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Tag: Assemblies of God

Black Collar Crime: Hope Church of the Assemblies of God Faces Civil Suit Over Sexual Abuse Claims

civil lawsuit

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.

Six men have filed a civil lawsuit against Hope Church of the Assemblies of God in Albany, Oregon, alleging that church youth leaders sexually molested them in the 1980s.

The Corvallis Gazette-Times reports:

The lead pastor at Albany First Assembly church wrote a letter to church members on Saturday, informing them of a lawsuit filed against the church by six men who say they were sexually abused as children by church youth leaders.

“As a church with a rich history in and reputation for valuing, caring for and serving all people, we are deeply saddened by any mistreatment of anyone, but especially of those who are most vulnerable among us,” Frank Silverii stated in the letter. “Therefore, we commit ourselves to pray for the plaintiffs that they will receive the healing, hope and restoration that is needed.”

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Five of the plaintiffs are represented by their initials in the suit. The sixth plaintiff is listed as Anthony Burwell. The defendants are the First Assembly of God of Albany, Assemblies of God Oregon District and the General Council of the Assemblies of God.

First Assembly church in Albany rebranded last year as Hope Church.

The plaintiffs assert that two leaders of a church youth program sexually abused them in the 1980s. According to the complaint, Ralph Wade Gantt and Todd Clark were leaders in the church-sponsored Royal Rangers, an educational and recreational program for boys similar to Boy Scouts. The lawsuit alleges Gantt and Clark abused their position of leadership, trust and respect to repeatedly sexually abuse the six plaintiffs when they were as young as 10 years old.

Gantt and Clark were criminally convicted in 1988 for sexually abusing several boys, one of whom is a plaintiff in the current lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the church and its governing organizations failed to investigate and let police know when a boy in 1984 reported Clark had sexually abused him.

Silverii stated in his letter that the church “moved away from the Royal Ranger program back in 2011.”


Silverii states that after a lawsuit was settled in 1991 regarding abuse by Gantt and Clark, the church used media outlets to seek other victims who were abused by Royal Ranger volunteers.

“No one else stepped forward until 2016, which was another lawsuit alleging abuse from the 1980s, and again today (27 years later),” Silverii wrote.

The Dumas Law Group, which is representing the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit, filed suit against the Albany First Assembly church in 2016 on behalf of a separate plaintiff who alleged abuse by Clark and Gantt. That lawsuit was recently resolved with a confidential settlement, said Gilion Dumas.

She said the delay in pursuing a civil lawsuit is common with abuse victims.

“As a result of the trauma caused by childhood sexual abuse, very few sexual abuse survivors — especially male survivors — ever report what happened to them,” Dumas said. “It can be years and even decades before those who do report come forward to do something.”

The church sent the following letter to its members:

Dear Family and Friends of Hope Church,

I am making you aware of a lawsuit that has been filed against our church, the Oregon Ministry Network (Oregon Assemblies of God) and the Assemblies of God national office. We were made aware that a lawsuit had been filed via a forwarded email on Friday afternoon (February 23, 2018). To date (February 24, 2018), and to the best of our knowledge, the church has not yet been served.

What we know: There are six Plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse, five of which, are unidentified. The Plaintiffs allege the abuse took place between 1980 and 1986, at the home of two Royal Ranger volunteers that were part of our church at that time, and at state-wide event (32-38 years ago). Royal Rangers is an all-boys program similar to Boy Scouts only with a greater emphasis on the Bible and spirituality. As a side note, Hope Church moved away from the Royal Ranger program back in 2011.

Our current Kids Small Groups program (KSG), involves boys and girls, and is structured in group settings with multiple leaders. Extracurricular activities (e.g., sleepovers etc.) are hosted on the church campus or at retreat settings and not at an individual’s home. In addition, every person who serves around minors is required to go through a FBI background check and training in child safety. The protection of our kids is paramount to God and to us.

Also, it is important to note that we are incredibly proud of all those who currently lead and work with our children and youth, and extremely confident in the level of care and safety these ministries provide. The current claims reference a previous lawsuit that was litigated and settled back in 1991 (27 years ago), at which time the perpetrators were convicted and sentenced for their crimes. In addition, our church put out a plea in 1991 through available media outlets asking for all others to please step forward if they too, were violated in anyway by the Royal Ranger volunteers. No one else stepped forward until 2016, which was another lawsuit alleging abuse from the 1980s, and again today (27 years later).

As a church with a rich history in and reputation for valuing, caring for and serving all people, we are deeply saddened by any mistreatment of anyone, but especially of those who are most vulnerable among us. Therefore, we commit ourselves to pray for the Plaintiffs that they will receive the healing, hope and restoration that is needed.

