Self-professed cult leader requests jury trial in quarantine violation case

  • Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Eligio Lee Bishop appears on video for his initial court appearance at the Hilo District Court on Friday.

  • Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Defense attorney Evans Smith represented Eligio Lee Bishop in his initial court appearance at the Hilo District Court on Friday.

Unless a self-professed cult leader can raise $4,000 in bail money, it appears he’ll be sitting in jail until his next court date for two alleged violations of the state’s emergency 14-day quarantine for travelers arriving in Hawaii from out of state.

Hilo District Judge Kanani Laubach on Friday denied requests for court-supervised release without monetary bail or a reduction of bail for 38-year-old Eligio Lee Bishop, leader of the Carbon Nation.

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Bishop, also known as Nature Boy, was arrested with 20 others for violating the travel quarantine Gov. David Ige put in place by emergency proclamation in March.

The Tribune-Herald hasn’t confirmed whether the others are Carbon Nation members or followers of Bishop.

Bishop’s next date, an arraignment and plea to set a jury trial is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. June 25 before Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto.

Tylea Fuhrmann, a 42-year-old Mountain View woman charged with violating the emergency order by allegedly running an illegal short-term vacation rental from a house on Pikake Street in Fern Acres subdivision, posted $2,000 bail and didn’t appear in court Friday.

County Prosecutor Mitch Roth met privately with Bishop’s court-appointed attorney, Evans Smith — who until recently was a deputy prosecutor — and lawyers for the other defendants, causing court proceedings to run late.

Bishop was the first of the quarantine defendants to appear, shortly after 2:30 p.m., more than 1 1/2 hours after the scheduled time. It appears a plea deal wasn’t agreed upon between Roth and Smith, because Bishop requested a jury trial on the pair of misdemeanor charges.

While he didn’t say so explicitly, Smith hinted while addressing the court that Roth offered his client a plea deal predicated on Bishop leaving Hawaii. Smith said he and Bishop believe the offer is unconstitutional.

“This is not the appropriate opportunity to leverage this gentleman into giving up his right to travel to whatever state he wants to,” Smith said. “I mean, that is a right so fundamental to being an American that to leverage him out of it seems to be un-American, using the complex scenario that my client finds himself in to essentially tell him, ‘You’re either going to stay in jail or you’re going to leave the islands.’

“I don’t know if that’s appropriate, once it sees the light of day.”

Smith also told the judge he thinks it’s unfair to continue jailing Bishop with “the spectre, the cloud of COVID-19 still hanging over us.”

“All of this, the proclamation is about COVID, and we’re putting them into a confined space with several other people,” Smith said. “Now, I get that there may be some sort of plan to, quote, segregate my client from the rest of the general population at the jail, but there’s no guarantees about that. You can’t even get six feet apart from each other at the Amazon warehouse, much less guarantee that at a jail.”

Deputy Prosecutor Kimberly Angay argued against Bishop’s release, describing him as a “flight risk” and “a serious danger to our community.”

“Mr. Bishop is the leader of a group that came to Hawaii on June 7, and it is alleged the very next day they went to a public beach where other residents were, in defiance of the self-quarantine orders that Mr. Bishop signed off on, acknowledging the rules,” Angay said.

She added that “someone who so flagrantly violates rules that are set out … and he acknowledges the rules in writing” can’t be trusted to follow court orders or to be on supervised release.

Smith then asked the judge to consider reducing Bishop’s bail to $1,000, arguing that the prosecution, “which is worried about a flight risk, while at the same time trying to put my client on a flight, will be appeased … that he’ll come back for his thousand dollars.”

Angay argued Bishop “appears to have quite a following on social media,” adding “there were petitions to gather bail for all of the members of his group, so we’re concerned that $1,000 won’t be sufficient to ensure his presence.”

Reached afterwards, Roth wouldn’t comment on whether he offered Bishop and/or the others a plea deal for leaving Hawaii, saying “this is still an active case.”

Roth did say, however, he’s pleased Laubach maintained Bishop’s $4,000 bail.

Because Bishop’s proceedings ran late, the Tribune-Herald was unable to monitor the other quarantine defendants’ court hearings.

Several media accounts describe Carbon Nation as a cult that was kicked out of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.

According to a Dec. 6, 2019, story in the Costa Rica Star, Bishop refers to himself as “God,” and the group “believes in nudism, polygamy and refraining from bathing.”

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The Costa Rica news outlet’s story also said Bishop “allegedly requires cult members to surrender all their money, credit cards, bank accounts and pin numbers, in order to worship with the group.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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