Black Collar Crime

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor John Ward Arrested on Rape Charges

pastor john ward

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.

John Ward, pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, Louisiana, stands accused of 10 counts of first-degree rape, 40 counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile, and two counts of pornography involving a juvenile.

KFLY reports:

A tip led to an investigation and arrest of a 45-year-old Westlake man on multiple sex crime charges involving juveniles.

An anonymous called contacted the state Dept. of Child & Family Services’ tip line. On June 17, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested John Michael Ward.

Ward reportedly admitted to detectives he had been molesting an 11-year-old girl since 2017 when she was 9 years old. Ward reportedly also told detectives he videoed the victim while she was nude on two separate occasions, authorities said.

….

District Judge Sharon Wilson set Ward’s bond at $640,000.

Bellview Baptist released the following statement:

Bellview Baptist Church leaders are cooperating fully with the Sheriff’s office in the investigation. The Deacons, in consultation with Carey Baptist Association, unanimously voted to immediately terminate Ward’s employment with the congregation because of his sexual immorality and failure to maintain the high standard of integrity for the office of Pastor outlined in the Bible.

Church leaders immediately met with the victim’s family to minister to them in their grief and to offer to help underwrite the counseling needed to help the child and other members of the household to heal.

The Deacons also offered to continue to provide financial support to the wife of the fired pastor as well as to minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of her and her family.

The Carey Baptist Association and the Louisiana Baptist Convention have connected with church leaders to coordinate various resources that are available to the church in meeting these various commitments.

Bellview Baptist Church leaders request prayer, respect, and privacy as we process this traumatic event.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Stephen Houlihan Accused of Sex Crimes

stephen houlihan

Stephen Houlihan, communications pastor at Fellowship of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado, stands accused of sending sexually explicit messages and pictures to a teenage church girl and exploiting his relationship with her.

The Gazette reports:

Stephen Houlihan, 28, was arrested June 7 on suspicion of attempted sexual assault of a child under 15 by one in a position of trust, internet luring of a child with intent to exploit and wholesale promotion of obscenity to a minor, all felonies, court records show. He posted $30,000 bond Monday.

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The girl’s family told police they had known Houlihan as a pastor for four to five years and trusted Houlihan, the affidavit says. The family went camping with Houlihan and his wife over Memorial Day weekend, and had gone to Mexico with them the last three years to build houses.

In a June 6 interview with police, the girl said she had met Houlihan at church, where he “does media and is a pastor who sometimes preaches on Sundays,” the affidavit says. She turned 16 in May.

The girl told police that their relationship changed recently — “they had been talking and became closer and now Stephen wanted more to do with her,” the affidavit says. Then for her birthday, she went to his house to play games, and after that, he said “he wanted to start doing more than hanging out.”

They kissed on multiple occasions, and Houlihan told the girl he wanted to have sex with her, the affidavit says.

Houlihan and the girl primarily communicated on Instagram.

He sent her a pictures of his genitals before her birthday “because he wanted her to be happy and feel special,” the affidavit says.

The morning of June 5, the girl’s mother discovered the messages on her daughter’s phone and felt betrayed because the family knew him, the affidavit says.

During an interview with police, Houlihan said that he and the girl had known each other for years, but “they had grown close in the last month to month and a half, becoming best friends, being able to tell each other everything,” the affidavit says. He admitted sending her suggestive messages, which he called a “mistake,” and that he had sent her “more than one and less than five” pictures of his genitals.

He admitted kissing her twice on her birthday — once when he picked her up and once when he took her home — and said that the girl “wanted to go all the way with him,” the affidavit says.

Houlihan began working at the church as a communications designer in June 2013, according to what appears to be his LinkedIn page. He apparently left in September 2015 before returning in January 2017 to be a worship pastor. He became a communications pastor in January 2018.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Anderson H. Martin Indicted on Sexual Assault Charges

pastor anderson h martin

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.

