Black Collar Crime

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Jose Aboytes Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison

pastor jose aboytes

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 March 2017, Jose Aboytes, assistant pastor of Palabra Miel Hispanic Church in Decatur, Illinois was charged with “seven felony counts for allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulting and abusing a girl younger than 13 during a period of seven months.”

The Herald & Review reported at the time:

Jose Luis Aboytes, a former pastor of a church on the city’s east side, was charged Thursday in Macon County Circuit Court with seven felony counts for allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulting and abusing a girl younger than 13 during a period of seven months.

Aboytes, 58, who is being held in the Macon County Jail on $250,000 bond, is facing one count of predatory criminal sexual assault, punishable by six to 60 years in prison, two counts of criminal sexual assault and four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

The victim told police she attended the Palabra Miel Hispanic Church, 3434 E. Wabash Ave., where Aboytes “began to sexually abuse her in an office in the church” about Sept. 16, 2015, said a request for an arrest warrant by Decatur Police detective Erik Ethell.
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The victim said the abuse “began with Jose touching her leg and progressed to sexual intercourse,” said the court document. The victim said that during choir practice “Jose would call her into his office,” where he would fondle and abuse her. She reported that the abusive conduct occurred during a period of several months. The adolescent girl told police she “took numerous cellphone photographs of her naked body and sent them to Jose’s phone.”

Detectives received more than 10 letters from the girl, in which Aboytes “expressed his love” for the victim, “in addition to knowing her age,” Ethell wrote in the court document. Aboytes “frequently asked (the victim) to destroy the letters after reading them.”

An intellectually disabled teen girl also reported to police that she had been abused by Aboytes, said the warrant request. She said that Aboytes would call her into his office, hug her and fondle her on top of her clothes. She told detectives that “Jose told her not to tell her parents about the conduct.”

In April 2019, Aboytes pleaded guilty to one Class X felony count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. The Herald & Review reported:

Aboytes, 60, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one Class X felony count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, ending his trial on charges he raped and sexually abused a girl younger than 13 from his congregation.

The sentencing hearing is set for July 11 in Macon County Circuit Court. He faces between six and 60 years in prison, of which he would have to serve at least 85 percent.

….

The plea deal came on the third day of what was anticipated to be a four-day trial. As part of the deal, four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and two counts of criminal sexual assault were dismissed, according to court records.

Opening the trial Tuesday, [Assistant State’s Attorney] Kurtz described Aboytes, who served as an assistant pastor at the church, as using the friendly nature of the congregation to prey on the child.

Kurtz described a pattern of sexual assault that started with touching and escalated to groping and, after Aboytes had picked up the child once from her home on the pretense of taking her to the park, ended with rape.

She said Aboytes wrote intimate letters to the child and persuaded her to send him erotic pictures of herself — pictures the girl’s parents eventually discovered that prompted them to call police.

Today, Aboytes was sentenced to 40 years in prison. The Herald & Review reports:

Jose L. Aboytes will have to serve the sentence at 85 percent before he is eligible for parole, which means the 60-year-old defendant will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. He had pleaded guilty to one count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child under 13. Prosecutors have said the assaults took place between September 2015 and September 2016 while he was serving Palabra Miel Hispanic Church.

Aboytes had originally pleaded not guilty to one count of predatory criminal sexual assault, four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and two counts of criminal sexual assault at a jury trial that got underway April 23. But on the second day of the trial, Aboytes accepted a plea deal to admit to the single charge, and the others were dropped.

At his sentencing hearing today, Aboytes told the judge, “I have lost many things: I lost my home and I lost my wife for a small error, a mistake.”

A small error, a mistake . . .

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor John Scheline Sentenced to 58 Months in Prison

John Scheline

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 July 2017, John Scheline, executive director of Ignite Youth Mentoring in Richland, Washington and former pastor at  Faith Assembly in Pasco, Washington and  Bozeman Christian Center in Bozeman, Montana, was charged with attempted second degree rape.

The Tri-City Herald reported at the time:

All 26 men swept up in a five-day Tri-City operation to combat online child predators have now been charged, with five more appearing Wednesday in court.

William J. Barrett and Andrew L. Sanders both face Sept. 5 trials in Benton County Superior Court, while John M. Scheline, Darren J. Kerbyson and Gabriel Saenz have Oct. 2 dates.

Four of them are charged with attempted second-degree rape of a child and have been released from jail after posting $10,000 bond each.

Barrett is locked up on $25,000 bail because he has additional charges, including bringing methamphetamine and a glass smoking device to the meet-up.

They were arrested as part of a multi-agency effort, dubbed “Tri-Cities Net Nanny Operation,” between July 5 and 9.

Undercover detectives answered postings on various websites and placed their own ads claiming to be kids as young as 11 or parents who were offering their children for sex. Some of the suspects showed up to the predetermined location with condoms and sex toys.

The first three men arrested when authorities were still setting up the operation had Tuesday court hearings. The remaining 18 men are scheduled to appear Thursday.

Scheline, 40, was fired from his job as executive director of Ignite Youth Mentoring after the allegations surfaced. The Pasco father previously served as a pastor at Faith Assembly in Pasco and lead pastor of Bozeman Christian Center in Montana.

Investigators found an advertisement Scheline placed June 13 on Craigslist suggesting that a married dad was looking for a young boy, court documents said.

When a detective responded July 5 as a father offering up his 13-year-old son for sex acts, Scheline allegedly discussed in explicit detail what he would do with the boy.

