TAMPA — A federal grand jury on Tuesday returned an indictment charging four members of the St. Petersburg-based Uhuru movement with working on behalf of the Russian government.

What You Need To Know

  • Omali Yeshitela, the longtime leader of the Uhuru Movement, is among the defendants
  • Earlier this month, leaders of the Uhuru group spoke about the July 2022 FBI raid

  • 4 are accused of working on behalf of the Russian government

Omali Yeshitela — the longtime leader of the American-based socialist and African internationalist movement founded in 1972 and led by the African People's Socialist Party — is among the defendants.

Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel, and Augustus C. Romain Jr. — known as Gazi Kodzo — are also among the accused.

Almost a year ago, the FBI raided the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg in connection with the indictment of a Russian national accused of interfering with local elections.

And earlier this month, leaders of the Uhuru group spoke about the day in July 2022 that the group's offices and members' homes in different cities were raided by the FBI.

During the press conference, Yeshiitela predicted he would be indicted but he said the charges aren't warranted. He listed some of the atrocities done to the Black community over the years and compared the FBI's investigation into their organization to other well known historical figures and movements like the Black Panther Party, Malcom X and Martin Luther King.

Yeshitela said his talks about racism in America, unfair elections and white supremacy are nothing new and emphasized that he didn't need the Russians to tell him how and when to speak out about racism

Tuesday's indictment alleges that the Russian defendants recruited, funded and directed U.S. political groups to act as unregistered illegal agents of the Russian government. 

“Russia’s foreign intelligence service allegedly weaponized our First Amendment rights – freedoms Russia denies its own citizens – to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“The department will not hesitate to expose and prosecute those who sow discord and corrupt U.S. elections in service of hostile foreign interests, regardless of whether the culprits are U.S. citizens or foreign individuals abroad.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch released a statement that said:

"The federal allegations about potential Russian interference are troubling. It is important to underscore that the City of St. Petersburg does not support, condone or tolerate any foreign government engaging in activities to undermine or influence our elections. The investigation is in the purview of our federal law enforcement agencies, and we will be monitoring the process going forward."

This isn't Yeshitela's first run in with the law. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1966. Yeshitela, formerly known as Joe Waller, went inside St. Pete's City Hall and ripped down a canvas that portrayed black minstrels with exaggerated features entertaining white beach-goers.