Anderson H. Martin, pastor of Greater Tabernacle of Faith Apostolic Church in Bluefield, West Virginia, was indicted last week on sexual assault charges involving an 25-year-old man with a mental capacity of a 12-year-old.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports:

Martin is the pastor of the Greater Tabernacle of Faith Apostolic Church located at the corner of Preston and Bland streets, Detective-Sgt. K.L. Adams, with the Bluefield Police Department, said.

Adams said the victim is a 25-year-old male, but has the mental capacity of a 10- to 12- year-old.

The incident involving the charges occurred in March when the defendant picked the victim up at his residence to “take him out,” according to a criminal complaint filed by Adams.

Adams said the victim and his family thought they would be going out to play video games or shopping.

Instead, Adams said in his complaint that Martin took the victim to his residence where he made him shower and then molested him under the guise of teaching him how to wash himself properly.

In the criminal complaint, Adams said Martin admitted during an interview that he picked up the victim “with intent to bring him to his home to take a bath.”

“Martin said he had to explain to (the victim) how to wash his body,” including his genitals, Adams stated in the complaint. “Martin denied ever touching (the victim) during this.”

Adams’ report also noted that a sexual assault examination was performed on the victim that showed signs of penetration.

Martin’s church bio page states:

Apostle Anderson Martin Sr. was born in McDowell County to Bishop Louise Johnson and was a member of Zion Temple of the Heavenly Sunlight church under the leadership of Bishop Almeta Price and Bishop Hattie Morrison, where he was a Bass guitar player and a member of the Fantastic Harmoneers. Apostle Martin was baptized in the name of Jesus according to Acts 2:38. In 1988 Apostle Martin was called into the ministry, after being in the ministry for 10 yrs Apostle Martin was lead by God to take his ministry a step further, He opened up his first church in Bluefield, West Virginia. Tabernacle of Faith , with not many members at the time Apostle and First lady still pressed their way to church and said that he was preaching to the angels in the seats, keeping the Faith that God would fill the house.

 

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Student Intern Benjamin Widrick Accused of Rape

benjamin widrick

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.

Benjamin Widrick, a student intern at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, stands accused of three counts of statutory rape involving a church minor. Widrick is a student at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The Tennessean reports:

The sexual abuse occurred while the former intern was serving 10 weeks with the student team at Long Hollow’s Gallatin campus, Gallaty said. A student pastor first heard rumors in December and immediately notified the Gallatin Police Department and the church’s leadership team, he said.

The Sumner County Sheriff’s Department is now is handling the case and an arrest was made on Tuesday, June 4.

….

he details are still unfolding, Gallaty said, but the church is sure the incident did not happen on church property nor at their summer camp.

“Regardless of the time and location, the fact is that an intern who was representing our church abused their position of influence with a student,” Gallaty said. “That is unacceptable to us. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement in every way we can.”

Gallaty said he reached out to the victim and her family on Thursday. He asked for prayers for all affected.

“As we grieve for the victim, we are also deeply saddened that an event like this took place, especially with a student who was entrusted to our care,” Gallaty said. “It sickens me that our processes and safeguards didn’t prevent this from happening. Long Hollow is a place where we take moral integrity and accountability seriously, and nowhere is that more crucial than on our staff.”

The church requires that interns pass a background check and an interview process before serving at Long Hollow, Gallaty said. The church is trying to figure out how the relationship developed and figuring out how to prevent it from happening again, he said.

They are stopping interns from connecting with students on social media, the church has updated its transportation policies and improved its training process. Church leadership has developed a child protection policy, too.

….

According to online court records, a bench warrant for three counts of statutory rape by an authority figure was issued for Benjamin Widrick, 24, on May 10. Widrick was arrested June 4 and arraigned June 5. A church spokesman confirmed Widrick is the former intern.

Widrick’s bond was set at $20,000, which was posted on June 4.

All three acts of statutory rape took place on Aug. 1, 2018, according to the court records.

 

Black Collar Crime: Mother of Alleged Victim of Evangelical Children’s Pastor Matt Tonne Speaks Out

matt tonne

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.