Scheline eventually was given the address of an apartment. When “the (undercover) son” answered the door, Scheline turned and left and was taken into custody as he tried to get out of the complex, documents said.

….

The Tri-City Herald later reported:

According to court documents and a presentencing report, Scheline posted an ad on Craigslist identifying himself as a “fit hairy married dad” on June 13, 2017. He wrote that he was looking for a “young guy” for a sexual encounter.

A detective with the Southeast Region Internet Crimes Against Children — part of the Net Nanny team — responded three weeks later.

The detective posed as a 38-year-old father offering his 13-year-old son for sex.

In the email exchange that followed, Scheline discussed sex acts in explicit detail.

On July 6, 2017, he traveled to a Richland apartment for the purported rendezvous.

When an undercover detective playing the role of the son answered the door, Scheline turned and walked away but was arrested in the apartment complex. He had no prior criminal record.

In June 2018, Scheline pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 58 months in prison.

Black Collar Crime: Gary Wiggins and Blessed Hope Boys Academy

pastor gary wiggins

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 December 2016, The Alabama Department of Human Resources and Baldwin County law enforcement raided and removed 22 children from Blessed Hope Boys Academy in Seminole, Alabama. Blessed Hope, at the time, advertised itself as a Christian boarding school for “troubled” teens.  Operating as an unlicensed, unregulated “ministry,” Blessed Hope  was operated by Pastor Gary Wiggins and his wife Meghann.  After the raid, the school moved its location to Missouri.

According to a 2016 Al.com report, Blessed Hope was a growing and lucrative business:

The Blessed Hope Boys Academy opened about four years ago. It was granted status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2013.

The school has grown steadily since it opened. The school’s revenue grew from $232,524 in 2013 to $289,655 in 2014. The National Center for Charitable Statistics listed the school’s 2015 total revenue at $430,159.

Thomas Cox, a former student at Blessed Hope, recounted to the The Statesman what happened to him:

Thomas Cox, 18, said he clearly remembers the punishment he and other boys faced two years ago at Wiggins’ boys home in Alabama.

Cox, who now lives in Pennsylvania, said that when he attended the Blessed Hope Boys Academy near Seminole, Ala., in 2016, Wiggins made him and other boys stand and face a wall for hours and exercise excessively, and that Wiggins also hit students with a wooden paddle for punishment.

Boys would be slammed to the floor and several people would “pile on top of them” for minor infractions, such as refusing to say Bible verses, said Cox, who would not discuss why his parents sent him to the academy. Many times, he said, Wiggins would take students out of classes and make them work at his moving company and lawn care company without pay.

In May 2018, Wiggins shuttered Blessed Hope in Missouri and moved to Bertram, Texas to set up a new “ministry.”  Wiggins changed the name from Blessed Hope to Joshua Home, but the scam was still the same: “fix” broken teens and make lots of money while doing so.

In 2018, Joshua Home was raided, and eight boys were removed on allegations of abuse, neglect, labor violations, fraud, licensing violations, and human trafficking. Investigators believe Wiggins may have been using the boys illegally for a lawn care service and a moving company.

In 2017, Wiggins and Blessed Hope were investigated by 20/20. Wiggins told an undercover reporter that with the Bible and a belt, he could beat the gay out of a boy. What follows is the 20/20 investigation of unlicensed, unregulated religious group homes, including Blessed Hope. The report is shocking, to say the least. That this kind of stuff STILL goes on in the United States is mindboggling.

Video

According to Pastor Gary Williamson, pastor of Seminole Baptist Church in Seminole, Alabama, Gary Wiggins is a “good Christian man” who has done nothing wrong.  Wiggins, along with his wife and three children, were members of Seminole Baptist while operating the Blessed Hope Boys Homes. According to  Williamson’s bio on his church’s website:

At this same time his wife Becky, who had been saved at the age of 13 at a Billy Graham Crusade but was living life as a backslidden, undercover Christian, began praying for him [Gary Williamson]. She came across a TV broadcast on the local cable access channel called “Drawing Men to Christ”. The program was being aired by Victory Bible Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Jesse Smith.

Drawing Men to Christ is a ministry of Christian Video Ministries and features televised broadcasts of renowned Preacher and Chalk Talk Artist Dr. Peter S. Ruckman.

After watching several successive broadcasts of Dr. Ruckman’s preaching, Ray Williamson became “Brother Ray Williamson” the 19th of July 1987 upon watching and listening to a sermon entitled “The Wasted Life”. Since the time of his new birth in Christ, Brother Ray has determined to preach and defend the faith that he once sought to destroy.

Pastor Williamson graduated from Pensacola Bible Institute in 1992 while still serving in the Coast Guard in Mobile, AL and then started and pastored Bible Believers Baptist Church for three years in Petaluma, CA. Subsequently he has received a Bachelors of Theology Degree from Andersonville Baptist Theological Seminary and also earned an Associates degree from the University of Phoenix all still while serving his country in the U.S. Coast Guard.

As of this date, Gary Wiggins has not been charged with a crime. The latest news report on Wiggins and Joshua Home, dated May 2019, says Wiggins is still under investigation and charges will “soon” be filed. We shall see . . .