[This letter was fine until this point. The church’s pastor decided to paint some faux gold on a stinking, foul turd.]

Over the years and in recent weeks Hope Church has witnessed the beauty and power of Jesus and His Gospel people freed from their past wounds, experiencing a renewed purpose for living and a promised home in heaven one day. This is why the Gospel is such good news! And, this is why we do what we do as a church. We are extremely proud of our Hope Church family as they continue to serve Jesus by serving others  throughout our community and valley. Furthermore, we are excited about the future God has for us.

Please continue to pray for the Plaintiffs, the Hope Church family and the lawsuit; that it will be swiftly and satisfactorily settled for all involved.
Please direct any additional questions to the Lead Pastor’s office. Thank you.

Grace & Peace,
Pastor Frank Silverii
Lead Pastor
Hope Church

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Gregorio Martinez Convicted of Molesting Teenager

gregorio martinez

In February 2015, Evangelical pastor Gregorio Martinez was convicted of “aggravated criminal sexual contact, child abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.” Free on bond, Martinez fled the country, and a year later he was arrested in Honduras and returned to the United States for sentencing. Martinez was a deacon at Third Bethesda Pentecostal Church in Union City at the time he committed his crimes, and was co-pastor of Elohim Church in North Bergen when he was convicted. [That’s right, a church actually made Martinez pastor while he was on trial for criminal sexual contact, child abuse, and endangering the welfare of a child.]

NJ Advance Media reported in August 2016:

An evangelical preacher who has been on the run since a jury convicted him last year of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy has been arrested in Central America, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office said Sunday.

Gregorio Martinez, whose flight from justice was chronicled in a special report by NJ Advance Media this spring, was detained in Danli, Honduras, on Tuesday, Prosecutor Esther Suarez said in a statement.

Few details were immediately available, but Suarez said Honduran police made the arrest. The U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI had been involved in the hunt for Martinez. It was not clear if representatives of either agency were present when the fugitive was detained.

In February of last year, a jury took less than 30 minutes to convict Martinez of aggravated criminal sexual contact, child abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. Free on $250,000 bail, the Jersey City resident failed to appear for a pre-sentencing review weeks later.

During the trial, Martinez was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old man. After his conviction, authorities charged him with sex crimes against two other men, also 19. Martinez knew the 13-year-old boy and the three alleged victims through churches in Hudson County.

“This was a tremendous effort by our dedicated detectives and prosecutors, who persisted with this case by following a money trail until Gregorio Martinez was detained Tuesday night in Honduras,” Suarez said. “This investigation involved the teamwork of several law enforcement partners and we are appreciative of the tenacious effort and dedication which led to his apprehension.”

The prosecutor said her office would be “exploring all options” to return Martinez to New Jersey, where he would face sentencing for the molestation conviction and stand trial on the charges related to the three other teens.

NJ Advance Media had traced Martinez this spring to Esteli, Nicaragua, where he had been living in a church compound. He is now accused by a parishioner of molesting a teenage boy there as well.

The news organization’s report kick-started the stalled criminal investigation, leading authorities to renew their search.

Martinez, a native of the Dominican Republic, had jumped from church to church in Hudson County’s Latino Pentecostal community. At the time of the sexual assault, he was a deacon at Third Bethesda Pentecostal Church in Union City.

He later served as co-pastor of Elohim Christian Church in Jersey City. Martinez’s father, Arturo, now serves as pastor there.

Two of Martinez’s close friends, a mother and son, knew the preacher was in Nicaragua but did not tell authorities. Jersey City residents Paula Martinez and Kelvin Martinez, who are not related to Gregorio Martinez, attended a lavish birthday party for the fugitive in Esteli last November, according to people who were present.


The pastor of the church where Martinez had been staying in Nicaragua said he was unaware of the man’s past and that he had received a letter of recommendation for Martinez from a New Jersey pastor associated with the Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination.

That pastor, Verardo Acosta, acknowledged writing the letter after Martinez’s conviction but said he did not know about the criminal case.


In December 2016, NJ Advance Media reported:

The last time Gregorio Martinez stepped foot in a Hudson County courtroom, a jury pronounced him guilty of molesting a 13-year-old boy.


On Friday, 22 months after he vanished, the former Jersey City resident finally returned to a Hudson County courtroom, this time in handcuffs.

Superior Court Judge John A. Young Jr. ordered Martinez, 49, held without bail in connection with the February 2015 conviction on charges of aggravated criminal sexual contact, child abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

Additionally, Young set bail at a combined $1 million cash on other counts alleging Martinez sexually assaulted three other people, all 19-year-old men he had met through churches in Hudson County.