In January 2019, Matthew “Matt” Tonne, associate children’s pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, was accused of indecent contact with a child. The alleged contact took place at the Mt. Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center in Cedar Hill, Texas. The Village Church is pastored by Calvinistic Southern Baptist luminary Matt Chandler.

Baptist Press reported at the time:

Matthew David Tonne, the 35-year-old accused, was dismissed as associate children’s minister from the Southern Baptist megachurch on an unrelated matter in June, senior pastor Matt Chandler said Jan. 24 in video and printed comments at thevillagechurch.net. The alleged crime occurred at the Mt Lebanon Retreat and Conference Center, a Baptist ministry in Cedar Hill, Texas.

“We want to state clearly that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at The Village Church,” Chandler said. “We would not let anyone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at TVC.”

Tonne, a husband and father of three, had been out of jail since Jan. 9 on $25,000 bond. His original court date of today (Jan. 29), has been rescheduled to Feb. 7, based on documents filed in Dallas County District Court.

The Village Church is making at least one change in its ministry to children, Chandler said in the website comments.

“We have decided to no longer do overnight events with elementary children based on counsel from MinistrySafe,” Chandler said, referencing the ministry founded by attorneys to help churches, camps and ministries protect children from sexual abuse. Additionally, the church has hired a director of care, Summer Vinson Berger, whom Chandler described as a licensed professional counselor skilled in trauma care.

“She is helping us evaluate all of our current practices and will help us further strengthen our ministry here,” Chandler said. “We view physical and emotional safety as a top priority and will continue to pour resources into that area.”

….

No details of the 2012 incident were available, other than a statement about the health of the victim and the victim’s family.

“Earlier this year, the minor came to a place where it was possible to verbalize the memory of what happened for the first time through ongoing therapy. (Cedar Hill Police) Detective (Michael) Hernandez has been investigating the case since that time,” Chandler said. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this information, and we want to support them in any way possible.”

The church has no other reported incidents of abuse at the 2012 camp event, Chandler said.

“We have been working with the family and Detective Hernandez to do all that we can to bring healing and the light of justice to this situation,” he said, “including the decision to make this investigation public now.”

Parents and children at The Village Church have no need to fear for their safety from sexual predators at church events, Chandler said.

“We are committed to doing all that we can to protect our children,” he said.

Pastor Chandler might want to pay attention to the news (or this website). Parents have EVERYTHING to fear when it comes to entrusting Evangelical churches with their children. Sexual predators are deeply embedded within Evangelical congregations. Thoughtful, protective parents ought not to let their children out of their sight. Chandler can’t know for sure if there are other predators lurking in the shadows of the Village Church. Is his “word” good enough?

You can read the church’s press release here.

Tonne maintains his innocence. Recently, the mother of the girl allegedly abused by Tonne spoke to the New York Times:

Christi Bragg listened in disbelief. It was a Sunday in February, and her popular evangelical pastor, Matt Chandler, was preaching on the evil of leaders who sexually abuse those they are called to protect. But at the Village Church, he assured his listeners, victims of assault would be heard, and healed: “We see you.”

Ms. Bragg nearly vomited. She stood up and walked out.

Exactly one year before that day, on Feb. 17, 2018, Ms. Bragg and her husband, Matt, reported to the Village that their daughter, at about age 11, had been sexually abused at the church’s summer camp for children.

Since then, Matthew Tonne, who was the church’s associate children’s minister, had been investigated by the police, indicted and arrested on charges of sexually molesting Ms. Bragg’s daughter.

Ms. Bragg waited for church leaders to explain what had happened and to thoroughly inform other families in the congregation. She waited for the Village to take responsibility and apologize. She waited to have even one conversation with Mr. Chandler, a leader she had long admired.

But none of that ever came.

“You can’t even take care of the family you know,” she remembered thinking as she walked out of the large auditorium. “Don’t tell more victims to come to you, because you’re just going to cause more hurt.”

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At the Village, one of the most prominent Southern Baptist churches in the country and a bedrock of Texas evangelical culture, Ms. Bragg said leaders had offered prayer. And at times she was grateful, and she tried to respect their decisions.