HEAL report on Gary Wiggins

Stop with the “Few Bad Apples” Rationalization When Excusing Clergy Misconduct

a few bad apples

Sixteen months ago, I posted the first story in the Black Collar Crime Series. Yesterday, I posted the six-hundredth post in the series. Focused primarily on clergy sexual misconduct, the sheer level of reports puts to rest the notion that such crimes are committed by a “few bad apples.” Numerous times a day, I receive notices from Google Alerts, notifying me that a new report of alleged clergy crime has been posted to the Internet. I look at every notification, choosing to only publish the stories that are publicly reported by reputable news sites. I am often contacted by victims who are looking to expose their abusers. I do what I can to help them, but if there’s no public news reports or other information that can corroborate their stories, I am unable to do anything for them. Believe me, I WANT to help them, but it would be legally reckless of me to post a story without sufficient evidence. I generally also only publish reports about clerics from the United States — mostly Protestant, Evangelical, Southern Baptist, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). While I post stories featuring Catholic priests from time to time, I usually leave such reporting to others. The same could be said of widespread clergy sexual misconduct in Africa. The point I am trying to make here is this: 600 published reports is just the tip of the iceberg.  As of today, I am also sitting on over 300 clergy sexual misconduct stories I have not published due to a lack of sufficient evidence or a shortage of time to do so.

Not only are there more than just a “few bad apples” preying on church members, when you add to the total the number of pastors and other religious leaders who have consensual sexual relations with congregants, it is clear for all to see that so-called “men of God” are hardly the pillars of moral virtue they claim to be. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, Is Clergy Infidelity Rare? Here’s an excerpt from the post:

In October 2013, Doug Phillips, president of the now-defunct Vision Forum Ministries confessed to church leaders that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife. Defenders of Phillips took to their blogs, websites, Twitter, and Facebook to do damage control on the behalf of Phillips and the patriarchal movement. One such defender is Independent Baptist pastor Voddie Baucham, a man who is widely viewed as the African-American version of Doug Phillips.

A Christian woman by the name of Julie Anne posted an article on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog about the Doug Phillips scandal. Her post mentioned the following quote by Voddie Baucham:

Dennis, You ask, “How many times do we see this in Christian leadership?” The answer may surprise you, but it is actually quite rare. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We hear of these types of things on a national basis when they happen to high profile people. However, considering the number of people in Christian leadership, the numbers are quite small. As to your other point, most men who go through something like this never recover. Of course, there are exceptions. Moreover, there are some circles wherein things like this, and much worse, are merely swept under the rug. However, in circles where leadership is taken seriously, it is very difficult for a man to come back from things like this. People have long memories, and tend to be rather unforgiving. (emphasis mine)

Baucham repeats the oft-told lie that clergy sexual misconduct is quite rare. I have heard this line more times than I can count. It is an attempt to prop up the notion that clergy are more moral and ethical than most people; that they are pillars of virtue and morality.  Such claims are patently false.

In 2007, Dr. R.J. Krejcir of  the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute, wrote a post detailing his recent study of clergy infidelity. Krejcir stated:

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

So much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Numerous studies have been conducted concerning sexual infidelity among married people. The percentage varies widely, but it is safe to say that between ten and twenty percent of married people have been sexually unfaithful to their spouse. The percentage is higher for men than it is women.

We know that men of the cloth are not morally or ethically superior. In the United States and Canada, there are approximately 600,000 clergy. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion and Research, this total includes active clergy and “retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries.” This number does not include clergy who are affiliated with independent churches. If between ten and twenty percent of married people commit adultery, and clergy are no different morally from non-clergy, then this means that between 60,000 and 120,000 clergy have committed adultery.  Again, so much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Keep in mind, this is only the number of CONSENSUAL sexual relationships.

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Most people in the United States profess to be Christians. Taught to think that their churches are safe havens and their pastors have only their best interests at heart, many of them have a hard time believing and accepting that bad things happen, and far too often the perpetrators are pastors, deacons, elders, youth leaders, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, church janitors, evangelists, missionaries, bus drivers, Christian school teachers, and principals. Wherever Christians have authority over others, you will find sexual misconduct — both legal and criminal.

What makes churches and clergy so dangerous is that congregants are trusting. It’s the world they need to worry about, or so church leaders tell them anyway. Led to believe that Christians — thanks to salvation and the Holy Ghost — are above the fray and oh-so-humbly morally superior, church members naively trust those who have “God-given” authority over them. Even after their pastors and other church leaders have been exposed as the predators, many congregants refuse to believe that the men and women they looked up to abused others. You who read the Black Collar Crime Series regularly know that it is not uncommon to have congregants comment, defending their pastor or suggesting that the police or district attorney are out to get their preacher.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for church members to blame victims instead of putting the blame where it belongs: on their ministers, youth pastors, and other church leaders. Even after church leaders are found guilty in criminal court, congregants will often line up to testify at sentencing hearings; letting courts know that their pastors are good men who made a momentary mistake (never mind the fact that most pastors convicted of sex crimes are repeat or habitual offenders). Worse yet, on way too many occasions, once incarcerated clerics are released from prison, they find their way back to churches looking for pastorates or they start new churches — hiding from their new congregations their decadent past. One of the reasons I continue to publish Black Collar Crime stories is that this blog becomes a database of sorts for people doing their due diligence before accepting as fact the “testimony” of prospective pastors.

