GODWIN — A man accused using child labor to run fish markets, including one in Lumberton, has died.
John McCollum died at his home on Wednesday of heart disease. He was 67 years old.
Allen Rogers, a Fayetteville attorney, said his client was innocent, and the stress of the charges hurt his health.
He was arrested in January. He had owned and operated John C’s Fish Market on Elizabethtown Road in Lumberton. The business appeared to have been abandoned when McCollum was arrested in January.
“I was able to get him released from custody on May 12,” Roger said. “At the time of his arrest he was in route to the hospital.”
McCollum’s health began to worsen when he was placed in the county jail under a $1.1 million bond, Rogers said. McCollum was then transferred to Central Prison in Raleigh to be treated for his heart issues.
“Having been arrested and placed in jail was extremely stressful and accelerated his condition,” Rogers said. “His family feels that the incarceration aggravated his condition, which ultimately contributed to his death.”
Several other people were arrested with McCollum. At the time, Lt. Sean Swain, a spokesman with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, said they 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.
McCollum and others were operating at least three John C’s Fish markets and mobile grills in Fayetteville and the market in Lumberton. Part of the businesses’ profits were used to fund the Ranch.
Rogers said the charges against McCollum were dropped because of his death, but not against the others who are charged.
McCollum was part of an alternative religious group and lived on a property in Godwin commonly referred to as McCollum Ranch. He had an extensive criminal record dating back to nearly 30 years. The charges, from Cumberland and Robeson counties, were for child abuse.
“He was factually innocent,” Rogers said. “His lifestyle did not conform to the community.”
McCollum had been under scrutiny for the past 10 years, Rogers said. The lawyer suggested McCollum might have been targeted because he is black.
“If you were to drive by the McCollum Ranch you would see it,” Rogers said. “The adjacent property houses a huge Confederate flag.
“I believe there was a history of conflict between neighbors that contributed to McCollum being investigated,” he said. “He would not allow any alcohol or drugs on the ranch and had curfews in place. The strict rules were in response to the allegations against him.”
McCollum had been a preacher in the Fayetteville area since the 1980s.
Reach Annick Joseph by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]