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Tag: Black Collar Crime

Black Collar Crime: Primitive Baptist Pastor Benjamin “Gus” Harter Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

benjamin gus harter

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 2019, Benjamin “Gus” Harter, pastor of Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia, was accused of repeatedly sexually molesting a girl under the age of sixteen. He was later accused of molesting other girls.

11-Alive reported at the time:

An arrest warrant details how Harter is charged with molesting a girl under the age of 16, touching her inappropriately as she lay in his bed on multiple occasions across at least three years, from 2012 to 2015.

Harter was arrested on Friday, and is being held without bond.

….

Church officials confirmed parts of a winding, expansive biography: Harter and his wife joined religious communities in Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Texas and even as far away as the Philippines.

They have five adult children in addition their adopted children and more than 20 grandchildren.

Before joining Ebenezer Primitive, Harter worked at several other churches in the Southeast, and most notably spent three decades with Bethany Primitive Baptist Church in Suwanee until 2000.

At that time, Harter left the church and moved with his wife to the Philippines.

While there, he led two churches and helped build many more. He and his wife also built an orphanage. They returned to the U.S. in 2008.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

Benjamin “Gus” Harter, 80, had served as pastor of Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church in Sandy Springs since 2014, according to the church’s website. But Tuesday afternoon, tape covered Harter’s name on the sign outside the historic church. And Tuesday evening, an associate pastor said Harter was no longer pastor nor a member of the church.

Harter has led two churches and helped build dozens of others here and in the Philippines, where he and his wife built an orphanage. The Harters also adopted 19 children from the Asian country, according to his church biography, adding to their already large family.

….

Harter previously served as pastor of Bethany Primitive Baptist Church, now located in Suwanee, for nearly three decades beginning in November 1971. In the mid-1990s, Harter and his wife began traveling to the Philippines regularly to work with churches there.

He later resigned from Bethany church in May 2000 and moved with his family to the Philippines for several years, according to the Ebenezer Primitive Baptist website. In the Philippines, the Harters built an orphanage before returning to the U.S. in 2008. The couple adopted 19 children over the years, bringing them back to their home.

“For over 7 years, Gus traveled, taught, and served the fast growing primitive baptist congregations of the Philippines,” the church’s website states. “In that time he participated in the formation of over 100 new congregations and helped constitute over 60 as churches.”

After Harter and his family returned to the U.S., he served several months as co-pastor of a Texas church before returning to Atlanta and Bethany. He led the church through a move from Tucker to Suwanee.

In a 2012 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the pastor explained that the word primitive means original.

“We worship like they did when they came over from England. We’re very fundamental, and not charismatic,”Harter said. “The closest to us theologically is a reformed Presbyterian church.”

A Florida native, Harter completed undergraduate studies at Southeastern Bible College in Alabama, where he began serving as pastor of a small Methodist church, the AJC previously reported. He continued his education at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where he first attended a Primitive Baptist church. Harter served as a pastor in Kentucky for two years and in Florida for seven years before moving to the Atlanta area.

In October 2019, 11-Alive reported on the additional charges levied against Harter:

A pastor already accused of molesting a girl under the age of 16 multiple times is now facing more charges of sex crimes involving minors, bringing the total number to three. 

Last month, Benjamin “Gus” Harter, 80, was arrested for one count of child molestation – accused of touching the 16-year-old inappropriately as she lay in his bed on multiple occasions across at least three years, from 2012 to 2015.

Now, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office confirms two new charges of child molestation – one for each new alleged victim. The allegations, officials said, are similar to the previous one and happened within Forsyth County. Harter resides in Cumming, Georgia in Forsyth County.

In 2014, Reporter Newspapers reported on Harter coming to Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church:

I came here to make this historic church work,” he[Harter] said. “I don’t want to see it die.”

Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church has fallen on hard times. First established in 1829, it sits on the corner of Roberts and Spalding Drives. But whereas it had over 1,000 people attend service in 1928, its membership dropped to an all-time low this spring.

“When I came, Edward Cagle [the previous pastor] was the only active member of the church,” Harter said. “But 27 people joined with me so we’ve got a basic start.”

Patsy Froy is one of the members who moved with Harter from Bethany Primitive Baptist Church to Ebenezer. “I’ve known him my whole life, basically,” she said. “He’s been there for funerals, babies being born, weddings. He’s a very influential person in my life.”