But as months passed, she came to believe their instinct to protect the institution outweighed their care for her daughter or their interest in investigating the truth.

For years she trusted that her church’s top leaders had acted in the best interest of the congregation, and that if she disagreed, the problem was hers. She had a spiritual reason: to doubt them was to doubt God.

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ut her daughter’s ordeal showed her a different side of her church. The Village, like many other evangelical churches, uses a written membership agreement containing legal clauses that protect the institution. The Village’s agreement prohibits members from suing the church and instead requires mediation and then binding arbitration, legal processes that often happen in secret.

The Village also uses an abuse prevention company called MinistrySafe, which many evangelical churches cite as an accountability safeguard. Ms. Bragg assumed that MinistrySafe would advocate for her daughter, but then she learned that the group’s leaders were the church’s legal advisers.

The Village permanently removed Mr. Tonne from the staff within weeks of learning his name from the Braggs. To this day, the Village denies he was fired because of a sexual abuse allegation.

Mr. Tonne’s lawyer said his client had been falsely accused.

The Village declined to answer a list of detailed questions about the matter from The New York Times, and Mr. Chandler declined multiple requests to be interviewed.

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Unable to wait any longer to hear from church leaders, Ms. Bragg asked for a meeting with them. The first opportunity, the church said, would be several weeks away, three months after the family had reported the incident.

 

At the meeting, none of the church’s top three pastors were present. Ms. Bragg and her husband brought a list of 15 questions, asking about church policies and the camp. They received no clear answers.

Ms. Bragg raised the possibility that the perpetrator could have been someone from the Village. That was impossible, she recalled being told by Doug Stanley, a senior director at the church, because leaders followed the church’s moral code, enshrined in the membership covenant.

She turned to her husband as they walked out. “Thank God” for the police detective assigned to the case, she said. “If we were relying on our church to give us information, we’d be leaving empty-handed.”

….

As summer ended, Ms. Bragg got welcome news. The police detective had filed the case with the Dallas County district attorney’s office, and the Village was finally ready to make a public statement. Relieved, she prepared a family statement to accompany the church’s announcement, which was posted online.

Then, on a Sunday in September, Mr. Chandler told the congregation that an allegation of sexual assault had surfaced. He did not name the suspect. “It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this, and we want to support them in any way possible,” he said.

What he said next infuriated Ms. Bragg. “We want to clearly state that there are no persons of interest in this investigation that have access to children at the Village Church,” he said. “We would not let someone who is under investigation for a crime like this be near any of our children at T.V.C.”

It was a technicality. Mr. Tonne had already been removed.

….

You can read the entire feature article here.

Pastor Matt Chandler denies doing anything wrong, says a report in Commercial Appeal.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Douglas Rivera Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Sexually Assaulting a Child

pastor douglas rivera

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.

In February 2018, Douglas Rivera, pastor of God’s Gypsy Christian Church (website no longer active) in Glendale, California was accused of sexually assaulting a preteen girl.

CBS News reported at the time:

Douglas Rivera, the pastor accused of sexually assaulting a preteen girl at a Covina hotel last week, turned himself in to police Sunday morning and was out on bail by early afternoon, CBS Los Angeles reports. Police have confirmed that Rivera, accompanied by his attorney, turned himself in to Covina Police Department at 11 a.m. local time. He was out on bail by 2 p.m.

Rivera, 40, was accused last week of assaulting a girl visiting from China at the Vanllee Hotel and Suites, located at 1211 E. Garvey Ave. North, Wednesday night.

The pastor of God’s Gypsy Christian Church in Glendale had been on the run since Friday. Later in the day, he posted a video to social media claiming his innocence.

Police said Rivera drove through the parking lot of the Vanllee Hotel late Wednesday, stopping to peer into a room where two girls were staying during a school trip from China.

Rivera allegedly masturbated outside the room, then pretended to be on the phone for about 30 minutes. He then entered the hotel and knocked on the girls’ door. Thinking he was their chaperone, the girls opened the door. Police said Rivera then entered the room and sexually assaulting one of the girls, police said.

