Cumberland County News

Cumberland County 'alternative religious group' leader speaks exclusively with CBS 17

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) - John McCollum, the leader of an alternative religious group, denied any wrongdoing.

In a CBS 17 exclusive, the 67-year-old spoke about his beliefs, his ranch and his followers.

"There are a lot of things that people don't understand,” McCollum said.

McCollum is bedridden, on hospice care, and suffering with congestive heart failure. 

"If you work together you can accomplish more than you would by yourself,” McCollum said.

McCollum said he bought the property in Godwin back in 1993. Formerly homeless himself, McCollum told CBS 17 he hoped to help others. He allowed them to live at the ranch.

He said the rules were simple: no drinking and no drugs. His followers had to attend church, wear black and white, and weren’t allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends, at least not while they stayed at the ranch. 

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"I was mentoring him, and he said you seem like a dad to me. When he said that, the more people that came around, they started calling me dad too,” McCollum said.

Many of his followers, including children, still call him dad.

In 2008, McCollum bought his first fish market. Two others would follow. He said he used them to help pay for the ranch.

Authorities accused McCollum, and nine others, of forcing children between 9 and 17 years old to work at those markets. They called it slave labor, and said the children didn’t go to school.

McCollum told CBS 17 the children would study at the fish markets. He placed the blame on six teens who he claimed didn’t want to learn. 

"They tried to make them do schoolwork. They wouldn't do it, and I told them, I said, 'If y’all can't get them to do it, you need to put them in public school,'” McCollum said.

McCollum admitted he was the head of the group, but said his illness took a toll.

“When I started getting sick, I didn't feel like being bothered,” McCollum said.

McCollum said, over the years, he’d helped countless children become productive adults. 

McCollum’s bail was reduced back in May after he suffered several strokes while behind bars.

He’s charged with involuntary servitude of children, obtaining property by false pretense, and continuing a criminal enterprise. 

Watch Amy Cutler's full interview with McCollum Monday at 11 p.m. on CBS 17. 


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