Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, by Carlton Sherwood, Washington: Regnery Gateway, 705 pages, $29.95
In 1984, investigative reporter Carlton Sherwood received a job offer from The Washington Times. Sherwood was then working for CNN, and though he had won a Peabody award for his television work, Sherwood was intrigued by the offer. He had wanted to return to "the relative sanity and stability of a daily newspaper" for some time. Moreover, Sherwood knew that the paper was affiliated with the Unification Church.
Sherwood had made something of a career out of uncovering religious scandals—winning a Pulitzer prize for his investigation of the financial misdeeds of a group of Pennsylvania monks—and he had heard the stories about the Unification Church: love bombing, mass weddings, innocent children turned into mindless zombies. Further, the church's head, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was then serving time for tax evasion. This, Sherwood thought, could be a big story.
But a year at the Times left Sherwood with little dirt on the Moonies. Few members of the church were actually affiliated with the paper, and the ones he had met seemed decent enough. Then one day Sherwood had drinks with a couple of Justice Department attorneys he had met years earlier. As they talked about what they had been doing in the intervening years, Sherwood told them of his failed attempts to dig up dirt on Moon.
"Both men looked at me slack-jawed and then began to laugh. In short order, they informed me that the Justice Department and virtually every federal law enforcement agency in the country had spent nearly ten years and untold millions in taxpayers' money trying to get the Unification Church, and they had come up empty-handed, too.
"'What about the tax evasion and conspiracy case against Moon?' I asked. Then they dropped the bomb.
"'That was a bad case,' one of the lawyers said.
"'We never had a case,' the other corrected. 'All of the seniors in Tax [career, senior prosecutors in the Criminal Tax Division of the Justice Department] are still bitching about the prosecution which was forced down their throats. The place is in chaos. There's still a lot of very unhappy people there.'"
Stunned, Sherwood began digging into the case more carefully and found something more colorful and frightening than another holy man bilking the gullible out of money. Moon's trial, says Sherwood, was more about his religious beliefs—or public perceptions of them—than about whether he tried to avoid $8,000 in taxes.
In a sense, Moon's trial began long before 1982. It started soon after his religion reached America in the 1960s. The church spread slowly; by 1978, its American-born members numbered no more than 37,000. But the converts that it did attract were unusual: mostly white college kids from middle-class families. The parents of many of these converts were, to put it mildly, not happy that their sons and daughters were devoted to a strange Oriental who claimed to be the third Adam, the man who would complete the work of Jesus Christ. They complained that their children were being brainwashed. And when the white middle class complains, people listen.
Since 1970, almost every media organization, large and small, has run scores of stories on Moon and the Unification Church. After reviewing many of those stories, Sherwood found that Moon's "media coverage hasn't been merely bad; it has been devastatingly awful.…Actually, in reviewing the American press' coverage of the church story over the last score of years, my conclusion is that Nazis would have gotten a more sympathetic treatment."
Hyperbole? No. Sherwood walks us through the stories, from the tone-setting 1972 articles in Time and Newsweek to the hatchet-job-cum-exposé of church financial dealings by The Wall Street Journal in 1982. In each case, the press uncritically accepted the charges against the church: that it brainwashed children, that it demanded near-slave labor of its members, and that it wielded control over a large and powerful financial empire. The truth: Converts were almost always adults. Most church members engage in volunteer work just as Baptists, Mormons, and Catholics do, but it isn't required. And while the amount of control the church wields over its financial properties may be debated, its American holdings are small, and most lose money.
By the mid-'70s, the public hatred of Moon grew so great that "cult deprogrammer" Ted Patrick, a street thug with a long rap sheet, became a media hero by hiring himself out to parents to bring their (adult) children back to normal. Patrick's methods were simple. He or his employees would kidnap church members, hold them against their will, and berate them until they denounced Moon.
Sherwood notes that the media became skeptical of Patrick and his methods only after he and his colleagues started "deprogramming" Mormons, charismatic Protestants, two sisters who hadn't converted to any cult but who had disappointed their parents by no longer going to church, a radical activist whose mother disapproved of her politics, and an alleged lesbian whose parents objected to her living with another woman.
