By Molly Burrell – Staff Writer
As church members chanted, “Christ is the lawgiver,” California Department of Justice agents with search warrants entered Morningland Temple in Long Beach Thursday and seized financial and other records.
Members lined up to try to block police entrance into their offices, and two were arrested on a charge of interfering with officers carrying search warrants.
The group’s attorney, who also represents former Lt. Gov. Mervin Dymally – a possible target of the investigation – was arrested at his Sherman Oaks office for resisting a similar seizure and called the incidents “a political investigation by the attorney general’s office.”
Assisted by 12 Long Beach police officers, agents entered the temple at 2600 E. Seventh St., at about 10 a.m., search for nearly an hour, then emerged with a carton of records they said were taken in accordance with the warrant, which cites “evidence of a felony . . . relating to political contributions.”
Former church members who have been questioned by investigators told reporters that Dymally’s fund-raising activities, and the church’s connection with them, is one target of the state investigation.
A handful of startled occupants of the 300-member church, including the director, Sri Patricia, reported they were pushed, shoved, knocked to the floor, and threatened with billy clubs by police.
At the same time in the San Fernando Valley, agents entered the office of attorney Ed Masry with a similar warrant, and Masry was arrested for allegedly hitting an officer. Fellow attorneys quickly posted $1,000 bail, and Masry went immediately to the group’s Westwood headquarters, where he was again arrested for allegedly interfering with a peace officer. He was booked on $500 bail on that charge and then posted bail a second time.
Masry charged that the seizures and his arrests are “a political investigation by the attorney general’s office,” adding that he represents a lot of political figures, including Dymally and California Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston’s son, Robin.
Sri Patricia said, as the police left: “Our temple has been violated, and we don’t know why. Our First and Fourth Amendments rights are violated. The fight is just beginning.”
The warrant, signed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Keene, authorized the seizure of “ledger accounts, financial records, minutes of board meetings, memorandums and correspondence relating to political contributions, bank statements, canceled checks, records and corporate documents for the period beginning February 1978 and ending November 1978.”
The seizures follow a year’s investigation of the temple by a Justice Department task force, according to an agent who declined to be identified. Bob Cook, Attorney General George Deukmejian’s press aide in Los Angeles, said, “We executed a number of warrants against Morningland and the office of Morningland Publications” in the same building.
Cook said the searches were in an investigation of possible “grand theft of money” but would provide no further details.
Booked at Long Beach police station were Morningland minister Edward Earl Smith and receptionist Carole Sue Edhrehai, also known as Dieva Edhrehai. Both posted $500 bail and were freed.
As the two were led handcuffed from the church, a dozen members swarmed outside and chanted, “Christ is the lawgiver.”
SOON THEY TAPED lettered posters to the exterior: “Atty. General is violent,” “We are protecting our father’s house,” and “First and Fourth Amendment rights violated.”
Inside, Sri Patricia consulted with attorneys on the phone, saying, “We’re in hell down here in Long Beach.”