Harter plans on renovating the church as his first order of business. The current brick building stands across the street from the original church, which Harter said was taken apart by Union soldiers during the Civil War. The building as it is now is the church’s fourth reconstruction.

“I want to dress it up, but I don’t want to lose the antiquity of it,” said Harter. “It’s a beautiful church.”

He thinks that this beauty alone, coupled with the improvements, will help attract new members. But Harter also believes that the church offers something different.

“We are not contemporary, but we are unique,” he said. “Every service has 30 minutes of a capella singing, and about 45 minutes to an hour of expository preaching. And we have a potluck lunch after church.”

Primitive Baptists are known for the simplicity of their worship. No musical instruments are allowed in church, so members engage in Sacred Harp singing, a tradition where singers use their voices as instruments in four-part harmony. There are also no divisions by age or gender. This means that children attend services and are encouraged to participate in all activities.

Earlier this week, Harter pleaded guilty to three counts of child molestation. The good pastor was sentenced to twenty years — five years in prison and fifteen years on sex offender probation.

11-Alive reports:

An 81-year-old man who was a pastor at churches in metro Atlanta and around the world is now facing the next five years in prison after admitting to child molestation charges.

According to the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office, Benjamin Harter of Cumming, pleaded guilty of three counts of child molestation and was sentenced to 20 years — five years in prison with the remainder on sex offender probation.

It seems likely that Pastor Harter has a long track record of sexually molesting children. Ever the Calvinist, I suppose Harter can say that his predatory behavor was decreed by the sovereign God of John Calvin.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Black Collar Crime: IFB School Teacher David Beckner Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to Prison

david beckner

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 2019, David Beckner, a former teacher at Gaylord Grace Baptist Christian School in Gaylord, Michigan, was arrested and charged with sexually abusing a female student. The Gaylord Herald Times reported at the time:

David Beckner, 51, of West Virginia was arraigned Thursday afternoon in 87th District Court on eight criminal sexual conduct charges for allegedly abusing a teen girl in 2006 and 2007 in Otsego County.

Brendan Curran, Otsego County prosecutor, said the official complaint by Michigan State Police was filed June 13 for sex offenses committed upon a teen in Otsego County.

“I have charged David Wayne Beckner (presently residing in West Virginia) with seven counts of CSC 3rd degree and one count of CSC 4th degree, for seven sexual penetrations and one touching of a minor child who was a student of Beckner’s at the time their relationship began,” Curran said in an email.

According to a Michigan State Police news release Thursday evening, Beckner resides in Morgantown, West Virginia, and turned himself in Thursday. The release also said Beckner worked for the Grace Baptist Church from September 2004 until June 2007 before moving out of state.

….

Brianna Kenyon, a former Grace Baptist student, alleges that Beckner abused her as a minor and has publicly shared her story.

“When I grew up in that church, we’re all so isolated from the real world that I always thought I was the only one in the world, let alone in my church, that had ever had anything sexual happen to them. I was so alone for years and years; it wasn’t until I was (into adulthood) that I realized it actually happens a lot.”

Kenyon, 29, said she reported Beckner years ago for criminal sexual conduct to police and to the school’s pastor, Jon Jenkins, in 2011.

In an email, Jenkins said, it would be “a favorable outcome if justice can be achieved for Brianna.” He said, “Grace Baptist Church has always, and continues to stand in favor of justice for the victim.”

Previous Herald Times Freedom of Information Act requests returned no reports from the pastor or church to police of the alleged abuse.

Kenyon said the prosecutor at that time opted to not pursue the case and it was dropped.

….

Early this year, Ruthy Nordgren, now an adult, shared her story with the Herald Times and others publicly.
Nordgren is also a former Grace Baptist student and teacher Aaron Willand was convicted in 2016 of abusing her in Washington state.

Nordgren said she is also pursuing charges in Otsego County for abuse that she said happened when she was a student.

“And when Ruthy messaged me (about sharing publicly in the news), I thought, what could it hurt,” Kenyon said. “I couldn’t really get any justice for myself, and I figured if someone could be helped by my story and (they can see) here’s a girl that survived, and I do live a normal life and I do treat others well and I didn’t use this as a reason to be another monster.”

Grace Baptist Church is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation.

