Charges dropped against Methodist 3

Cuba News

MILWAUKEE — All charges against the “Methodist 3” travelers to Cuba have been dropped. The three, Theron “Terry” Mills, Dollara Greene-Evans and William Ferguson Jr., each faced $7,500 fines stemming from their participation in a religious mission to Cuba in January 1999.

“We are pleased that the charges have now been dropped,” said Arthur Heitzer, a local attorney involved with the case. “They should never have been brought in the first place.” The U.S. government had accused the three of spending between $40 and $70 apiece while they were in Cuba to attend the centennial of their congregation’s “sister church” in Havana. As part of the U.S.-imposed blockade of Cuba, U.S. citizens are prohibited from spending dollars there.

Six members of the Central United Methodist Church made the 1999 trip with the church’s official blessing. The group traveled without a U.S. Treasury Department license. According to documents filed in the case, the church had sought a license for an earlier trip, but abandoned the licensing process when the government began to question the group’s religious convictions.

Upon their return, Mills, Greene-Evans and Ferguson were charged with violating the travel ban. A fourth member of the group, Paul Kinsley, was charged much later, but his case was not consolidated with the others. The two other participants in the trip were never charged.

The Methodist 3 were among the first travelers to Cuba to have their cases selected by the Treasury Department, which enforces the ban, to go to hearing. Congress established the right to a hearing more than a decade ago, but the department obtained administrative judges to oversee hearings only this year.

The case was still at the beginning of the hearing process. The three had filed a motion for dismissal and a counterclaim against the government for selective prosecution and religious harassment. They also charged the government with racism, pointing to the fact that most of the white members of the delegation were not prosecuted, while the two African Americans were.

In response to a early, routine inquiry about what it would take to settle the case, the three refused to accept any penalty. Ferguson had previously told the World that his trip would “mean nothing” if he accepted any government penalty. Instead, the three agreed to dismiss their counterclaim against the government as part of the settlement.

The final agreement was signed in early November.

The author can be reached at g.grass@sbcglobal.net.