FBI files report on founder of sect
The Associated Press
June 25, 1985
Montpelier, Vt – The FBI has turned over to federal prosecutors a case involving allegations that the founder of a religious sect in Island Pond sexually abused a young girl in 1982 or 1983, FBI officials have confirmed.
FBI Special Agent Joseph Skrzat of the Albany, N.Y. office, which oversees federal investigations in Vermont, said his office completed a report on the case earlier this year and turned it over to U.S. Attorney George Cook in Rutland. No charges have been filed.
FBI Agent Jo Yakshe, based in Orlando, Fla. , who helped investigate the report, said it involved sexual abuse allegations against Twelve Tribes founder Elbert Eugene Spriggs.
Both agents said the girl allegedly abused was Lydia Mattatall, now 6. The girl, the daughter of a couple in the sect who had separated, was involved in a lengthy child custody battle from 1982 to late 1983.
The 450-member reclusive sect has been under investigation for alleged instances of child abuse for more than four years. Vermont officials raided the commune one year ago Saturday in an attempt to check the abuse reports, but a judge foiled the roundup of 112 sect children and called the raid a “grossly unlawful scheme.”
Community members strongly deny the allegations of abuse, saying they discipline babies from the age of 6 months to save them from becoming a “lost generation.”
Cook and Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Hall declined to confirm or deny the report. “We don’t comment on any case that has not been publicly filed,” Hall said.
John O’Donnell, a former state Human Services secretary, said Vermont turned over a case “that may have involved sexual abuse” to the FBI during the fall of 1983 because it involved people who moved out of the state.
O’Donnell said it was the only child abuse case concerning the community that Vermont turned to federal authorities. He declined further comment, citing juvenile statutes that prohibit the release of details in criminal proceedings involving minors.
Juan Mattatall, the father of the girl, now lives in Florida with his five children. He could not be reached for comment.
Spriggs also could not be reached for comment Monday. He is rarely seen in Island Pond, often traveling between the Twelve Tribes’ satellite bases in France and Nova Scotia.
Spriggs, a former carnival barker, founded the sect in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tenn., concentrating efforts on picking up drug addicts and converting them to a form of Christianity as practiced in his sect. The group moved to the Northeast Kingdom community of Island Pond in 1978.
Mattatall was involved in the sect’s publicized child custody case. In November 1983 he won custody of his five children from his wife, Cynthia, a member of the group who lived in France and Nova Scotia.
Mattatall won temporary custody of his children in 1982, but he was unable to locate his youngest daughter, Lydia. The girl was then traveling in Europe and Canada with Spriggs, Spriggs’ wife Marsha, Cynthia Mattatall, and several other sect members. The girl has said in interviews that Spriggs told her he was her father.
During the summer of 1983 Nova Scotia officials took the girl from her mother and other communal group members after a pre-dawn car chase.
Juan Mattatall first joined the sect in 1974, but left the group in 1982 because, he said, he disagreed with the group’s child disciplining practices. The group uses Old Testament verse to explain why it disciplines children with a slim, wooden rod.
Yakshe said she interviewed Lydia Mattatall about the case, but the FBI agent declined further comment except to say the sexual abuse allegations were against Spriggs.