According to the Gaylord Herald Times:

Beckner joins the growing list of people with ties to Grace Baptist Church and school who have been convicted or accused of sexually abusing minors in the last 17 years. Another teacher, a bus driver, youth conference guest speaker and former congregation members are among those already convicted or facing criminal sexual conduct charges.

Despite all of this, Jon Jenkins remains the pastor of Grace Baptist. Last May, Jenkins celebrated his thirty-third anniversary at the church. He has “much” to be grateful for. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

Since the original story on David Beckner, Beckner has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10-15 years in prison.

9&10 News reports:

David Beckner was sentenced to 10 to 15 years behind bars for the third-degree sex crimes.

State police say it happened in 2006 while the victim was a 16- or 17-year-old student at Grace Baptist in Gaylord.

State police initially investigated the case in 2013, but the former Otsego County prosecutor did not file charges.

12-WBOY adds:

According to the Otsego County Prosecutor’s Office, David Beckner, 51, of Morgantown, had previously pleaded guilty to three of seven charges of sexual misconduct against a girl whom Beckner had contact with while she was his student.

Despite the charges coming from Michigan, Beckner was allowed to remain in his Morgantown home during the trial process on “liberty at bond” due to “medical issues,” rather than being remanded to Michigan, according to the prosecutor’s office.

….

During the sentencing, the victim in Beckner’s case took time to speak, and the judge took her words into consideration when he made his sentencing decision. The prosecutor’s office said the charges Beckner received usually bring a 5-year minimum sentence, but Judge George J. Metz gave Beckner a 10-year minimum sentence, instead.

After giving the sentence, Metz said, “There are various reasons for prison sentences: punishment, deterrence, protection of society and rehabilitation. In this case, only the first three apply,” according to the prosecutor’s office.

And Jon Jenkins? Well, he packed up his roadshow and moved to North Carolina to become the new pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Clayton. If you are unfamiliar with what has gone on at Grace Baptist under Jon Jenkins’ watch, please read the Aaron Willand story.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Willie Forrest Accused of Sexually Molesting Children

pastor willie forrest

Willie Forrest, pastor of Springhill Pope Missionary Baptist Church in Pope, Mississippi, stands accused of sexually molesting several children on his church’s property.

WLBT-3 reports:

Willie Forrest is pastor of Springhill Pope Missionary Baptist in Panola County.

Church members tell us they are shocked by the allegations. They say they haven’t heard any rumors or talk about sexual impropriety at the church.

“It’s very shocking,” said Minnie Doyle, church member.

Forrest has served as pastor at the church for 14 years.

“He had a great church,” said Doyle. “You’d never think anything like that was going on.”

Forrest is charged with three counts of molesting children under the age of 15.

District Attorney John Champion said the alleged crimes happened at the church and Forrest’s home in Coldwater where he was arrested Monday.

….

Springhill Pope Missionary Baptist Church is on a hill in the main part of the community of Pope, which has a population of about 200 people.

The church is close to an elementary school.

“I don’t like it,” said Pope resident Caroline Reddick. “It is too close to the school, and how long has it been going on? How long has he been there? That’s what I’m saying. That’s very bad.”

Word of Forrest’s arrest has spread around Pope. One woman in a convenience store said she was shocked. She said she didn’t know the pastor personally but he would visit the store occasionally and he seemed nice.

“He seemed nice.” “He had a great church.” People are shocked when they hear that a local pastor — perhaps their pastor — is accused of sex crimes. It’s as if pastors are morally superior to everyone else, pillars of moral virtue. This naivety is what allows predatory preachers to commit heinous crimes, often for years. If the Black Collar Crime series teaches us anything, it is this: pastors are not, in any way, more or less moral than the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Blind trust in church leaders by congregants and community members allows predators to cause incalculable harm to others. Until congregants start paying close attention to the behavior of church leaders, this kind of stuff will continue to happen. Forrest may be a “nice” man, a wonderful pastor of a “great” church, but according to news stories, he is also a sexual predator.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Black Collar Crime: Findlay Catholic Priest Michael Zacharias Accused of Sexually Assaulting Minors

Michael Zacharias

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.

Michael Zacharias, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay Ohio, stands accused of grooming and sexually assaulting minors for years. (I attended high school in Findlay in the 1970s. Several of my friends attended St. Michael’s.)

The Toledo Blade reports:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday arrested the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, alleging that he groomed and sexually assaulted minors for years, beginning in Toledo.

Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith said the Rev. Michael Zacharias, 53, is believed to have groomed and sexually assaulted minors since the late 1990s.

The Northwest Ohio Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force took the priest into custody after he presided at a 7 a.m. Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Parish. Father Zacharias faces charges of coercion and enticement, sex trafficking of a minor, and sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion, according to court documents.

….

Agent Smith addressed the media at a morning news conference outside the priest’s residence on Greendale Avenue in Findlay, which abuts the parking lot of the parish grounds. He said the criminal complaint filed against the priest includes accounts from two victims, but his department believes there have been others.

….

“It’s imperative that those other individuals out there come forward,” he said on Tuesday. “Your contact with us will remain strictly confidential.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo announced that Father Zacharias was put on administrative leave effective immediately upon hearing word of his arrest. This means he cannot exercise public ministry, administer sacraments, or present himself as a priest. Administrative leave is a precautionary measure while an allegation is being investigated.

Bishop Daniel Thomas responded in a statement:

“I am profoundly shocked and grieved to learn of these charges against one of our priests,” he said. “The Church cannot and will not tolerate any such behavior and takes any sexual abuse or misconduct on the part of a cleric with the utmost seriousness. As we await the outcome of the criminal investigation, our prayers go out to anyone affected by this situation.”

The diocese indicated that these are the first allegations raised against Father Zacharias.

Father Zacharias was ordained in 2002, according to the diocese.

He is most recently the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel in Findlay since 2017. The parish serves about 3,300 households, and is affiliated with St. Michael the Archangel School, which covers preschool through eighth grade.

The diocese identified his previous assignments as St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo as a seminarian between 1999 and 2000; St. Peter Parish in Mansfield, Ohio as an associate pastor between 2002 and 2007; St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Van Wert as pastor between 2007 and 2011; St. Joseph and St. Ann Parishes in Fremont as pastor between 2011 and 2017; and St. Michael the Archangel in Findlay since 2017.

Investigators allege in court records that he began to groom two male victims, currently ages 32 and 26, while he was a seminarian and they were students at St. Catherine of Siena. One met Father Zacharias in the sixth grade, the other in the first grade, according to the complaint.

Each described to agents drug addictions that began in their teen years, and alleged that the priest would help fund their drug habits by paying them for oral sex. This began while they were underage and, in the case of one of the victims, continued until as recently as July.

The complaint indicates that these exchanges occurred at times in parish rectories, including Father Zacharias’ diocese-owned residence in Findlay.

The complaint also indicates that in the case of the victim with whom he was in touch as recently as July, Father Zacharias would request and at times pay for videos in which he performed sex acts on the victim and in which he confessed to grooming the victim. The complaint references multiple text messages between the victim and the priest.

….

Father Zacharias was one of several ordinands who spoke with The Blade in 2002, reflecting on their vocations amid seismic revelations of widespread clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as reported by the Boston Globe.

Then-Deacon Zacharias said that his cohort of priests would bring with them an understanding of sexuality as a part of who they are.

“In the past I don’t want to say they denied it, but it seems as though they were told, ‘You’re going to be a priest, you’re going to be celibate,’” he told The Blade then. By contrast, he said contemporary seminarians were taught to have healthy and appropriate relationships.

Findlay Mayor Christina Muryn responded to the news in a statement on Tuesday.

“I am distraught by the news of the arrest of Father Michael Zacharias,” she said. “These allegations are not taken lightly, and the Findlay Police Department and our community at large will support the full and thorough investigation by the FBI. Such abuse of power, and perversion of sexuality is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by any organization, individual, or society.”

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Stricjavvar “Strick” Strickland Charged with Sex Crimes

Pastor Stricjavvar Strick Strickland

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.

Stricjavvar “Strick” Strickland, pastor of Second Baptist Church (website not active) in Kalamazoo, Michigan stands accused of sexually assaulting four teenboys, paying them to have sex with his wife while he watched.

Strickland faces two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct on a student, another on a person age 13-15 and another by force or coercion. The good pastor also faces four counts of human trafficking of a minor for commercial sexual activity and three counts of child sexually abusive activity.

MLive reports:

A Kalamazoo pastor accused of sexually assaulting four male victims between the ages of 15 and 17 is said to have paid the children to have sex with his wife while he watched.