And to churches who hire registered sex offenders, knowing what they did at their last churches, don’t be surprised when your new God-fearing pastor treats your church as a hunting ground. Get your head out of your ass and protect the children, teens, and vulnerable adults in your churches. “But, Bruce, as Christians, we are supposed to “forgive and forget.” It’s forgetting I have a problem with. Forgetting what clergy have done in the past invites and encourages new abuse and harm. Just yesterday, a family member who is a Fundamentalist pastor, mentioned in a positive light the “ministry” David Hyles has devoted to “fallen” preachers. (Please see Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping Fallen Pastors Get Back on Their Horses and Is All Forgiven for David Hyles? and David Hyles Says My Bad, Jesus and UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored) I thought, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!  But, when you believe in 1 John 1:9 Christianity (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness), it is easy to dismiss past bad behavior as being “under the blood” and “buried in the depths of the sea of God’s forgetfulness.” No matter what Christians do — including rape, murder, and fraud — wiping their slates clean is but a prayer away. (Note: I later talked to the family member. He genuinely didn’t know about David Hyles’ past. He was a child in the 1980s when the Biblical Evangelist published its expose on Jack and David Hyles. I guess I am officially an old man.)

Years ago, a former colleague of mine in the ministry, told me that at his church they believed in forgiveness, and that’s why they didn’t run criminal background checks on church workers. “Bruce,” this pastor said, “when a person gets saved, their past ‘sins’ are forgiven and remembered no more. If God doesn’t remember their sins, neither should we.” In his naive, Bible-sotted mind, once a person is really, really, really “saved,” — one really each for the Father, Son and Holy Ghost — there’s no reason to not “trust” them, even if, in the past, he or she was a murderer, rapist, serial adulterer, or child molester. “Either our sins are under the blood, or they are not, Brother,” this preacher told me. Many years ago, I warned him that one of his daughters was in a sexual relationship with a teen boy in my church. He told me, “oh, they would never do that!” Right, two horny kids, all alone on a back-country road? What are they doing, studying the Bible and praying? A month or so later, he came home early from his church’s midweek prayer meeting, only to find his daughter and her boyfriend naked and having sex on the living room floor. Sadly, in far too many churches, trusted church leaders are assaulting and abusing congregants, and everyone around them is saying, “oh, they would never do that.” As the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, such thinking is not only naive, it’s dangerous. Throw in pastors who psychologically manipulate congregants and use those who trust them as a means to an end, and I can safely say that churches are some of the most dangerous places in the United States; that parents who “trust” church leaders with their children and teenagers risk their charges being misused, abused, and assaulted.

No, I am not saying all church leaders are bad people, but I am saying a large enough percentage of them are — more than a few bad apples, to be sure — that wisdom and prudence demands keeping children right by your side when attending houses of worship. Better safe than sorry, I say. (Dear Evangelical Church Leaders: It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Youth Pastors and Youth Departments) Suppose you went to the local grocery with your children to buy some groceries. Suppose there were 200 shoppers in the store, and ten of them were child molesters or registered sex offenders. Knowing this, would you let your children wander through the store unattended? Of course not. Why, then, should churches and preachers be treated any differently?

Let me leave you with one poignant thought: countless Christians have prayed for God to deliver them from the hands of their abusers, and without exception, God ignored their prayers. If left up to “God,” predator church leaders will, with impunity, cause untold harm. It is up to us to put a stop to clergy sexual misconduct. All I can do is write about the subject. But if you are a church-going Christian, you have the responsibility and duty to make sure the children, teens, and vulnerable adults are safe when attending church, school, or church events. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

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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Quote of the Day: Dana Nessel Calls for Law Outlawing Clergy Having Sexual Relations with Parishioners

dana nessel

We are seeing countless episodes of clergy members who are having sexual relations with their (church members) in a spiritual setting; I mean, right in the church, right in the confessional. And we think that there are a lot of these clergy members who have quite honestly taken advantage of people and taken advantage of their authority or power.

It’s a very powerful thing if you are an individual who has represented yourself as sort of the conduit to heaven, you know for salvation…well then you have a lot of influence over another person’s life. You know, we see cases all the time of a clergy member saying, you know, ‘Do what I say or else you’re not going to go to heaven.’ And that’s a type of power, a type of authority that we just don’t think that anybody should have to be able to exploit for a sexual purpose.

If attorneys have a sexual relationship with a client that they represent, they lose their law license for that, you know? Same thing with a doctor. So why should it be any different for members of the clergy?

We don’t think that it is a First Amendment issue, and we’d be willing to go to court on that if we had to. But I think that there are just certain positions of authority that should not be exploited for sexual purposes, and this is one of them.

I’m not afraid and I won’t apologize for wanting to ensure that any institution around the state understands that if they have been engaged or aiding and abetting in the coverup child sexual abuse, absolutely if there are charges that can be brought, we are happy to entertain those charges and to file them. But we’re hopeful that through the process of this investigation, when we find out more about what has happened in the past, we’ll be able to prevent that from happening in the future.

— Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, WWJ Newsradio 950 Interview, July 9, 2019

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Karey Heyward Accused of Sexual Misconduct with a Minor

karey heyward

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.

Karey Heyward, pastor of Eternity Church in North Charleston, South Carolina, stands accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. Heyward, a musician, also goes by the name Pastor Sage.

ABC-4 reports:

According to police reports, the female minor and her mother reported ongoing sexual misconduct to officers on March 20, and said it took place between 2012 and 2015.

She said the suspect touched her in sexually inappropriately ways, engaged in inappropriate conversations about sex, and asked her “what would happen if they did have sex,” reports say.