After images from the hotel’s security footage were made public, Rivera was identified as a person of interest in the case.

Police raided his Baldwin Hills home Friday, towing a truck similar to the one seen in the security video.

According to a neighbor, Rivera was painting that truck black with a roller and paintbrush Thursday.

Late Friday, Rivera, whose congregation shares a building with Glendale City Church, posted a video to Instagram from inside a vehicle in which he said he “was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

He went on to say the accusations against him were false, asking people to keep him “in prayer.” He also said he planned to turn himself in to police Wednesday accompanied by his attorney.

In April 2018, Rivera pleaded not guilty to committing a lewd act against an eleven-year-old Chinese girl.  Rivera insisted he was innocent, saying “I did not do nothing wrong. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”  An NBC-4 report stated at the time that Rivera exposed himself to two minor girls and inappropriately touched one of them. Video evidence puts Rivera at the scene of the alleged crimes. Rivera’s bail was set at $1.1 million.

Yesterday, Rivera entered a no contest plea to a felony count of committing a lewd act on a child. Rivera was sentenced to six years in prison for his crime.  Rivera was also ordered to register as a sex offender.

Black Collar Crime: Catholic School Teacher Samantha Brasses Charged With Sexting

samantha brasses

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.

Samantha Brasses, a teacher at St. John Nepomuk Catholic School in Yukon, Oklahoma, stands accused of unlawfully communicating with a minor by use of technology.

Fox-25 reports:

On May 9, 2019, officers responded to 600 Garth Brooks Blvd. to a private Catholic school in reference to an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student.

Samantha Ann Brasses, 30, was arrested for unlawfully communicating with a minor by use of technology. Officers seized the victim’s phone and conducted forensic evidence to find the inappropriate conversations. Brasses and the 14-year-old victim reportedly communicated through Instagram, sharing inappropriate proposals, pictures, and referring to each other as “babe.”

 

Black Collar Crime: Pastor David Ray King Charged Sex Crimes Against Children

pastor david ray king

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.

David Ray King, pastor of an unnamed church in Odessa, Texas, was arrested last Friday and charged with indecency with a child, a third-degree felony, Yesterday, King was rearrested and charged with two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony. King is accused of sexually assaulting eight boys numerous times. The boys were aged ten through sixteen.

The Odessa American reports:

King reportedly had the boy expose his genital and buttocks. The 11-year-old stated King would remove him from the shower, while his genitals and buttocks were exposed and dry him off with a towel. The boy stated it made him feel uncomfortable and weird.

King was brought into ECSO for an interview and after he was read his Miranda Warning, he admitted to being engaged in conduct with the 11-year-old that led him to be sexually gratified multiple times, the affidavit stated.

King also reportedly admitted to engaging in conduct that led him to be sexually gratified with seven other boys between 10 and 16 years old.

King stated he’s currently been involved with a 12-year-old boy off and on for the last year and half, the affidavit detailed.

During the interview, King also reportedly admitted to being in possession of multiple images and videos of child pornography on his phone and computers at his residence, an ECSO release stated.

King was arrested, charged and transported to the Ector County Sheriff’s Office. He posted bail on Saturday for $15,000 after he was charged with indecency with a child, jail records show. King has two bonds after he was charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child totaling $150,000 and was still in custody as of Tuesday morning, jail records show.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Mitchell Conte Accused of Sex Crimes

mitchell conte

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.

Mitchell Conte, pastor of Oceanlake Christian Church in Lincoln City, Oregon, was charged last week with two counts of third-degree sodomy, two counts of contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor, second-degree sex abuse, first-degree online sexual corruption of a child and luring a minor.

KATU-2 reports:

The brother of the victim found Instagram messages between the victim and Conte that were sexually explicit, and wasn’t sure what to do. Later, the brother noticed the victim’s window open and no one inside, so he went in to her room through the window and found more exchanges over Instagram between the victim and Conte. The brother confronted the victim in the morning, and the victim said she was with Conte at the beach.