The Rev. Stricjavvar “Strick” Strickland, of Kalamazoo’s Second Baptist Church, has been charged with 11 felonies connected to alleged incidents spanning from Aug. 1, 2015- Aug. 31, 2018, according to a probable cause affidavit filed last week in Kalamazoo County District Court.

….

A warrant for Strickland’s arrest was issued Aug. 21. As of Tuesday, Aug. 25, the pastor was yet to turn himself in. His attorney, Michael Hills, told MLive early Tuesday, that the two were making arrangements for the pastor to turn himself in.

….

“It has been two years since these allegations first came forward and Pastor Strickland has remained in contact and available. He is not running from this,” Hills said. “Pastor Strickland remains ready to turn himself in and deal with these charges accordingly.”

….

If convicted, the pastor faces a potential penalty of 15 years in prison on each of the first four charges, and 20 years on each of the other seven charges, according to his warrant.

….

In a bond recommendation, filed with the court along with the arrest affidavit, Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Christin J. Mehrtens-Carlin recommends the court not allow the pastor to have any contact with the four alleged victims, his wife Jazmonique Strickland, or anyone under the age of 18.

“Per the reports, the defendant and his wife would use their employment at Phoenix High School (in Kalamazoo) and to some extent, the defendant would use his work as a pastor, to find male teens to engage in sexual activity with the wife, while the defendant watched and masturbated,” Mehrtens-Carlin writes in her bond recommendation.

Pastor Strickland calls the charges against him “absolutely preposterous.” Strickland added, “All I can say for now is that we are prepared for this fight. God will prevail.”

It is doubtful that God will show up on the scene to deliver Pastor Strickland from his predicament. Hopefully, justice will prevail. Kudos to Michigan state police and prosecutors for not letting Strickland’s notoriety stand in the way of seeking criminal charges against him.

According to an archived bio page for Strickland:

Pastor Strick Strickland succeeds Rev. Matthew W. Wright as pastor of Second Baptist Church and was elected January 22, 2012. Strickland has been preaching since age 19, a year after he got saved. He says that although he grew up in the church in Warren Hill, Mississippi, he didn’t really accept Christ until age 18. Apart of what helped him make his decision in the end was seeing his peers struggle on the streets where he grew up. In fact, he mentions that he had strayed away from church for a while. He got into trouble and landed in an alternative school. However, even there he excelled academically and tested in the top 5 percentile of students across the nation. He was in a gang and was labeled “Expected to fail”. Thus, Pastor Strickland’s story is one of how God is still a God of miracles, even today.

When asked how he knew he was called to preach, he replied, “Because it was the last thing I wanted to do”. He says that it was not only that he didn’t want to preach, but it was also that he didn’t relish the lifestyle of a preacher.

Prior to accepting the position as Pastor at Second Baptist Church, Pastor Strickland pastored at Pen Oak Missionary Baptist Church from 2005-2008, then went on to lead Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Collins, Mississippi. Second Baptist Church and the city of Kalamazoo hopes this is the beginning of a long stay at Second Baptist. Prior to accepting the position as Pastor at Second Baptist Church, Pastor Strickland pastored at Pen Oak Missionary Baptist Church from 2005-2008, then went on to lead Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Collins, Mississippi. Second Baptist Church and the city of Kalamazoo hopes this is the beginning of a long stay at Second Baptist.

Pastor Strickland is also a national recording artist and the lead singer for a group called the True Believers. We hope that through his preaching and singing many souls will be won for the Kingdom of God. Since his election at Second Baptist Church, he has been involved in the Spiritual Awakening Services at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the Jump Start Revival at his church, and spoke on 95.5 FM radio. As a young pastor, this is an example other young people that want to become pastors, ministers, singers or entrepreneurs can learn from.

Pastor Strickland relocated to Michigan, while most of his family lives in Mississippi where he was raised by his grandmother as an only child. His grandmother was a spiritually-oriented woman who helped him with his homework every night. He was in junior high school when he found out that his grandmother could not read or write. The way Strickland learned, however was heeding her advice to “sound out the words”. His mother Ida M. Turner resides in Joliet, Illinois along with his uncle, aunt, and a host of other relatives. Strickland says he is excited to be closer to his mother as he is her only child and she is his biggest fan.

