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Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon
by Carlton Sherwood
Regnery Gateway, 705 pages, $29.95

Carlton Sherwood is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who has done a number of exposés of corrupt religious leaders in recent years. He found what he thought was a likely target for another such expose: Sun Myung Moon and his immensely unpopular Unification Church. The more he investigated, however, the more convinced he became that the big story was not Moon, but what the United States government had done to “get” Moon and put him behind bars. Although Moon and his accountant, Takeru Kamiyama, have been tried and convicted and have served their terms in prison, the story is still worth telling and reading, perhaps more so now that it is past history and the principals have gone on to other things.

There is some new information in the story that casts an even more unlovely light on the government’s tactics. Sherwood has obtained two damning documents that were not available to the public during Moon’s trials and appeals. One is the sealed transcript of a post-trial hearing precipitated by a tape of one juror’s comments to a friend that indicated the jury (particularly the forewoman) had been tainted by prejudice, and that several jurors had been pressured into voting for conviction, which they later regretted. The trial judge reluctantly held a closed hearing to investigate this allegation, but the prosecution—with the judge’s ready acquiescence—succeeded so well in cowing the dubious jurors that they completely clammed up and refused to admit to the judge what they had admitted to each other.

The other document is equally revealing; it is a meticulous 400-page report by an expert Japanese translator itemizing over 600 errors in translation of Kamiyama’s testimony before the grand jury, seventy-five of them material to the charges of perjury on which Kamiyama was tried and convicted and which formed the basis for the prosecution of Moon. The report was prepared at the request of the U.S. prosecutor to determine whether the evidentiary basis for the indictment was sound. Though the report showed clearly that it was not, the prosecutor buried the report in the Justice Department, despite his legal obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. There it lay hidden for two years despite repeated efforts by the defense to obtain it under the Freedom of Information Act. Only after a court ordered the Justice Department to release it did it become available—after Moon and Kamiyama had already served their sentences.

Sherwood further discovered through casual conversation with friends at the Justice Department that the top lawyers in the Criminal Tax Division had repeatedly insisted that the government had no case against Moon. But the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York had gone ahead and brought the case to trial anyway, and managed to obtain a conviction. How the New York office brought that off is the burden of much of Sherwood’s story, and it is not pleasant reading, even if one has no use for Moon—which of course is not the issue. The issue is whether a religious leader can be victimized by the government and the laws of the United States and sent to prison for acts that have no criminal intent and that are not considered improper, let alone criminal, when done by leaders of more “respectable” faiths.

The author recounts the details of the struggle in almost mind-numbing detail, but there is no other way to gain a sense of the particulars and the texture of the trial. Sherwood shows, for example, that in point after point, the judge upheld the prosecution’s concept of the case: that Moon was not on trial for his religion or its beliefs and sacred practices but solely for his handling of money and nonpayment of taxes. He was going to be treated just like any high-ranking businessman without regard to his religion—except that the prosecution used his religion and his position in it against him at every opportunity. When the veracity of defense witnesses was at issue, the prosecution sought to discredit them by asking if they would not be willing to do whatever the leader of their faith required of them, including perjury. Suddenly Moon was not just a businessman but the anointed guru entitled to unquestioning obedience.

But when the defense tried to point out Moon’s religious role and authority as the explanation for why he had control of the funds in dispute and how he had used them, the prosecution objected that religion was irrelevant, and the court agreed. So it was “heads, the prosecution wins; tails, the defense loses.” The heart of the case against Moon was that he had “dominion and control” over three bank accounts held in his own name at the Chase Manhattan Bank totaling $1.5 million that earned interest on which he had failed to pay $100,000 in taxes, a fact the defense had readily admitted. The prosecution made much of the fact that most of the money in the account came in cash, which the defense had also admitted, since that is a common mode of doing business in the Orient.

The prosecution’s crowning exhibit was the “family ledger” submitted by the defense to show where the money came from. An expert witness for the prosecution testified that those documents were written on paper whose watermark showed that it had been manufactured after the date of the events recorded. That was the main evidence of criminal intent, and it too was not only conceded by the defense but had never been represented otherwise. The family ledger was always presented as a post facto effort to reconstruct from myriad bits of paper what had happened when church members from Japan and Korea had come to the U.S. bringing with them contributions—yes, in cash—for the advancement of the church and had turned them over to Moon because he, as founder of the church, knew best what should be done to advance its mission. The amount of the donations was (usually) scribbled in Japanese or Korean on a slip of paper. When the Unification Church became stable enough to employ Caplin & Drysdale, a firm of auditors, they threw up their hands at the stack of chits, and so church members (who were usually not accountants or familiar with American accounting) tried to sort out the scraps of paper and make sense of them for the auditors. The result was the family ledger that the prosecution insisted was a clumsy effort to deceive the Internal Revenue Service.