“It’s obvious Mr. Martinez, but for the extraordinary effort of law enforcement to secure his return, had no intention of coming back,” Young said. “If given the opportunity, he would again leave.”


In court, Assistant Prosecutor Linda Claude-Oben described Martinez’s extraordinary efforts to avoid capture, hopscotching from one Central American nation to the next.

When Honduran authorities detained him in the town of Danli, near the country’s southern border with Nicaragua, all 10 of his fingertips were bloody and bandaged, suggesting he intentionally tried to obliterate his fingerprints, Claude-Oben said.


In a brief press conference after the hearing, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said her office, in conjunction with federal authorities, worked tirelessly to find Martinez, who has connections throughout Latin America because of previous evangelical missions.

She also credited NJ Advance Media, which reported in May that Martinez had been hiding in the city of Esteli, Nicaragua. The fugitive, with help from a New Jersey pastor, had secured a position at a church there.

Two reporters traveled to Esteli in late February but missed Martinez by little more than two weeks, according to residents of the community. It’s unclear if he went directly to Honduras.

Martinez had been living in a church compound affiliated with the Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination. Members of the congregation called him a charismatic figure who regularly preached at religious festivals and churches across the city, inspiring the faithful with spirited sing-song messages about heaven and hell.

He claimed he could cure illness and cast out demons. On many occasions, he spoke in tongues.

Today, Martinez’s sentencing was postponed until Monday. The Jersey Journal reports:

The sentencing of a North Hudson preacher and self-proclaimed exorcist who disappeared into Central America after being convicted of groping a 13-year-old boy was postponed Friday morning and rescheduled for next Monday.

On Feb. 25, 2015, Gregorio Martinez, of Jersey City, was found guilty of touching the 13-year-old’s genital area and kissing him on the lips inside a minivan in a North Bergen parking lot on June 10, 2012.


Hudson TV adds: (link no longer active)

At least three others were also sexually assaulted by the 49-year-old.

Though Martinez was offered a 10-year sentence for pleading guilty to sexual assault in 2009 of a now-19-year-old man, he rejected the state’s plea offer in May.

Allegedly, the incidents took place at church events, even prayer services.

ABC News reports that Martinez faces five more years in jail for bail jumping.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Juan Rocha Burns Woman to Death

pastor juan rochaAssemblies of God pastor Juan Rocha stands accused of starving, beating, and burning a woman to death because he believed she was possessed by the devil.

The Telegraph reports:

A Nicaraguan woman who was burned to death in an exorcism that caused worldwide shock was starved and beaten in the week before her killing, witnesses told a court on Wednesday.

Evangelical pastor Juan Rocha and four followers are accused of murdering Vilma Trujillo, a 25-year-old mother of two, because they believed she was possessed by the devil.

On the second day of their trial, which is being carried live on Nicaraguan television, Trujillo’s relatives told the court how Rocha had his followers bound her, beat her, and refused her food, water and visitors.

“He told us not to feel any love for her, because that was just the devil, that she had to be burned until only her head was left,” the victim’s cousin Roberto Trujillo told the court in the capital, Managua.

“They wouldn’t let me near her. Pastor Juan Rocha told us not to pay any attention to her because she was possessed by a demon,” said her sister Marlene, who told the court of seeing Trujillo tied to a hammock.

Trujillo was killed in a grisly week-long rite from February 15 to 21 in the isolated village of El Cortezal in northeastern Nicaragua.

Witnesses said she was stripped naked and thrown on a pile of wood that was set alight.

Rocha has reportedly denied that version, saying the woman herself leaped at the fire and was suspended aloft by a malign spirit in her.

Trujillo’s father said Rocha had forbidden him to see his daughter during the ritual.

When he and her cousin went to get her in the small chapel where she was kept, they found her naked and horribly burned after five hours over the fire, they said.

May 2,2017, Rocha and four church members were found guilty of homicide. The Oklahoman reports:

An evangelical pastor and four of his congregants have been found guilty in the death of a 25-year-old woman who was thrown into a fire to drive “demons” from her body.

In a decision handed down late Tuesday, a five-member jury found pastor Juan Gregorio Rocha Romero and the other four guilty of homicide in the death of Vilma Trujillo Garcia. She suffered burns over 80 percent of her body before dying in February.

Judge Alfredo Silva Chamorro noted there were aggravating circumstances, because the woman was tied to a tree trunk and left in the fire for five hours.

Sentencing has been set for May 9. Prosecutors are seeking sentences of up to 36 years in prison, although Nicaragua’s maximum sentence is 30 years.

Rocha Romero had denied wrongdoing, telling the newspaper La Prensa that the woman fell into the fire without anyone pushing her and a demon exited her body





Bruce Gerencser