An August 2018 WWMT-3 news report alleged that Strickland had a sexual relationship Aniya Mack. Mack was later murdered by her boyfriend, Donnovan Lewis. Strickland released the following statement, denying the allegations against him:

All of the things that I am being Accused of are ministry related!

1. Second Baptist under my leadership has helped more than 30 families with transportation barriers Aniya’s situation was no different.

2. We have shared thousands of dollars of resources to help members with rent, utilities, food…

3. The All Expenses Paid trip was a choir trip with 50 other people. This trip was also all expenses paid for all College Students of which there was 6-8 more! Who all shared rooms together. My family wife and kids where with us…

lastly, this is an attempt to discredit the church, the NAACP, and the black leader. However, I’m not running from this story. I am rather trying to be sensitive to the source of your information (A young man I don’t know at all. Who has killed his ex-girlfriend and is declaring himself insane!) his family deserves peace and my response to the propaganda will only disrupt their peace!

Ultimately and finally, I have no control over people’s dreams and feel that it is extremely unfair that I be held accountable for was a person thinks or imagines is happening!

In this particular case we have a young man who has confessed to murder and I’m sure that had I been a white leader here in Kalamazoo that would be no story especially based solely upon the word of a confessed killer and self-proclaimed insane suspect.

Aniya Mack’s memory deserves to be left in tack! Here is a young lady that has already lost her life and future and now she is being denigrated to nothing more than her pastor’s mistress! That’s the biggest injustice of all!

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Leader John Sapp Jr. Charged with Sex Crimes

john c sapp 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.

John C. Sapp Jr. a youth leader at Maranatha Fellowship in Dover, Delaware, stands accused of sexually abusing two teen girls under his care.

Delaware Online reports:

A 34-year-old Hartly man has been indicted on 89 charges he was involved in sexual relationships with two teenage girls who were members of a church youth group he’d been leading for the past three years. 

Word of the sexual liaison came to light when John C. Sapp Jr. contacted Maranatha Fellowship church’s lead pastor in February requesting to “immediately meet with him,” according to court documents. It was during this meeting, at Sapp’s house with his wife there, that the youth leader confessed to “inappropriately touching” a girl.

….

Delaware State Police investigators questioned the girl Sapp had mentioned.

The girl told investigators that she and Sapp began a “secret relationship” in October 2017, when she was 15, according to court records. 

The two would perform sexual acts, usually inside Sapp’s truck, but there were times the contact occurred at his house, church premises and even on a youth group camping trip, according to court records. 

….

The pastor told investigators that after the Feb. 13 meeting with Sapp, he became aware of an additional member of the youth group “who may have had similar relations” with Sapp.

….

When investigators spoke to the second girl, court records state she told officers she and Sapp started a “secret sexual relationship” when she was 16. That relationship went from January 2019 to January of this year.

Like the other relationship, court documents said Sapp and the girl had their encounters in the man’s truck, sometimes at his or her house and at times in the parking lot of Delaware Technical Community College’s Dover Campus. These encounters occurred at least twice a month. 

….

Sapp has been indicted on multiple charges, including continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust, fourth-degree rape with a victim under the age of 18 and unlawful sexual contact.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Why I Write The Black Collar Crime Series

black collar crime

The Black Collar Crime series is in its fourth year, having published almost eight 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 twelve years I’ve been writing about clergy misconduct, I can count on one hand the number of pastors/priests/religious leaders who were falsely accused. Less than five, 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 Abused and Evangelicals 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 receive 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.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Glen Uselmann Accused of Sexual Assault

sexual assault

Glen Uselmann, formerly a youth pastor at Calvary Gospel Church in Madison, Wisconsin, stands accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a church girl. Uselmann later married his victim. Calvary Gospel is affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church International.

The Cap Times reports:

Glen Uselmann, of Columbus, is charged with second degree sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child under 13, according to a criminal complaint from Madison Police filed in Dane County court on July 15. Uselmann’s initial appearance in court is scheduled for Aug. 6. 

The charges come after a Cap Times story in August 2019 detailed how men at Calvary Gospel Church in Madison, a United Pentecostal International congregation, allegedly groomed and molested girls at the church, who were often pressured to later marry their abusers.

Rebecca Martin Byrd was one of those women and agreed to speak with a Cap Times reporter and be named in this story. She married Uselmann following years of abuse, starting when she was 12, she said. They divorced in 2006. Seeing charges filed in her case has been validating, she said.

