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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor Dean Smith Accused of Sex Crimes Against Minor Girls

northern cheyenne indian reservation

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.

Dean Smith, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Lame Deer, Montana, stands accused of sexually assaulting at least four girls aged twelve and younger on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Morning Star Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The United States Attorney’s Office: District of Montana released the following statement:

A Lame Deer pastor appeared on a summons for arraignment today on sexual abuse charges alleged to have occurred on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Dean Alan Smith, 66, a pastor, pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with one count of aggravated sexual abuse, one count of abusive sexual contact and three counts of abusive sexual contact by force and of a child. If convicted of the most serious crime, Smith faces a maximum of life in prison, a $250,000 fine and not less than five years of supervised release.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided. Judge Cavan continued Smith’s release with conditions pending further proceedings.

An indictment, filed on Dec. 9, alleges that between 2017 and 2019 near Lame Deer, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Smith knowingly caused a person, identified as Jane Doe 1, to engage in a sexual act by using force and that Smith knowing caused Jane Doe 1 to engage in sexual contact by using force. The indictment further alleges that between 2017 and 2019, Smith knowingly caused a person, identified as Jane Doe 2, who had not attained the age of 12, to engage in sexual contact by force. In addition, the indictment alleges that between 2019 and 2020, Smith knowingly caused persons, identified as Jane Doe 3 and Jane Doe 4, both who had not attained the age of 12, to engage in sexual contact by force.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI.

Native Sun News Today adds:

In January 3, 2023, Dean Alan Smith, pastor of over twenty years at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Lame Deer, Montana, pled not guilty to federal charges filed the month before.

According to local media, Smith, age 66 was charged with sexually abusing four girls on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation between 2017 and 2019. Questions remain if there are other victims, as Smith served as a pastor on the reservation for years. That branch of the Baptist Church once had a private school for elementary students on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

A local support group of Northern Cheyenne advocates is asking other possible victims to come forward under the guidance of tribal members Hadley Shoulderblade and Diane Spotted Elk. “We demand justice for the victims and are trying to build funds for compensation,” these leaders recently posted on Facebook.

The Morning Star Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Congregation, sits on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Executive Director of that congregation said they have been in contact with the local church.

“One member of the church has been very open about what they are dealing with. I have let them know we are here to help the girls who have made these claims find the way to healing themselves,” said Montana Baptist Convention Executive Director Barrett Duke.

“The harder area is not in our cities but in the rural areas,” Duke Said. “They think they know the person. They are a little slower, I think, to adopt some of the processes to identify potential predators.”

Tribal leaders told Smith he is no longer welcome on the Reservation.  The local Morning Star Church held a meeting to that same effect, issuing a public statement via Facebook: “The Church is a body of people, not to be judged by the actions of one. We will continue our mission, though now it will be harder.”

The United Ministerial Association of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation also met and demanded Pastor Smith’s resignation. “This is very unfortunate and not in keeping with our mission,” they told the Northern Cheyenne community in a written statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s office is prosecuting the case while Smith remains free on bond with conditions including his not being allowed around children. According to local sources, Smith has left the Reservation, his whereabouts not certain. If found guilty Smith could face life imprisonment, at $500,000 fine and registered as a life-long sexual offender.

Morning Star Baptist released a statement that said, in part:

The Church is a body of people, not to be judged by the actions of one.

According to a Facebook post by Josh Kolojeski:

I was the Site Director of the Northern Cheyenne Youthworks site in Lame Deer in 2016. In the final two weeks of the summer, three of my female staff members were informed by a member of the community that Dean Smith “took (a child’s) virginity,” and were advised by another member of the community to not be alone with Dean and to not let kids near him because he touches them.

I was off-site at a funeral for that day and that weekend, so my Area Director was there as the acting Site Director. The staff members verbally told him what they were told and reported it to the Boys and Girls Club that we were partnering with. When I returned to site on Sunday, they also reported it to me and I reported it again to my Area Director.

On one hand, we didn’t want to ruin Dean’s reputation if the information was simply unsubstantiated rumors. On the other hand, we wanted to make sure we were also reporting this information to people better equipped to investigate. In hindsight, we should have also reported it to the BIA, although we later learned that Dean had already been reported by someone in the community before our summer began. In order to promote a culture of safety, I told the staff members they didn’t have to attend his church for the final two Sunday’s of the summer, and I also went on the prayer walk that Dean led with the high school students each week, because the staff member that typically attended the prayer walk with Dean and the students was no longer comfortable doing it, understandably.