The Moncks Corner man was released on a $100,000 bond after being charged with 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

Heyward’s Linkedin page lists the following information:

  • Senior Pastor at Eternity Ministries
  • Owner/creative director of Genesis 1 Media, LLC a film, video, music, and publication company
  • Law Enforcement with the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy
  • Founder of a youth organization known as Radical Revolution Ministries that hosts youth events and founded a youth pastors and leadership alliance known as the Holy City Alliance.
  • Specialties: Licensed Minister,Gospel Rapper, cinematographer/editor/director

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Stephen Morris Accused of Statutory Rape

pastor stephen morris

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.

Stephen Morris, pastor of Oliver’s Grove Baptist Church in Four Oaks, North Carolina, stands accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. (The church has no web presence.)

ABC-11 reports:

The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office arrested 61-year-old Reverend Stephen Morris last Friday on 10 felony counts, including five counts of statutory rape and five counts of taking indecent liberties with a child.
According to court documents, Morris is accused of statutory rape with a 13-year-old between June 2013 and June 2014.

….

Detectives say the victim is now 19 years old and reported what happened to police last month.

Because the incident involves a juvenile victim, authorities would not disclose how the victim and suspect knew one another.

Morris remains in the Johnston County jail under a $2.5 million bond.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Jordan Baird Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Sex Crimes

jordan baird

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 2017, Jordan Baird, director of music and youth pastor (the church disputes the charge that Baird was its youth pastor) at The Life Church in Manassas, Virginia was arrested on charges of “indecent liberties with a child by a custodian” and “sexual offense with a minor by computer.”

The Fauquier Times reported at the time:

A new jury trial date has been set for Jordan Baird, the Warrenton-based pop star and son of Manassas megachurch leaders accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an underage girl in his congregation.

Baird, 27, is facing seven counts of indecent liberties with a child by a custodian and was recently indicted for one count of sexual offense with a minor by computer. The former model was scheduled for trial Sept. 6, but the trial was postponed after someone came forward the night before it was to begin with a recording of the victim reportedly making her first allegation against Baird at a prayer circle, according to court records.

Both the prosecution and the defense agreed they needed time to process the new evidence.

Baird is now schedule to face a jury trial Jan. 8 through Jan. 10 in Prince William County Circuit Court.

All of the charges Baird face relate to one victim who attended The Life Church. The new indictment is based on the same set of facts, but a new legal theory, according to attorneys in the case.

Prosecutors will likely try to introduce testimony from other women who say Baird used his position of power in the church to make sexual advances toward them, according to a motion filed by Fredericksburg Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kevin Gross, who has been appointed special prosecutor in the case. The motion does not stipulate if the women were underage at the time of the alleged encounters.

Baird is accused of touching the victim and asking her to touch his genitals, among other allegations, according to a criminal complaint filed in circuit court

Baird has maintained he is innocent since the allegations went public, according to his attorneys.

Prosecutors say Baird was a youth pastor at The Life Church in Manassas and was in a supervisory role over the girl during several alleged acts of sexual abuse between January and September 2015.

However, his attorneys say Baird was the church’s director of music and was never employed as a youth pastor.

….

A 2016 WTOP report stated:

A second teenage victim has claimed a 25-year-old church employee had inappropriate sexual contact, exposed himself and made inappropriate statements inside a popular Manassas church.

Jordan Baird, of Warrenton was charged Tuesday with one count of indecent liberties by a custodian, in addition to two previous counts of the same charge, after incidents at the Life Church, located on Balls Ford Road in Manassas.

A 17-year-old victim came forward, after media reports of Jordan Baird’s arrest for inappropriately touching a 16-year-old female on more than one occasion between January and September of 2015, according to Prince William County police.

Jordan Baird is the middle son of the church’s senior pastor, David Baird.

“Jordan is the worship director of the church — he oversees the music for all of our services,” his father told WTOP.

The father disagreed with the notion that Jordan Baird is a youth pastor.

“The charge said he was a youth pastor, and that’s what’s been reported by the media,” said David Baird. “We’ve not been able to tell our side of that — Jordan has never been a pastor in our church.”

The senior Baird said the charge facing his son is not appropriate, given his son’s employment in the church.

“He’s not ordained as a pastor,” said David. “He’s an employee of the church, but he’s not a pastor, and he’s not the youth pastor of the church.

“That’s very important because the charge said he was in a custodial oversight of these students,” David said. “He was not in a custodial position over these students.”

David said he first heard of the police investigation into his son in July when Prince William County detectives came to the church asking if he had heard allegations that Jordan had been sending inappropriate text messages.

“The church was made aware by the parents of the first victim that there was improper texting by Jordan to the 16-year-old in 2014,” said David. “Immediately the church put Jordan on a leave of absence, pending its own internal inquiry.”

David said he recused himself from the church’s inquiry into  his son’s activities.

“The outcome of the internal inquiry was that no criminal activity had occurred, but we have kept Jordan on a leave of absence, pending the outcome of the legal investigation,” said David, referring to the criminal charges against his son.

….

According to a January 12, 2018 news report, Baird was found guilty. InsideNoVa reports:

The Prince William County Circuit Court jury found 26-year-old Jordan David Baird guilty on five counts of indecent liberties with a minor by a custodian, delivering the verdict Jan. 11 after two days of deliberations. The jury declined to convict Baird on two other counts of the same crime, in addition to a charge of electronic solicitation of a minor.