“I lost my childhood… when you suffer abuse for years and years it’s almost like you don’t realize what is happening,” she said. “You get so accustomed to being treated that way and so accustomed to having no control in your life. In a way you suppress your own needs and your own feelings. When someone said, ‘Yes, this was wrong,’ that is very validating for me.”

….

Byrd was one of 13 people the Cap Times interviewed for its 2019 story, four of whom said they were sexually assaulted and manipulated as children attending Calvary Gospel Church in the late 1980s and 1990s. Nine others, including parents, siblings of alleged victims, members who witnessed sexual misbehavior and one pastor who was in leadership at the time of many allegations, corroborated the abuse.

Byrd filed a report with Madison police last August hoping the case would fall within the state’s statute of limitations for sex crimes against children, but she wasn’t sure, she said. The Madison Police Department said Monday that the investigation is still open and could not comment on it. 

….

The criminal complaint outlines several interviews conducted by Madison Police Detective Bradley Ware over the last 11 months. It includes a statement from the church’s current bishop, John W. Grant, identified by his title and the initials “JWG” in the report. Grant led Calvary Gospel Church for 47 years. His son Roy Grant now leads the congregation. 

According to the complaint, Ware asked Grant if Uselmann ever admitted to his sexual relationship with Byrd when she was a minor. Grant said Uselmann admitted they had had sex but “made it sound like it was only one time.” 

….

Byrd said she hopes the case sheds light on the church institution that enabled the abuse and helps others come forward to report it. 

“I feel like this case isn’t just about this one man,” she said. “This case to me is about an institution that was corrupt and was abusive and belittling to women. I hope this case blows open the doors to a lot of other situations that went on in that group that shouldn’t have gone on.”

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.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Logan Wesley III Sentenced to 220 Years in Prison

pastor logan wesley iii

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.

Logan Wesley III, an Evangelical pastor at Trinity Temple Church of God in Christ in Texarkana, Texas, was arrested in November 2019 on a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14.  The Texarkana Gazette reported at the time:

Logan Wesley III was taken into custody last month by Texarkana, Texas, police on a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14. The offense is punishable by 25 to 99 years or life in prison and there is no parole from any sentence imposed.

Wesley, 56, allegedly began molesting the girl when she was 12 and continued to sexually abuse her for many years. The alleged victim, who is now 38, reported the alleged abuse to investigators in mid-November. The alleged victim reported that she was not believed when she made outcries about the abuse as a child because of Wesley’s status as a pastor.

The woman reported that she provided a recording of a phone call between her and Wesley to investigators. Wesley allegedly confessed to and apologized for the abuse on the call.

After his arrest, Wesley III was released on a $100,000 bond. In February 2020, the good pastor found himself in court again facing additional sexual assault charges. The Texarkana Gazette reports:

Logan Wesley III, 56, was arrested in November on a single felony charge involving one alleged victim. Earlier this month, a Bowie County grand jury returned three indictments involving three different girls which list a total of 18 felony counts.

Following his arrest in November, Logan posted a $100,000 bond. Bail on Wesley’s current charges totals $1.25 million.

….

At a hearing Monday morning, Texarkana lawyer Josh Potter asked 202nd District Judge John Tidwell to lower the total to $100,000 and release Wesley on his existing bond.

“What I’ve decided to do, I’m going to leave the bonds where they are but I’m not going to make you wait for trial until Aug. 24,” Tidwell said. “I’m going to move your trial up to May 4.”

First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said she has identified 13 alleged victims of sexual abuse by Wesley “on both sides of the state line” whom she might call as witnesses at Wesley’s trial in May. Crisp said the 13 alleged victims include the three named in the Bowie County indictments and 10 others who allege they suffered sexual abuse by Wesley in other jurisdictions.

The court must conduct hearings outside the presence of the jury regarding any alleged victim she wishes to call as a witness in a trial concerning a different alleged victim. The court will determine if the potential testimony is admissible before it can be heard by a jury. Because of the number of such alleged victim witnesses in Wesley’s case, Crisp suggested scheduling those hearings in advance of the trial.

Wesley allegedly used his status as pastor of a Texarkana, Ark., church to sexually abuse young girls.

Wesley is charged with three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14, three counts of sexual assault of a child under 17 and one count of indecency with a child by sexual contact involving a single alleged victim.