I also wanted to make sure full-time staff at Youthworks knew about the information that was reported to us so that they could ask more questions and re-evaluate whether or not to partner with Dean for 2017 and beyond. As I mentioned before, three members of the staff and I all reported the information to our Area Director, who was also the full-time Area Director for that site among others at the time. Additionally, I could be mistaken, but I’m 95% sure if you check my end of summer Site Director paperwork from 2016, you will see I made mention of Youthworks possibly reconsidering it’s relationship with Dean. In a section asking about anything that needed to be looked in on for future summers, I believe I said something along the lines of “three of my staff members heard rumors in the community about Pastor Dean that we reported to our Area Director, so Youthworks may want to look further into those rumors before partnering with him again in 2017.”

With that information, my questions are:

1. Did Youthworks take any action steps based on the reports made by the 2016 Site Staff?

2. If so, what action steps were taken and what information was considered when the decision was made to continue partnering with Dean in 2017, 2018, and 2019?

I understand that conducting a deep investigation is outside the purview of Youthworks, and I also know that the full-time staff that work and have worked at Youthworks are tremendous people and whatever was done or not done was obviously not out of malicious intent. But I’d also like to know what, if anything, informed Youthworks’ decision to keep sending staff and high school youth group students his way in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

I’d also like to add that one of the three aforementioned staff members has lived in or near Lame Deer since her summer with Youthworks. Another one of those staff members worked for Youthworks in Lame Deer again in 2017. They reported more information they learned to the 2016 Area Director, their 2017 Site Director, and their 2017 Area Director, who were all subsequently told that nothing could be done based off rumors. However, in July 16th, 2020, Youthworks posted a video of Pastor Dean talking about the Northern Cheyenne reservation. When two of the teammates saw this video, they emailed Youthworks and again reported the allegations that had been reported to them and told them that they were shocked to see the video of Dean being shared by Youthworks (I don’t know if it was also produced and created by Youthworks). In this case, Youthworks did respond directly to the two staff members, and the higher up’s had a. video call with the pair to discuss the allegations. Youthworks also deleted the video and contacted authorities, sounding the alarm either to the FBI directly or to an entity that ran it up the ladder to the point that it reached the FBI, and the former site staff was contacted by the FBI.

Perhaps an investigation was already ongoing, or perhaps Youthworks 2020 report to authorities sparked the investigation. In either case, that report from Youthworks to authorities would have been beneficial in 2016. If an investigation was already ongoing, law enforcement could have informed Youthworks that there was an active investigation and that it might be in their best interest to stop their partnership with Dean. If the report is what sparked the investigation, then the investigation could have been started four years earlier.

In those four years, Dean was allowed to continue to work with Youthworks staff and participants, continue to foster children (including, in 2017, four girls and one boy that spent a lot of time at our housing site and that the Youthworks staff in 2016 had really bonded with), and he was able to continue to run his Vacation Bible School.

I loved each of my four summers with Youthworks, and I don’t regret my experiences. Working with Youthworks truly had and still has a positive influence in my life and on my spiritual journey, and it matured me in positive ways. I also know that there was probably more I could have done during our final two weeks in Lame Deer as well. But I also think this statement leaves out key information of initial reports being made to Youthworks as early as 2016, and whether it was through miscommunication up the ladder or through disbelief, I think Youthworks dropped the ball in this instance.

Memo to the church. Sorry, but you will be judged by the actions of your pastor (and your denomination). How is it possible that no one in the church knew what was going on or saw things that were concerning? Maybe no one knew anything, but until law enforcement fully investigates, I hope the church will understand if we don’t give it a pass. Further, it seems clear from the aforementioned comment by Josh Kolojeski that YouthWorks needs to be investigated too.

Montana Baptist Convention Executive Director Barrett Duke stupidly said:

They think they know the person. They are a little slower, I think, to adopt some of the processes to identify potential predators.

Said seems to blame the church. Does he really believe that smaller, rural churches have a bigger problem with clergy sexual abuse than larger churches? Really? Said seems to not be paying attention to what is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Does anyone seriously believe that these four girls are Smith’s first and only victims? I think not.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Steve Parker Charged with Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering

pastor steve walker

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.

