Religious commune accused of forced child labor at Fayetteville fish markets

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The group ran John C's Fish Market locations in Fayetteville and one in Lumberton.

Ten people have been charged - four are in custody - in connection with allegations that an alternative religious group living on a property commonly referred to as McCollum Ranch have been forcing children to involuntarily work at several Fayetteville area fish markets against their will and with no compensation.

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The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office said it began investigating the allegations in February 2017.

Investigators said that the McCollum Ranch group, at 5953 McCollum Road in Godwin were operating several fish markets to raise money for the communal property and used child labor to do so.



The sheriff's office said John C McCollum and others were operating at least three John C's Fish Markets and mobile grills in Fayetteville, and one John C's Fish Market in Lumberton.

Several former residents of the McCollum Ranch told investigators that McCollum and others were holding children ranging from 9 years old to 17 years old, in involuntary servitude. The children had to work full time in the fish markets with little to no compensation, they said.

The children were reportedly performing labor such as lifting heavy boxes/shipments (reportedly some weighing approximately 50lbs), keeping fish iced, cutting fish and cleaning; additionally, many of the children were performing construction and maintenance on the mobile grills after fish market hours. The former residents also informed investigators that the children were not attending school and were being denied adequate education and care.

These are the suspects in the McCollum Ranch case.



Four of the ten suspects have been arrested; John McCollum, Cornelia McDonald, Brenda Hall and Pamela Puga Luna are being held on secured bonds in the Cumberland County Detention Center. The other six suspects, Shirley McNatt, Daffene Edge, Kassia Rogers, Irish Williams, Shirnitka McNatt, and Earlene Hayat are all wanted for outstanding warrants for their arrest.

TIP FROM RALEIGH POLICE

On March 2, 2017, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office received information from the Raleigh Police Department of a reported fraud that was perpetrated by members of the McCollum Ranch.

The victim said that members of the McCollum Ranch, including Brenda Hall and McCollum, used her personal information to generate a fraudulent high school transcript which was then used to apply for admission and financial aid at Wake Technical Community College. The victim alleged that McCollum and others at the commune used the fake transcript to get financial aid money, which was allegedly used to fund "criminal enterprises" at the ranch.

TEEN RUNAWAY TALKS TO AUTHORITIES

On August 10, 2017, the Fayetteville City Police Department got a call that a 15-year-old boy ran away from McCollum Ranch. The missing teen was gone for about three weeks before his mother reported his disappearance.

The missing teen was found at an address off Rosehill Road and questioned by law officers.

He told authorities that he ran away from the McCollum Ranch because he and his brother were forced along with several other children to work in the John C's Fish Markets for excessive hours - typically more than 40 hours a week - for little to no compensation.

Information gathered by investigators from interviews conducted on the children living on the McCollum Ranch revealed that "McCollum and his agents were holding the children in involuntary servitude by means of force fraud, or coercion, for profiting and funding the McCollum Ranch."

FRAUDULENT HOME SCHOOL OPERATION?

Investigators began looking at Brenda Joyce Hall, a resident of McCollum Ranch, who was managing a home school program called the Halls of Knowledge Home School.

After an investigation, deputies concluded that the school was not providing education to the children living at the Ranch and working at the John C's Fish Markets as portrayed. The sheriff's office also said that the Halls of Knowledge Home School and its manager, Hall, provided fraudulent high school transcripts to ranch residents in an effort to acquire admittance into online programs through Wake Tech and other schools.

The sheriff's office said the group then used the ill-gotten financial aid to fund its operations.

Warrants for arrest were obtained for several members of the McCollum Ranch for continuing criminal enterprise, involuntary servitude of a minor, obtaining property by false pretense, and conspiracy. Warrants for arrests were obtained for John C. McCollum, Brenda Hall, Cornelia McDonald, Pamela Puga Luna, Shirley McNatt, Daffene Edge, Kassia Rogers, Irish Williams, Shirnitka McNatt, and Earlene Hayat.

The Sheriff's Office is requesting that if anyone has information relating to the location of these suspects, please contact the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office at 910-323-1500 or Crimestoppers at (910) 483-8477.
Related Topics:
cumberland county newschild endangermentslaverybizarrenorth carolina newsraleigh newsFayettevilleLumbertonCumberland County
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