LUMBERTON — A Fayetteville businessman charged with forcing children to work at his fish markets for little or no pay had a business in Lumberton.
“There were some children working at that location,” Lt. Sean Swain, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office Public Information officer, said Friday.
John McCollum, 67, forced children to involuntarily work at several Fayetteville area fish markets against their will and without compensation, Swain said.
He also owned and operated John C’s Fish Market on Elizabethtown Road in Lumberton. The business appeared Friday afternoon to have been abandoned.
McCollum was part of an alternative religious group and lived on a property in Godwin commonly referred to as McCollum Ranch. He has an extensive criminal record dating back to 1989. The charges, from Cumberland and Robeson counties, were for child abuse.
Billie Black owns Mr. B’s barber shop on Elizabethtown Road near John C’s.
“I never met him. I just heard about his fish shop here and that he owned a bunch in Fayetteville,” Black said. “I’m glad they took care of him, those are terrible crimes.”
The N.C. Department of Labor dropped its investigation into McCollum’s businesses after they learned of the criminal case, said Dolores Quesenberry, a department spokesperson.
“This is a criminal matter concerning forced labor that involves the local authorities,” Quesenberry said.
McCollum, Cornelia McDonald, Brenda Hall, Pamela Puga Luna, Kassia Rogers, Shirley McNatt and Irish Williams have been arrested and charged with continuing criminal enterprise, involuntary servitude of a minor, obtaining property by false pretense, and conspiracy, Swain said. Shirnitka McNatt was arrested and charged only with conspiracy
They are being held on secured bonds in the Cumberland County Detention Center, Swain said. McCollum’s bond was set at $1.1 million. All were jailed under a $375,000 bond, except Shirnitka McNatt, who was jailed under a $70,000 bond.
Two suspects, Daffene Edge and Earlene Hayat, are being sought, Swain said. Warrants are out for their arrest.
McCollum and others were operating at least three John C’s Fish markets and mobile grills in Fayetteville and one market in Lumberton. Part of the businesses’ profits were used to fund the Ranch.
Authorities were told of the criminal activities by several former Ranch residents, Swain said. The subsequent investigation revealed McCollum and others were holding children ranging in age from 9 to 17 in involuntary servitude. The children had to work full time in the fish markets for little to no pay.
The work involved such tasks as lifting boxes weighing up to 50 pounds, keeping fish iced, and cutting and cleaning fish, Swain said. Many of the children performed construction and maintenance tasks on the mobile grills after the markets closed. The former residents also told investigators that the children were not attending school and were being denied adequate care.
The children were living at the Ranch with their mothers or guardians.
The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is requesting anyone with information about case or the location of Daffene Edge and Earlene Hayat to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 910-323-1500 or to call Crimestoppers at 910-483-8477.
Reach Annick Joseph by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected] or Facebook Annick MultiMedia Journalist.