are like second generation of the ranch and that some of the people that we’ve charged in this were actually victimized years ago,” said Lt. Sean Swain, of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. “They’ve just never left this ranch, and now their kids are second-generation victims.”

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McCollum has recruited members and their children at tent revivals across the country, investigators said.

Authorities described McCollum and his followers as an “alternative religious group,” but a friend denied those claims.

“It is a family atmosphere out there, it is not a cult of a compound,” said Anthony McKoy, who has known McCollum for years. “He is showing these people, these kids, a work ethic.”

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McCollum remains held on $1.1 million bond, while the three women remained jailed on bonds up to $527,000.

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Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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Texas governor busted sending racist call-to-arms a day before El Paso attack: ‘take matters into our own hands’

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On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) tweeted out a message of unity and promised to work to reduce violence in his state, in the wake of the shooting in El Paso that left 22 dead and dozens more injured:

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We focused on community healing, combating domestic terrorism, reducing hateful ideologies, & keeping guns out of hands of deranged killers while respecting 2nd Amendment rights.

We’ll keep TX safe.#txlege pic.twitter.com/ymct4aiSgK

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Facebook bans far-right website from pro-Trump advertising after they try to skirt transparency rules

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