The victim told police she snuck out five times to see Conte, and that they were alone other times when Conte would pick her up from work or she would babysit Conte’s daughters, who were 4 and 6 years old.

When police arrested Conte, he said he knew the victim was around 15 years old.

Conte’s bail was set at $295,000

Two teen boys were instrumental in exposing Conte’s alleged criminal behavior. You can read their interview here.

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Rodney Harmon Sentenced to 37 Years in Prison

rodney harmon jr

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.

Rodney Harmon, Jr, the former youth pastor at Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, was convicted in February 2019 on three counts of sexually abusing a minor. In January 2019, ABC-47 reported:

According to charging documents obtained by 47 ABC Harmon allegedly preyed on at least 7 teenage boys from January of 2018 to July of 2018 through his work as a youth group leader for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City.

With at least three victims Harmon promised the teenage boys they could make money for shooting videos of themselves masturbating if they sent them to him. However, none of the victims ever received payment.

One of the victims, only identified as Juvenile 2, seemed to be the most involved with Harmon. According to charging documents Hardmon sodomized him with an adult toy at least once and performed oral sex on the 15-year-old several times at Harmon’s House in the car to and from a mission trip and at a house the 15-year-old was dog sitting at.

A November 2018 news story at Lancaster Online reported:

Rodney O. Harmon Jr., 33, of Stockton, Maryland, was youth director for Bayside Community Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland, when he accompanied a church group to the Colerain Township retreat center, where the alleged abuse happened, the Lancaster County District Attorney said.

The alleged victims, ages 14 and 15, were part of the Maryland church group that attended the retreat between Aug. 1 and 4.

State police filed 12 charged against Harmon, eight of which are felonies, including statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Harmon is awaiting arraignment on the charges.

Harmon is already in prison at the Worcester County Jail awaiting a hearing on charges there for making and distributing pornographic videos, and other sex acts involving four people, including three minors, according to charging documents.

Bayside Community Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Charging documents posted here.

Friday, Harmon Jr. was sentenced to 75 years in prison, with all but 37 years suspended.

Black Collar Crime: Survivor of Evangelical Pastor John Schouten Tells Her Story

pastor john schouten

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.

In October 2018, I wrote a post detailing the resignation of John Schouten, pastor of Vineyard Grace Fellowship (VGF) in Newark (Heath), Ohio His congregation found out that he had a sex crime in his past. While neither Schouten or VGF named the crime, an email sent to congregants stated Schouten did something that was “wrong, evil, and illegal.” The use of the word “illegal” narrows the field to: rape, sex with a minor, sexual assault of a minor, and a handful of other underage sex crimes.  According to the Newark Advocate, since the incident occurred thirty years ago, the statute of limitations has passed and Schouten cannot be prosecuted for his alleged criminal behavior.

In December 2018, the Newark Advocate published a story that reveals exactly what it was Schouten did thirty years ago:

The former pastor of VGF Church stepped down from the church he founded because about 30 years ago he had a relationship with a minor while he was a teacher.

John Schouten admitted to the relationship when confronted by church elders after the church received an email about the relationship during the summer, according to Advocate media partner 10TV.

Two people reached out to The Advocate corroborating the story.

While a teacher with Liberty Christian Academy in Pataskala during in the 1980s, Schouten had a relationship with a female teenage student. The two had a child together, according to 10TV.

….

You can read my original posts here and here.

Previously, Schouten told congregants that he had committed “rebellious and sinful actions” in the past. He never admitted that what he actually did was commit a felony for which he should have went to prison. The “good” pastor waited until the statute of limitations expired before coming clean about his past criminal behavior.

Yesterday, Jodi Priest, the woman Schouten preyed upon, published her story:

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. Calling myself a survivor does not mean I have moved on from all the effects of my trauma. It doesn’t mean that feelings of shame, disgrace and unworthiness never rear their ugly heads. Calling myself a survivor just means that I am still here to fight those feelings. So many tragically choose not to. If you have been abused and are reading this, you are a survivor. So often we are called victims and we were, but we are survivors. You are not to blame in any way. It took me a long time to understand, and more importantly, to believe this. The following is my journey.