Charges involving a second alleged victim include two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 and five counts of sexual assault of a child under 17. Charges involving a third alleged victim include a single count of sexual assault of a child under 17 and three counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact.

Wesley faces five to 99 years or life in prison if found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14. Sexual assault of a child under 17 and indecency with a child by sexual contact are both punishable by two to 20 years in prison.

Wesley’s Twitter account described him this way:

Pastor, Father, Husband and Friend, Chosen to Empower men and women with the uncompromising Word of God…….If God can’t do it, IT CAN’T BE DONE!!

Wesley neglected to add “alleged pedophile.” Based on Wesley’s statement about God, I assume we can conclude that God was behind his sexual molestation of numerous girls.

On July 2,2020, Wesley was sentenced to five life sentences plus 220 years for 16 counts of child sexual abuse.

TXK reports:

First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards, said the three victims named in Wesley’s indictments were not his only victims. Two other women testified they were abused by Wesley also, Crisp said.

The victims are now in their 30s but were molested by Wesley when they were children and teens. Wesley used his position as pastor of Trinity Temple of God in Christ Church in Texarkana, Ark., to prey on the victims.

Crisp said Wesley assaulted the girls at the church, in church vans, in his car, at local parks and at his home. Two other women testified during the trial that they were abused as children by Wesley in different jurisdictions, Crisp said.

“The jury, having heard evidence that Logan Wesley has been terrorizing and raping children since at least 1981, sentenced him to the maximum amount of prison time for each of the counts for which he was convicted,” Crisp said. “Wesley’s prolific and outrageous criminal behavior entirely justifies the sentence he received. The repeated violations of the criminal laws of the State of Texas caught up with Logan Wesley this week. Thankfully the 12 citizens of Bowie County who made up this jury showed this defendant the same amount of mercy he showed his victims, which was none.”

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Black Collar Crime: Seventh Day Adventist Pastor Helio Ferreira Awaits Trial on Sex Crimes

Helio Santiago Ferreira

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 2019, Helio Santiago Ferreira, pastor of Grace Fellowship Seventh Day Adventist Church in Valdosta, Georgia. Ferreira was accused of rape, sodomy, and kidnapping, crimes that allegedly took place in Oregon.

KATU reported at the time:

Law enforcement officers arrested a 41-year-old pastor in Georgia who is wanted in connection to several sexual assault cases in Portland.

The Portland Police Bureau said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office arrested Helio Ferreira on Dec. 3 in Valdosta, Ga., where he’s a pastor in the community.

Ferreira is charged with two counts of first-degree sodomy, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, three counts of first-degree rape, one count of first-degree sexual assault, and one count of identity theft.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office says Ferreira is accused of sexually abusing three women in 2012, 2016, and 2018.

According to the indictment, Ferreira engaged in sexual intercourse with a victim who was incapable of consent either because of mental incapacitation or physical helplessness on or around Nov. 17, 2012.

On or around Sept. 18, 2016, Ferreira is accused of kidnapping a different woman and forcing her to engage in sexual intercourse and other sex crimes.

The indictment says on or about Sept. 7, 2018, Ferreira kidnapped a third woman and forced her to engage in sexual intercourse. It says he also committed identity theft involving the victim.

The indictment says Ferreira is a suspect in these three cases based on DNA evidence.

Ferreira has now been extradited to Oregon, and remains in jail awaiting an August 2020 trial.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Black Collar Crime: ELCA Pastor Steven Tibbetts Charged with Distributing Child Pornography

steven tibbetts

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.

Steven Tibbetts, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Godfrey, Illinois, stands accused of distributing child pornography.

KMOV-4 reports:

Steven P. Tibbetts, 61, served as the head pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Godfrey.

….

Prosecutors say the investigation of Tibbetts began in August 2019 when the blogging and social network site, Tumblr, provided a cyber tip line report about one of its user accounts to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The account was searched by law enforcement and allegedly found to contain images and videos of nude minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

According to the complaint, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also received a tip from Twitter in February 2020 that one of its users had uploaded two images of suspected child pornography.

Investigators were allegedly able to trace the Tumblr and Twitter accounts back to Tibbetts’ home, where a federal search warrant was executed on June 18. A search of Tibbetts’ computer allegedly revealed the presence of additional child pornography images and videos. Agents then arrested Tibbetts at his home.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.