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Beyond weddings and roses: Moon's US influence

Sunday - 9/2/2012, 6:11pm  ET

By The Associated Press

(AP) - The mass weddings at Madison Square Garden and the roses sold by eager evangelists on street corners may be the most enduring images of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church in the United States.

But Moon's U.S. empire extended far beyond the movement and the Moonies, as Moon's followers were both affectionately and irreverently known. Moon had holdings in media, real estate, universities and even sushi sales.

A look at Moon and the Unification Church's influence around the U.S.:

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WEDDINGS

Moon introduced the mass weddings he started in Seoul to the U.S. with a 1982 wedding at New York's Madison Square Garden, drawing over 2,000 people, all dressed alike in suits and satin dresses. In 2009, as he turned 90, the church said Moon married 45,000 people in simultaneous ceremonies worldwide in his first large-scale mass wedding in years. Tens of thousands in the U.S. participated in Moon's "blessing ceremonies," many at the Manhattan Center, an event space owned by the church.

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MEDIA

Moon founded the Washington Times in 1982 as a conservative voice in the nation's capital. At one time, he owned newspapers in New York, Japan and South America. A church subsidiary purchased the United Press International news service over a decade ago.

Moon underwrote the operations of the Washington Times for years as an alternative to the larger Washington Post. The newspaper cultivated a generation of conservative journalists, but also struggled financially recently as it faced declining circulation along with many other newspapers nationwide.

The Times cut about 40 percent of its staff at one point and eliminated its sports section. As Moon aged and transferred control of his media empire to his children, management shake-ups followed at the Times, which also found itself in court over the religious beliefs of the Moon family. The newspaper's former opinion editor sued in 2009 claiming he was pressured by executives to attend a Unification Church event.

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REAL ESTATE

Moon's holdings include The New Yorker Hotel, an Art Deco landmark near Penn Station in midtown Manhattan; the Manhattan Center, with event spaces that include The Hammerstein Ballroom. The church owned several estates and buildings in Irvington and Tarrytown, New York, north of the city, including Moon's 17-acre (seven-hectare) estate.

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UNIVERSITIES

The Unification Church rescued the financially troubled University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, which nearly closed in 1991 because of money problems. The Professors World Peace Academy, which was funded by the church, gave $110 million to the school over a dozen years ending in 2003.

At the time, Moon and the academy envisioned creating a network of universities around the world, with each campus open to students and faculty of the others. In 1995, Moon visited UB for the first time and gave a nearly hour-long speech as he received an honorary degree. Opponents, dubbing the school "Moonie U.," protested outside.

University spokeswoman Leslie Geary said Sunday that school officials were thankful for the church's support.

"The Rev. Moon supported the university during a difficult time," Geary said.

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SUSHI

Moon has purchased and controlled a number of seafood companies around the world, including True World Foods, a wholesaler that distributes sushi and other seafood to more than 8,000 Japanese restaurants around the U.S. Moon has also claimed holdings of seafood and shipbuilding companies in Alabama and Alaska.

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TAXES

Moon lived mostly in New York State, but for 13 months was an inmate doing kitchen duty at a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. Moon was convicted in the early 1980s of filing false income tax returns for three years in the `80s, failing to report more than $150,000 in income he deposited in New York accounts. Moon contended that the funds were being held for members of his church. He lost an appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which he was represented by constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)