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I was a good student and well-liked by the teachers. The principal, Dave, even asked me to babysit his kids. Toward the end of my 8thgrade year, Dave asked me to leave school with his sick daughter and watch her at his sister’s house across the street until his wife could get off work. Joe and his wife lived so close to the school that I could walk there. And so could a teacher who wanted to “check on us.” Joe came to the house, and while his niece was asleep on the couch, he kissed me for the first time. I was thirteen.

….

Starting the next year, the targeting and grooming began in earnest. He was intentionally leading me down a path, which brought us to the same couch. This time it didn’t stop with a kiss. Fourteen-year-old me had no idea what was happening to my body, or exactly why I had to wash blood from my cheerleading skirt before I left.

Over the next four years the abuse continued. I thought I was in a relationship with Joe. He told me he loved me often. I wanted to believe that we would eventually be together. My entire high school life revolved around this abusive relationship. Even when his wife became pregnant, he somehow was able to convince me that it was me he loved. By my senior year, he was arranging meetings two-three times a week. We would meet in a variety of places. The park, my home, his home, and even at the school. Because of his hold on me, I couldn’t decide what to do about college. Even though part of me knew this “relationship” was wrong and I wanted help, I couldn’t make myself become unavailable to him. Over those four years, in a sub-conscious plea for help, I told some of my friends the truth. When Joe found out that I had told, he threatened to harm me and to get me in trouble with the school if I didn’t say it had been a lie.

Towards the end of my senior year, a classmate informed the principal that she heard a rumor about our “relationship.” Dave called me at home one evening in early May 1988. He said he needed to talk to me and asked me to meet him at the school. My father was not at home, and my mom would not allow me to go alone. When we arrived at the school, he asked my mom to wait in the lobby while he talked to me in his office. He told me he knew about my “relationship” with Joe. He told me I had a choice to make. If I admitted to the sexual relationship, I would get my diploma and Joe would just get fired and not go to jail. If I denied it, and he had to prove it, then I would not get my diploma and Joe would go to jail. At this time, I thought I loved him. I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I was hardly ever in trouble, and now I was being threatened with not graduating and being responsible for Joe going to jail. Of course, I now know this is not something an abused, seventeen-year-old girl should be faced with. The principal was required by law to report this to the authorities regardless of what I chose. I admitted to the relationship. Dave never asked me for any details. He left me alone in his office for a long time. My dad had arrived at the school, and my parents were the ones who came back in to get me. It was decided that I would not return to school. I would be taken to the Heritage USA compound in North Carolina, founded by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, until after school let out. I had to cancel my prom plans, miss my graduation ceremony, and leave all my friends abruptly. I was not allowed to call anyone to tell them anything. I later found out that no one was told what happened. I just disappeared, no one could get a hold of me. Not only was it before cellphones, but students were also explicitly told not to try to contact me. The teachers were told that Joe had been fired, and if anyone asked any questions they would be fired also. Dave and other leaders chose to break the law by not reporting. Defending family and reputation was more important than protecting me. The abuse was kept a secret from everyone, and the silence spoke volumes. The shame and unworthiness I felt came to the forefront and wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

….

In November 1988, I made plans to move in with my older brother. The week before I moved, Joe called me and wanted to see me again. Because I still wanted to believe that he loved me, I agreed, and the abusive relationship started again. Five months later I found out I was pregnant. When I told Joe, he asked me 2 questions: “Is it mine?” and “Will you have an abortion?” The answers were yes and no. That was the last time I talked to him until after the baby was born.

Please take the time to read Jodi’s gut-wrenching, heartfelt story. It’s a long read, but worth the time spent reading it.

Why I Write The Black Collar Crime Series

black collar crimeThe Black Collar Crime series is in its third year, having published almost six hundred reports of clergy and church leader criminal misconduct. Using Google Alerts, I receive an immediate notice any time a news story about clerical malfeasance is posted on the internet. It is important that these stories receive wide circulation. Victims need to know that there are people standing with them as they bring to light that which God’s servants have done in secret.