Prosecutors described Baird as a “deceiver, a manipulator and a sexual predator” over the course of a three-day trial, accusing him of repeatedly groping and propositioning a 16-year-old girl who worshipped with him at the Life Church in Manassas. Baird’s father, David, is the lead pastor of the large church, while Jordan Baird helped coordinate music services and mentor young people.

Fredericksburg Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kevin Gross, who was tabbed as a special prosecutor in the case, told the jury that Baird “exploited” his relationship with the girl to abuse her, and “thought he could get away with it” because he was the son of a powerful church leader.

The teen, who is now 19, testified that Baird repeatedly groped her at the church over the course of 2015, including two incidents where he rubbed his genitals against her body. She also detailed his history of propositioning her for sex through messages in a trivia app.

InsideNoVa is not identifying the girl because she is a victim of sexual assault.

Baird’s attorney, Todd Sanders, argued that those messages “did cross an emotional line,” but didn’t amount to a crime. He also suggested to the jury that the girl’s story was unreliable, as she initially told church leaders that Baird touched her leg, and only later provided more graphic details to police.

In particular, Sanders argued that the girl’s family likely pressured her into embellishing her story, considering the rift that these accusations prompted with the Baird family. He also claimed there was “absolutely no corroboration” for the teen’s claims.

But Gross pushed back forcefully against Sanders’ claims in his closing argument, noting that the girl had “everything to lose” by accusing Baird of misconduct. He noted that she had attended the church since she was 7, and considered the Bairds a “second family.”

“She knew the defendant for years; this was not some random guy groping her,” Gross said. “This is where she grew up. She spent the formative years of her life at the church. You can understand why she didn’t want to come forward immediately.”

Gross also pointed to Baird’s long history of sexually suggestive messages to the teen as evidence of his intent. He convinced the girl to download the “Trivia Crack” app, then used it to frequently ask her if he could be her “first kiss” or “first time,” urging her to meet him in a hotel room so as to avoid suspicion from his wife.

….

On February 21, 2018, Baird was sentenced to eight months in prison. Prince Williams Times reported:

A former youth leader of a Manassas megachurch who was convicted of having a sexual relationship with an underage girl in his congregation was sentenced to spend eight months in jail today.

Prosecutors allege Jordan Baird, 26, of Warrenton, used his position as the son of the leader of the Life Church and as a Christian pop singer to manipulate young girls and women into having inappropriate relationships with him. Baird was found guilty of five counts of indecent liberties with a minor by a custodian, all of which were related to one victim, after a four-day jury trial in Prince William County Circuit Court. Jurors recommended Baird serve five months in jail for those convictions.

The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on one charge—using electronic means to commit a sex crime with a minor. As part of a plea deal, the charge was amended to electronic solicitation of a minor and Baird pleaded no contest to it today.

“You kept me silent for a year-and-a-half and I want you to know you no longer have control over me,” the victim said during Baird’s sentencing hearing. “This is not your story. This is my story and I will use it to help other victims. You picked the wrong girl to mess with. Thank you for empowering me to stand up and fight for what is worth fighting for.”

Prosecutors said Baird is a “deceiver, a manipulator and a sexual predator” who groomed the girl for abuse, sent her sexually-suggestive messages and groped her multiple times at the Life Church between January and September 2015. The teen testified during the trial she refused Baird’s unwanted sexual advances and told him what he was doing was wrong on more than one occasion.

Judge Burke F. McCahill sentenced Baird to five years in jail, with all but three months suspended for the solicitation charge and five months for all of the indecent liberties charges. McCahill said the law did not allow him to impose a higher sentence than the one the jury recommended, even though the state sentencing guidelines were between one and five years in prison for each indecent liberties charge.

….

During the trial, Special Prosecutor David Gross tried to introduce the testimonies of three other women who say Baird used his power in the church and his notoriety as a Christian pop singer to manipulate them into having inappropriate relationships and performing sex acts in the church. One of the girls was underage at the time of the alleged misconduct, the prosecutor said. But the judge wouldn’t allow the women’s testimonies because he said the information would be highly prejudicial in the criminal trial, citing case law.

….

According to testimony presented at trial, the girl’s family initially asked the church to bring in a third-party to investigate what took place. But the church selected Steve Dawson, a close friend of the Bairds’ who was once a co-pastor at the church who does not have a background in law enforcement or investigations.

Gross suggested Dawson left out key details he learned during his internal investigation when he was interviewed by police and refused to hand his notes over to law-enforcement officials. Gross also suggested the Life Church’s law firm instructed Dawson through his investigation.

The teen’s father said he recorded a meeting with Dawson in which he told the pastor Baird touched his daughter. On the stand, Dawson said he didn’t “recall” the father saying this.

The girl and her family said they have been “shunned” by the church since they came forward. They said the teen’s childhood friends were “stolen” from her and she was mocked and ridiculed by people she once considered family.

“Many people have abandoned them to align with you,” said McCahill as he handed down his sentence. “They were victimized a second time by this.”

….

In February 2019, Baird pleaded guilty to new charges of taking indecent liberties with a minor while in a supervisory position. He was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison.

InsideNoVa reports:

Kevin Gross, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, argued that Baird used his position in the church, including having family in leadership positions, to prey on his victim and her family.  Baird’s father was a pastor and founder of the church and his family continues to serve in leadership roles at Life Church.