But those events happened in the late '70s. In 1976, Moon was one of the most vilified men in America. And Sen. Robert Dole (R–Kans.) wanted to climb the political ladder. Attacking the unpopular Moon seemed a perfect step. In February, Dole wrote letters to the IRS and immigration officials outlining his concerns about the Unification Church. He held public hearings on the Moonie menace. Dole was the ranking Republican on the committee that handled the agency's budget, and the IRS, not surprisingly, began an audit of Moon on the day it received Dole's letter.
Given the scrutiny that the media and government were giving Moon in the '70s, he probably should have kept a sharp eye on his finances and hired trained professionals to keep the books for the church. He did neither. Contrary to his public image, Moon actually appears to be more interested in the Kingdom of Heaven than in his earthly empire. And he allowed church members whose only training in accounting was filling out their own 1040 forms to keep his books and file his taxes.
So it came as no surprise that the IRS found Moon's records, which he voluntarily turned over to them, to be a mess. Moon appeared to have underpaid in some years, perhaps overpaid in others. He may have been trying to hide income. Given their inexperience, however, Sherwood thinks it more likely that Moon's accountants just didn't know what they were doing.
Under ordinary circumstance, Sherwood argues, Moon would have been fined for back taxes but not prosecuted. Indeed, three separate reviews by the Justice Department's tax division recommended against prosecution. This was the last break Moon was to have. His luck was very bad.
First, Martin Flumenbaum, a young attorney in the Justice Department's New York office, got the case, and he refused to let it go. He phoned his superiors in Washington. He flew down several times. And, somehow, he convinced them to overrule the recommendations of their own tax-law experts.
Second, Moon's right-hand man, Takeru Kamiyama, was brought before a grand jury. Kamiyama is Japanese and had to have a translator. And under the rules of the court, the prosecutor got to pick the translator. The young man picked had no formal training in simultaneous translation and was not certified for legal translation. And he had seemingly little grasp of either Japanese or English.
He began his mistakes during the swearing in when he told Kamiyama that he would be "criticized," not prosecuted, for false testimony. At some points, the prosecutor would ask one question, the translator would ask Kamiyama something completely different, Kamiyama would answer the question asked, and the translator would give a totally different answer. Sherwood lists dozens of examples. For instance, the prosecutor at one point asked Kamiyama if he had loaned a particular company $200,000. The translator asked if Kamiyama had received $200,000.
How does Sherwood know? The prosecutor had a trained expert go over the tapes of the proceedings. The second translator found dozens of material mistakes in translation. Detailed discussions of Moon's finances were bungled. But the prosecutor didn't share this report with the defense.
So Moon and Kamiyama went to trial. And things got worse. Their attorneys hired a polling firm to guide them in selecting a jury. The pollsters had never seen numbers like Moon's. They found that it would be difficult to find jurors who didn't have strong negative feelings toward Moon and almost impossible to find someone who hadn't been exposed to anti-Moon stories. Further, middle-class jurors—the ones most likely to understand the complexities of a tax case—had the strongest feelings against Moon.
Then Moon drew as a judge a former prosecutor who, during the trial, compared the minister to convicted mass murderer Wayne Williams, Adolf Hitler, Al Capone, Fagin, and Richard Nixon.
The prosecution's game plan was simple: Bury the jury under a mountain of financial documents (over 1,000 pieces of evidence were entered) and use every opportunity to remind the jurors of Moon's strange theology, the rumors of brainwashing, and his allegedly extravagant lifestyle. The defense objected, of course, but they were usually overruled from the bench. The jury found Moon guilty.
Sherwood recounts the trial and the appeals in exhaustive and well-documented detail. While proving his point, the author winds up numbing the reader. His editors should have forced him to trim his manuscript.
There's one sad footnote to this sordid story. Moon and Kamiyama were convicted, sentenced, and jailed voluntarily. As foreign nationals, neither had to submit to the "justice" of the American courts. Tax evasion is not subject to extradition, and the government placed no travel restrictions on either man. Both Moon and Kamiyama left the country several times during their appeals, and they could easily have never returned. But each did. Both served their time without a single public complaint.
Charles Oliver is assistant editor of REASON.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Witch Hunt".