I realize that these reports are often dark and depressing, but the only way to dispel darkness is to turn on the lights. Clergy who prey on congregants — especially children — must be exposed, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison. By leveraging this blog’s traffic and publishing these reports, I am serving notice to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges: we are paying attention, and if you fail to provide justice for victims, we will hold you accountable.

Sadly, many clerics have enormous power over people. How else do we explain that alleged repeat abusers of children and sexual predators such as Lester Roloff, Jack Patterson, and Mack Ford — to name a few — never spent a day in jail for their crimes? Mack Ford, in particular, spent decades physically and psychologically destroying teenagers, yet, thanks to his connections in the community, he was never prosecuted for his crimes.(Please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for GirlsTeen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your SinWhat Should We Do When Religious Freedom Leads to Child Abuse?)

Sometimes, these seemingly untouchable predators are brought to justice, but not before the public puts pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors, forcing them to act. The sordid story of abuse at Restoration Youth Academy is case in point. Decades of reports about abuse were filed with local law enforcement, yet nothing was done. Yes, they finally acted and the perpetrators are now in prison, but what do we say to the hundreds of children and teenagers who were ritually abused before prosecutors got around to doing their job?

I am sure that this series will bring criticism from Evangelical zealots, reminding me that accused/charged clerics are innocent until proven guilty. While they are correct, all I am doing is sharing that which is widely reported in the news. In the eleven years I’ve been writing about clergy misconduct, I can count on three fingers the number of pastors/priests/religious leaders who were falsely accused. Three, out of hundreds and hundreds of cases. The reason for so few false accusations is that no person in his or her right mind would mendaciously accuse a pastor of sexual misconduct. The social and personal cost is simply too high for someone to falsely accuse a religious leader of criminal conduct.

People often believe that “men of God” would never, ever commit such crimes. One common thread in the crimes committed by Jack Schaap, Bill Wininger, Josh Duggar, David Farren, Naasón Joaquín García, and a cast of thousands, is that family and fellow Christians were absolutely CERTAIN that these men of God could/would never commit the crimes with which they were charged. Even when presented with overwhelming evidence, their supporters, with heads in the sand, refuse to believe that these servants of Jesus did the perverse things they are accused of. (Please see What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were AbusedEvangelicals Use ‘We Are All Sinners’ Argument to Justify Sexual Abuse)

Secondary reasons for this series have to do with exposing the lie that Evangelicalism is immune to scandal and criminal behavior. I remember when the Catholic sex scandal came to light. With great glee and satisfaction, Evangelical preachers railed against predator priests and the Catholic Church who covered up their crimes. Now, of course, we know — with the recent Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) and Southern Baptist sex scandals — that Evangelicalism is just as rotten, having its own problem with sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. Evangelicals love to take the high moral ground, giving the perception that their shit doesn’t stink. Well, now we know better. Not only does Evangelicalism have a sexual abuse problem, it also has a big problem with pastors who can’t keep their pants zipped up. (Please see Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

I am receiving an increasing number of threats from people defending their religious heroes. Threats of legal action are common, even though all I am doing is republishing stories publicly reported by news agencies. A pastor featured in one of my reports contacted me and said that reporters had it all wrong. As I do with everyone who asserts they are being falsely accused, I told this preacher that he could give his version of the facts, sign his name to it, and I would gladly add it to the post. Usually, this puts an end to any further protestations. Most often, the accused want to bully me into taking down my post. In this preacher’s case, he provided me his version of events and I gladly added it to my post. After adding the information, I decided to investigate this pastor further. I found more information about his past indiscretions and crimes. I dutifully added them to the post. I have not heard anything further from the good pastor.

I am not immune from making mistakes, so if you spot a factual error in one of the stories, please let me know and I will gladly correct it. If you come across a story that you would like me to add to this series, please use the contact form to email me. Please keep in mind that I need links to actual news reports in order to add them to this series.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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