A self-professed cult leader pleaded no contest Monday to violating the state’s mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine in a deal that would allow him and 20 followers to leave the state.
Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto sentenced 38-year-old Eligio Lee Bishop, also known as Nature Boy, to 90 days in jail with credit for time served and the remainder of the jail time suspended for a year. Conditions of the sentence include that Bishop not commit any crimes during that period and that he “not return to Hawaii Island for the duration of the emergency period” proclaimed by Gov. David Ige.
In return for his plea, prosecutors dropped a second quarantine violation charge against Bishop and will dismiss charges against the others in the group, known on social media as Carbon Nation.
The charges are misdemeanors that carry a potential one-year jail sentence and $2,000 fine upon conviction.
Deputy Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen said he thinks Bishop “has learned from his experience and understands the seriousness of Hawaii’s quarantine regulations.”
Evans Smith, Bishop’s court-appointed attorney, said his client is “taking the plea and taking responsibility for … all of his friends.”
Prior to their departure, Bishop and the others will be allowed to retrieve their possessions from police and from a house on Railroad Avenue in Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision. Their possessions include passports and drivers’ licenses needed to board a flight at the airport.
County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said his office is working with the state and the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, also known as VASH, “to start making things happen.”
He added the group will be monitored by law enforcement to ensure they depart.
Bishop and the others were arrested Wednesday and Thursday in two sweeps in Puna and charged with violating the state’s 14-day mandatory quarantine on arriving passengers ordered by Ige due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to court documents filed by police, Bishop was born in the borough of Manhattan in New York City and gave the state a Decatur, Ga., address on his mandatory traveler declaration form. He also gave the address of a Pikake Street home in Fern Acres subdivision owned by Tylea Fuhrmann as his place of lodging while on the Big Island, and said the house was booked online through Airbnb.
The declaration form stated the Big Island visit was planned for 30 nights.
Fuhrmann, 42, was arrested and charged with illegally operating a short-term vacation rental during the COVID-19 emergency, also a misdemeanor. She was released from custody after posting $2,000 bail.
Roth said the case against her remains active and “under investigation.”
Eight of Bishop’s group were arrested at Fuhrmann’s property on Wednesday. Bishop and 12 others were arrested on Thursday at the Railroad Avenue house.
That house, according to county property tax records, is owned by Matthew Brian Nelson and Ann Elizabeth Nelson of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Documents stated a YouTube video showed Bishop petting a sea turtle at Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo’s Keaukaha neighborhood on June 8, the day after the group’s arrival on island. Several others in Bishop’s group also violated the quarantine by going to the beach that day as well, documents state.
Bishop told police he knew he was supposed to go to the Pikake Street home directly from the airport and was to remain there for 14 days, as part of the quarantine, according to documents. He said he went to the Railroad Avenue address, because it was a nicer house and had a television, but stated he was going to go to the Pikake Street home in about a week because it was more in touch with nature, documents state.
Bishop has no prior felony convictions, according to documents.
One of two women in the group not arrested during the sweeps, Kendra Carter, told the Associated Press the group agreed to leave the state because of harassment, including death threats, from residents.
“We’ve been getting death threats in our in-boxes,” Carter said. “People telling us to get the (expletive) off the island.”
Carter said she and another woman weren’t arrested with the others, because police decided to let them stay with their children.
Arresting them would have meant calling Child Welfare Services, which would have meant exposing more people, police Lt. Rio Amon-Wilkins said.
Carter said the group — which spent two years in Central America and, according to numerous media accounts, was expelled from Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama — is misunderstood.
“People like to call us a cult because we like to live a certain lifestyle,” she said about their vegan diet and a belief that “everybody is different shades of brown.”
Jessica Lani Rich, VASH president and CEO, told multiple Honolulu media outlets Friday that VASH offered the group plane tickets to Los Angeles. They refused those tickets at that time, Rich said.
Rich said she would resume those efforts, if that’s what the group wants.
Asked if the offer of flights out include the women and children not arrested, Roth replied, “I think they’ve left already.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.