The prosecution spent days introducing reams of evidence to prove these (supposed) elements of the case, and the jurors’ eyes grew glassy from surfeit of detail. The defense contended that the money in question was not Moon’s but the church’s, that he was acting merely as a trustee for the church and therefore owed no taxes on that money. Of course he had “dominion and control” over the funds, as any trustee does. And he had used some of the money—a very small amount—for his own expenses, as trustees are entitled to do. (Furthermore, he had paid income tax on the amounts used for personal purposes.) He had held the money in his own name, as trustees often do, and made no attempt to conceal it. The prosecution simply rejected this explanation by reiterating its insistence that Moon used the money any way he wished, including investing it in various businesses, and that could hardly be considered religious. (Of course, other churches have been known to invest their surplus funds in businesses, but that seems not to have been considered.)

In the end it was left up to the jury in its infinite wisdom to determine whether the money was Moon’s or the church’s, and whether he had used it for “religious” purposes. The judge’s instructions to the jury left those questions largely open-ended, despite the fact that the law of New York contains a presumption (going back to the time of Henry VIII) that money given to a religious leader without stipulation is for religious purposes and constitutes an ecclesiastical trust. The government insisted that there was no trust instrument, no written document, evidencing such a trust, but that is exactly what a presumption is: it requires no written trust instrument to come into effect. It is what prevails if there is no written evidence to the contrary. Under that rule, the money was not Moon’s personal money unless there had been a statement of intent from each donor that the contribution was for Moon personally—the exact opposite of what the prosecution contended and the judge accepted as the law of the case.

Not surprisingly, the jury voted for conviction of both defendants on all counts, taking an extra day to do so in order that it would appear that they had deliberated longer than they actually did. The defense appealed, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Moon two-to-one. The church hired Laurence Tribe of the Harvard Law School, one of the country’s leading constitutional lawyers, to handle the appeal to the Supreme Court, and he elicited forty-one amicus briefs supporting Moon’s contentions from respected organizations such as the National Council of Churches, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Freemen Institute, from individuals such as the Reverend Jerry Falwell, former Senator Eugene McCarthy, Clare Booth Luce, Senator Orrin Hatch, and from the states of Hawaii, Oregon, and Rhode Island. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, and so Moon and Kamiyama eventually went to Danbury prison for thirteen and four months, respectively. It is ironic that Moon was out of the country when he was indicted, but returned to stand trial. He could have left the country at any time up until he entered prison and, as a foreign national, could not have been extradited; he did in fact leave the country several times during his juridical travail, but each time returned, hardly a sign of guilt.

What difference does it all make? Moon is back leading his church, little the worse for wear, at least in the view of those who didn’t have to go through what he went through, and compared to Hungnam, where the Communists imprisoned him between 1948 and 1950, it wasn’t so bad. Moon was reported by a fellow inmate at Danbury to have said, “I have been in Korean prison. That is prison, this is country club.” Still, it is a stain on his record, one that will always be thrown up to him by his critics. And it is a gross miscarriage of justice. He was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. He was given funds for the upbuilding of his church and he used them for that as he thought best, openly and without criminal intent. They were church funds, and no one in the church was complaining about how he used them. But the United States government, in response to concerted complaints from outsiders, declared that money to be Moon’s personal property, for him and his heirs forever, thus taking it away from the church for which it was intended, and sent him to prison for not paying taxes on the interest income from it.

Sherwood is uniquely situated to tell this sordid tale, and he points out the bizarre contrasts between Moon’s plight and the subjects of his earlier exposes, which included Boys Town, the Salvatorian Fathers, the Pallotine Fathers, the Pauline Fathers (for which series he won a Pulitzer Prize, and the Gannet newspapers, his employer, was the first news service to receive the Pulitzer Gold Medal), and Cardinal Cody. Although the defalcations occurring in those instances ran into the millions of dollars, and many people’s savings were lost, no clerics went to jail and few suffered any lasting disabilities in their ecclesiastical careers. Sherwood finds it sadly ironic that the really fraudulent and criminal misdeeds of mainline religious leaders evoked little interest from federal agencies, but Moon became the target of a concerted attack from several of them, one of which finally succeeded in putting him away (for a while, at least) and sullying his name for a much longer time. But, thanks to this book, it may eventually become apparent that the stigma is undeserved, or at least unproven under any true canons of evenhanded justice.

Dean M. Kelley is counselor on Religious Liberty for the National Council of Churches.

Photo by Cristinadeargentina via Creative Commons. Image cropped.