The victim testified that she has known Baird since she was 13 years old, and he would inappropriately give her back rubs and whisper to her. InsideNoVa is not identifying the victim.

In late 2014, Baird was teaching music to the girl at the church. He was 23 at the time, and she was 16.  The victim said Baird was waiting for his wife to leave.

“Once he saw his wife leave he closed the blinds,” the victim said.

The victim said Baird exposed himself and forced her to touch his penis.

Later, he asked her in messages if she wanted to do that again and she said no. He replied, “me neither.”

Gross argued that Baird’s messages were manipulative, because he believes Baird’s intent was to solicit further contact with the victim.

Prosecutors called 13 witnesses to speak about how Baird’s actions affected their lives, including the victim, her family members and a psychologist who evaluated Baird.

The victim told the court she didn’t have a normal high school experience due to Baird’s actions, and she thinks his abuse prevented her from having good grades in high school and attending college.

“I will not be the same person,” she said. “I can’t get the feeling of being scared to go away.”

The victim’s mother said “nothing will change the damage that’s been done.”

“It’s been five years and my daughter has been suffering nonstop,” the mother said, noting her daughter had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to Baird’s abuse.

Another woman, now 22, testified that Baird sent her a message when she was 17 that said he was home alone from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. At the time, the girl said she would not go to his home and said it was an inappropriate thing to ask. Jordan Baird apologized and asked her to delete the messages.

Gross asked the woman why she didn’t report the incident. She said it was because her family attended the church and she didn’t want them to stop attending.

Susan Frank, a licensed clinical psychologist who evaluated Baird, testified that Baird had an abnormal sexual attraction to late adolescents. He needs treatment and has an average to above average risk of reoffending, Frank said.

Frank said Baird groomed his victims to get them alone and take advantage of their trust.

“He was their teacher, pastor and paying them special attention,” Frank said

Baird told the court, “I am trying to change,I sincerely apologize to [the victim]. I was irresponsible and selfish. I hope this doesn’t affect your faith. It’s not the Lord’s fault, not other people’s fault, it’s my fault.”

I find it interesting that Evangelicals tell unbelievers that Jesus is the cure for what ails them, yet Jesus was unable to help Jordan Baird. What is that, I wonder?

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Joseph “Jack” Baker Accused of Sexual Assault

joseph jack baker

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.

Joseph “Jack” Baker, pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford, Michigan, stands accused sexually assaulting a child.

The Oakland Press reports:

Father Joseph “Jack” Baker, 57, is on an electronic tether following his arraignment July 8 in 29th District Court, according to the Wayne County Jail website. Judge Laura Redmond Mack assigned a $500,000 personal bond at arraignment, which doesn’t require bail to be posted.

Baker, pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford since 2008, is one of six metro Detroit priests facing sexual abuse charges as part of an ongoing investigation by the state’s attorney general’s office. He was arrested July 8 in Wayne County and is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct – sexual penetration with a person under 13 years old, multiple variables. Court records list the offense date as Feb. 1, 2004.

Baker is also a former associate pastor at St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in Bloomfield Hills and Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn, and former pastor at St. Mary Parish in Wayne. He also was administrator at St. Benedict in Waterford in 2011, campus minister at Wayne State Medical School Campus Ministry and administrator at three churches in Inkster. He was ordained in 1993.

Attorney General Dana Nessel is calling the case “just the tip of the iceberg,” and said her office is reviewing “hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and files” seized last fall from Michigan’s seven diocese.

Black Collar Crime: Mennonite Aid Worker Jeriah Mast Accused of Sex Crimes

jeriah mast

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.

Jeriah Mast, a former Mennonite aid worker for Christian Aid Ministries in Berlin, Ohio, stands accused of sexually abusing five minor boys. More charges await him in Haiti.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

Jeriah Mast, 37, of Millersburg, Ohio, was indicted Monday by a Holmes County grand jury for offenses that occurred in that county, according to the indictment. Mr. Mast turned himself in to the Holmes County jail on Tuesday evening and is being held on a bond of $250,000 cash surety, according to the jail. He is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday afternoon.

He faces seven felony charges of gross sexual imposition and seven misdemeanor counts of sexual imposition.

He is accused of sexual offenses against five different minors.

he charges of felonies are for alleged offenses against minors under 13, and the charges of misdemeanors are for alleged offenses against minors under 16. The indictment says that the offenses took place between 1999 to 2008.

A Haitian court is seeking Mr. Mast’s return to that country for him to face similar allegations. He left Haiti this spring after allegations arose of his sexually abusing minor boys over a period of years. A Haitian attorney told the Post-Gazette he represents five alleged victims of Mr. Mast.

Christian Aid Ministries of Berlin, Ohio — which is supported by various Mennonite, Amish and related groups — said in an earlier statement it “promptly discharged” Mr. Mast earlier this year when it learned of recent allegations against him in Haiti. He has not yet returned to appear before the Haitian court in the city of Petit-Goave to face the allegations.

Both Christian Aid Ministries and Mr. Mast’s church said he made confessions of sexual offenses.

The ministry placed two of its leading staff members on leave last month after its board learned that they knew as far back as 2013 that Mr. Mast had confessed to “sexual activity with young men that had taken place several years prior,” yet allowed him to remain at work for the ministry until this year.

Did you catch the fact that two Christian Aid Ministries staff members were put on leave for failing to report Mast’s predatory sexual activity with young men? Put on leave? Really? How about firing and excommunicating them for helping to facilitate the ongoing abuse of Haitian children?

Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Thomas Griffin Leaves His Wife’s Alleged Crimes in the Lord’s Hands

shannon griffin

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.

(Please see Black Collar Crime: IFB School Teacher Shannon Griffin Charged with Sexual Assault)

Yesterday, I posted a story about alleged sexual crimes of Shannon Griffin, an IFB pastor’s wife and a kindergarten teacher at Jordan Baptist School in Burbank, Illinois. Today, the Chicago Tribune reported an alleged conversation between Shannon Griffin’s husband, Thomas, and a church member by the name of Mike Mollo:

Parents at the school said they sent their children to the private school because they trusted the Griffins. Now they are feeling betrayed.

“He said, ‘Dad, you got to see this,’” parent Mike Mollo said. “He pulls his phone out, and it’s a bunch of pornographic videos of her doing things to herself.”

Mollo’s two children went to the school, and his family belonged to the church.

“The second I saw that video, the very next day, I pulled my kids out of that school, and we stopped going to church there immediately,” he said.

He said explicit images of Griffin began circulating among students. Photos were provided to CBS 2 by an adult.

Mollo said he went to police and confronted his pastor, Griffin’s husband.

“I called the pastor, and I said to him, ‘You better get in front of this.’ I said, ‘All these kids are passing videos around of your wife.’ And he said, ‘It’s not my wife. It’s not her. We’re just going to pray about it. Let the lord take care of us,’” Mollo said.

Mollo said he feels beyond betrayed by what happened.

“You pay that kind of money to send your kids to a school to where you can trust these people, and they go and do this?” he said. “Betrayed is an understatement. Violated, betrayed, angry. There’s no words to describe what I was feeling.”

Note carefully Thomas Griffin’s response to Mollo:  “It’s not my wife. It’s not her. We’re just going to pray about it. Let the Lord take care of us.”

First, Pastor Griffin lied. He and his wife have been married for twenty-eight years. I am sure, by now, he knows what his wife looks like naked, and otherwise.

Second, clergy in the state of Illinois are mandated reporters, as are school teachers. Pastor Griffin was legally obligated to immediately report his wife to law enforcement. So were any school officials who heard rumors or knew about Shannon Griffin’s sexual misconduct. Sometimes, doing the right thing is hard, but Pastor Griffin had a duty to protect church and school children from his wife’s predatory behavior.

Third, it is absurd that Pastor Griffin, instead of doing what was legally and morally required of him, wanted to pray about the matter and leave it in the Lord’s hands. This is exactly what more than a few IFB preachers are known for: covering up criminal behavior. Griffin is a graduate of the late Jack Hyles’ college, Hyles-Anderson College. I can’t help but see a connection between Pastor Griffin’s response and the pernicious teachings of Hyles.

Pastor Griffin just wants to put his wife’s misconduct in the Lord’s hands. Sadly, Jesus has never, ever called law enforcement to report one of his children. Instead, he forgives their “sin” and wipes their slate clean. This is why sexual abuse allegations CANNOT be left in the hands of pastors and churches to investigate and control. In IFB churches, in particular, protecting the testimony of the church is far more important than protecting and caring for those who have been victimized by pastors and congregants alike. Cover-ups abound.

Fourth, how is it that Pastor Griffin has not, at the very least, been suspended or put on leave? His comments reveal that he does not have the best interests of the church and the school at heart. (And at some level, I understand his desire to protect his wife and their three children.) According to several news reports, Shannon Griffin was doing at least some of the things she is accused of for six years! Six years! Jordan Baptist Church is not a huge church, attendance-wise, and the school only had a hundred or so students. I find it hard to believe that no one heard any rumors about Mrs. Griffin’s alleged criminal behavior over the past six years.

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out. The overwhelming majority of Black Collar Crimes series stories feature male perpetrators. When it comes to female wrongdoers, there’s often a double standard. An adult male teacher has sex with a teenage student and it’s rape. Let a female teacher do the same with a teen boy, and it is considered every boys’ wet dream.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Worker Heather Matuszek Charged with Molesting Teen Girl

heather matuszek

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.

Heather Matuszek, a former youth worker at Clearwater Community Church in Dunedin, Florida and a Chick-fil-A franchisee, has been charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious molestation.

Fox-13 reports:

Detectives arrested and charged Heather Matuszek, 32, of Dunedin, with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. They say Matuszek has admitted to two occasions of the alleged abuse, which the victim said happened in 2014 when Matuszek was a youth leader at Clearwater Community Church.

The incidents happened outside of the church setting, investigators said, adding contact between leaders and youths outside of the church is not uncommon.

According to her victim, who was 15 years old at the time, Matuszek, then 28, slept in the victim’s bed two separate nights.

The victim reported Matuszek kissed her face and rubbed her arms, body, and breast area, over her clothing.

The victim also said there were other incidents involving Matuszek outside of Pinellas County, which the sheriff’s office said are being investigated by the relevant agencies.

Detectives say Matuszek no longer attends Clearwater Community Church, however, there may be other victims who go to the church.

Clearwater Community Church pastor Josh Kee released the following statement:

We are greatly concerned for the victim and her family and the impact this has had on them and our church community. We are committed to ensuring that the children and youth who participate in our ministries are protected and nurtured. Our priority at this time is to support and care for the victim and her family and we will do all that is necessary to support any resulting investigation.