MIAMI – Yahweh Ben Yahweh, a preacher's kid from Oklahoma who grew up to lead a black supremacist group that terrorized South Florida in the 1980s — demanding that his followers kill "white devils" and return with a body part as proof of the kill — died quietly in his sleep Monday, his lawyers said. He was 71.
"Yahweh will be remembered and mourned by the millions of people that he touched through prayer and teachings," his lawyers, Jayne Weintraub and Steven Potolsky, said in a statement issued Tuesday.
Yahweh Ben Yahweh, born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma, also will be remembered for creating the Temple of Love, a cult enterprise housed in Liberty City bunker that marketed everything from Yahweh beer, soda and wine to hair-care products.
He used Temple of Love profits to amass a real estate and marketing empire that at one point was valued at more than $8.5 million, making Yahweh one of the most successful black businessman in Florida.
Then-Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez even went as far as declaring October 7, 1990, "Yahweh ben Yahweh Day."
"At the time he was an icon," Weintraub said. "He was a recognized presence, known to be cleaning up the ghetto."
A few months later, a federal grand jury charged Yahweh and 15 disciples — members of a secret group of deadly enforcers known as "The Brotherhood" — with 14 murders, extortion and racketeering.
Federal prosecutors branded him the most notorious criminal in South Florida, charging he used the Temple of Love as a front for a cult that enslaved its followers, controlling what they ate, who they married, even when and how they had sex.
If anyone defied his authority, prosecutors charged, Yahweh would order "The Brotherhood" to administer justice, often in the form of murder and dismemberment.
Two residents who resisted the group's 1986 takeover of a drug-infested apartment complex were allegedly shot. Ex-members turned up dead, and a Delray Beach neighborhood was bombed after residents and Yahweh's followers butted heads during a recruiting effort there.
Yahweh, a self-proclaimed "Black Messiah," also faced allegations of sexual abuse involving girls in the cult as young as 10.
During his five-month trial in 1992, Yahweh dressed in white robes and a turban and often quoted the Bible. His sister and nephew testified that he ordered men, women and children to join in the beating death of sect member.
An ex-member testified he ordered another follower executed for gossiping, but spared his life after drawing blood with a machete. Police officers, however, were among those who testified in his defense, Weintraub said. Ultimately, Yahweh and six others were convicted in the case.
In 1992 he was also indicted and tried in state court on first-degree murder charges, of which he was acquitted.
Convicted of conspiracy, he served 11 years of an 18-year federal prison sentence stemming from his role in up to 23 killings, and was released from prison in September 2001. He was never convicted on murder charges.
This year he was released early from parole supervision. His attorneys said at the time that he had advanced cancer and wanted to die with dignity, and his doctor wrote that he was unable to walk as a result of the disease. Prosecutors had argued that even though he was ailing he was still a threat.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, Weintraub said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.