ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Members of the Uhuru movement held a press conference Wednesday morning to talk about the federal charges against them.
In July 2022, federal investigators confiscated items from the Uhuru House in Downtown St. Petersburg and six other Uhuru properties as part of an investigation into the group’s interactions with Russia.
Last month three members of Uhuru, and a former member were indicted on federal charges.
“I was handcuffed, put in leg irons, and had my mugshot taken, something similar happened to Penny Hess on that day and it would occur later for Jesse Nevel,” said Uhuru Chairman Omali Yeshitela.
The indictment details a seven-year international scheme allegedly orchestrated by the Russian government.
Federal investigators said Aleksandr Ionov set up a political operation at the Uhuru house as he was working for the Russian Federal Security Service.
“There’s been I think a bit of misunderstanding about my connection to Russia,” Yeshitela said at the news conference before his attorney stopped him from saying more.
The indictment said Ionov gave money to Uhuru and other political groups and even used Uhuru’s news network to host a webinar, spreading Russian propaganda and influencing local elections.
On Wednesday all three indicted members of the Uhuru movement strongly denied the accusations and said they have plead not guilty.
“We are not guilty on the absurd charges that we are Russian spies deployed by the Kremlin to disrupt the St. Pete local elections,” said Indicted member Jesse Nevel, who once ran for Mayor in St. Pete, but said he now resides in St. Louis.
Yeshitela claims the group is being targeted solely because of their beliefs which focus on battling oppression around the world.
“My crime is my absolute belief in free speech,” he said.
“All I can say is wow. Wow. And we’re going to stand by and watch this and say this has no ramifications?” said Penny Hess, who is also indicted.
The group encouraged people to support their legal fight.
Trials for the three indicted members are scheduled to start by early July.
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on this story as the investigation remains active.