Black Collar Crime: Mennonite Missionary James Arbaugh Charged with Sex Crimes

james arbaugh

James Arbaugh Facebook Profile

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

James Arbaugh, a Mennonite missionary in Haiti, has been charged with “grooming and/or having sexual contact with approximately 21 males under the age of 18.” Arbaugh attended Mountain View Mennonite Church in Lyndhurst, Virginia.

The Mennonite reports:

James Daniel Arbaugh, a Mennonite missionary, has been arrested and charged with molesting children while serving in Haiti. On Nov. 21, The Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg, Virginia, reported that Arbaugh was arrested on Nov. 15 by a U.S. Homeland Security special agent. Court records show that Arbaugh, 40, was charged with felony coercion or enticement of a minor. Arbaugh attended Mountain View Mennonite Church in Lyndhurst, Virginia, a former Mennonite Church USA congregation, and was a board member for Walking Together for Christ Haiti.

The criminal complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, states that “Arbaugh reported grooming and/or having sexual contact with approximately 21 males under the age of 18.” Arbaugh disclosed the abuse to a counselor during a Sept. 11 session. In Virginia, health-care providers are mandated to report child abuse to social services. According to the Daily News-Record, social services contacted the Harrisonburg Police Department, who then contacted federal agents.

Arbaugh traveled to Haiti from 2009 to 2015. According to a website where he documented his mission work, Arbaugh was a self-supporting “tentmaker” partnering with Walking Together for Christ in Haiti and involved in “media ministry.” The last post on the site is from July 2.

According to the complaint, on Sept. 15, Arbaugh allowed police to look at his laptop and showed police a picture of a 5-year-old boy, the son of a pastor at a church in Haiti, on the computer. The complaint states that Arbaugh confessed to molesting the boy.

The complaint states, “Arbaugh indicated he used his missionary work in Haiti to build friendships with the minors. Arbaugh acknowledged that he groomed the minors in Haiti by engaging in minor sexual activities with them so that one day they would be open to more.”

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According to Lynn Suter, VMMissions Director of Operations and International Ministries, VMMissions has not partnered with Walking Together since its incorporation in 2015. Prior to that time, Suter says, VMMissions was engaged in intermittent work in Haiti and sent six short-term missions teams from 2003-2010. VMMissions is reviewing its records to determine the extent of its connections to Arbaugh. VMMissions has not found record of James Arbaugh having been employed as a missionary by VMMissions. VMMissions is calling on individuals with information about Arbaugh’s connections to the organization to contact Suter (lynn.suter@vmmissions.org). According to Suter, VMMissions and the Walking Together board will work to contact individuals in Haiti that Arbaugh may have been connected to.

Suter says that VMMissions first learned in September that Arbaugh had returned to the United States to receive professional counseling for unnamed “sexual sins.” VMMissions was told that Arbaugh was aware that if he divulged anything about his behavior that was illegal, the counselor would be legally required to report it to the authorities. VMMissions did not learn more about Arbaugh’s behavior until the Daily News-Record article was published on Nov. 21. VMMissions does not have information regarding the time frame when Arbaugh’s misconduct occurred.

“VMMissions strongly condemns the abuse Mr. Arbaugh has confessed and is alleged to have committed. We are heartsick for the victims and for the grievous misrepresentation of Christ and his church by someone who should have been trustworthy,” wrote Suter in a Nov. 30 email.

Suter says that VMMissions has procedures both to assess the fitness and conduct of individuals who apply for service with VMMissions, including criminal background checks.

“The revelation of Mr. Arbaugh’s conduct compels us to more closely examine the character and conduct of persons who are not appointed or employed with us but with whom we associate on the field and their own systems of accountability,” she wrote.

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A February 6, 2018 report in the News Virginian states that James Arbaugh pleaded guilty and now faces up to 30 years in prison:

A Stuarts Draft man who prosecutors say traveled to Haiti as a Mennonite missionary to sexually abuse “multiple children” — some as young as 5 years old — pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg.

James Daniel Arbaugh, 40, entered a guilty plea to the charge of traveling in foreign commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor.

Arbaugh, of Stuarts Draft, will be sentenced in June. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Arbaugh admitted to “engaging in illicit sexual conduct” with more than 20 boys while traveling in Haiti as a Mennonite missionary between 2008 and 2017, according to assistant U.S. Attorney Jeb Terrien.

The defendant would regularly visit remote towns and villages throughout the Caribbean nation, where he would “evangelize and show Christian-themed movies” to the residents, according to Terrien.

During these missionary visits, Arbaugh would befriend children in the communities and “groom” them to satisfy his sexual desires, the prosecutor said.

In all, he sexually abused 21 or more boys who were between the ages of 5 and 17 when the abuse took place.

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