[Parker] confessed to leading a double life and having two houses where he kept his godly life and criminal behavior separate. The house in Tulalip is where he conducts his criminal behavior and has a girlfriend. . . At the second home, Parker lived with his wife and mother-in-law, along with approximately 14 other people living on the property

Steve Parker, the director of Nest Ministries and the founder and executive director of Omni-Manna Services, both located in Arlington, Washington was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine as well as fentanyl and methamphetamine. He was also charged with counterfeiting controlled substances, maintaining a vehicle for drug trafficking; money laundering, and conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine, fentanyl, and/or cocaine. All the charges are felonies.

The Christian Post reports:

Just over a year ago, as he was pictured on Facebook officiating a wedding, Washington pastor and grandfather Steve Parker was praised as an “amazing man of God.” Earlier this month, however, detectives in Skagit County arrested Parker, who allegedly had a stockpile of guns and drugs, after getting a tip that he was on his way to becoming “a high level drug dealer,” and his clean-cut family knew nothing about his double life.

On his Facebook page, Parker, 57, introduces himself as “a new convert, a soul in the midst of spiritual growth. A fish on the line.” He also lists himself as the director at NEST Ministries and founder and executive director of Omni-Manna Services, which is a supportive employment and housing service.

“We work within Snohomish County for those who have had troubled pasts, addictions, or just down on their luck. With the help of ProviderOne we are able to help find employment and low cost housing while counseling our clients through the process,” the Omni-Manna Services website says.

On Facebook, there are wholesome photos of Parker with family and friends and even a video of him belting out an inspiring rendition of Andrae Crouch’s “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.”

In court records reviewed by The Christian Post, the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit said they got a tip from sources in November 2022 that Parker had been distributing controlled substances in the counties of Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom.

“Information obtained from these sources is that Steve Parker has started to become a higher level drug dealer and that he possesses firearms, and deals fentanyl powder, fentanyl pills, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine,” an affidavit of probable cause explains. “Sources told detectives that Steve Parker is a pastor and that he has a business that helps people with addiction problems by assisting them with housing and jobs, although he deals drugs as well.”

On Jan. 19, as he drove his 2002 Subaru in Mount Vernon, police swooped down on Parker and found him with approximately two ounces of fentanyl powder and a loaded handgun. Deputies also noticed he had a live feed camera on his phone, and he turned it off as they were contacting him.

Acting later on a search warrant, detectives searched the Subaru and discovered more than 2.7 pounds of methamphetamine, some 2,000 counterfeit pills, another ounce of fentanyl powder and cocaine.

“Parker admitted the drugs were cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl. Detectives also located packaging material commonly used in the distribution of drugs along with drug scales,” the affidavit says. “Parker also admitted he knew fentanyl was a very dangerous drug, and he has provided Narcan to an overdose victim in the past.”

Parker further told police that he needed multiple drug suppliers because he sources were not consistent and “bragged about being a good drug dealer, saying he is good at business.”

He also confessed to leading a double life and having two houses where he kept his godly life and criminal behavior separate.

“The house in Tulalip is where he conducts his criminal behavior and has a girlfriend. During the search warrant, detectives located several firearms and discovered there were surveillance cameras both inside and outside the home,” court records note.

At the second home, Parker lived with his wife and mother-in-law, along with approximately 14 other people living on the property.

“Parker said they did not know about his criminal activities. That was confirmed by detectives while servicing a warrant at that home,” investigators note.

A total of 30 firearms were recovered from both homes.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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UPDATED: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Trent Holbert Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to a Minimum of Seven Years in Prison

pastor trent holbert

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.

Trent Holbert, pastor of The Ridge Church in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was charged in October 2021 with one count of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of statutory sex offense. The Ridge Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Kentucky Today reported at the time:

Trent Holbert, 41, former pastor of The Ridge Church, was arrested last month and has been charged with one count of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of statutory sex offense, the Biblical Recorder reported. He was previously the pastor of Epoch Fellowship Church in Owenton, Ky., as late as 2017.

….

Both The Ridge Church and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina have released statements condemning Holbert’s alleged actions.

“Trent Holbert has resigned from his position as the head pastor of the Ridge Church,” said a statement released Friday from church elder Drew Wheeler. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of our former head pastor and the families of all of those involved. The care and protection of children and minors is a biblical and moral mandate that is taken seriously by the Ridge Church. We do not condone such actions as the alleged, and our prayers are with the victims of any such abuse.”

The North Carolina convention’s statement, released Thursday, said leaders were “deeply grieved” by the charges.

“As a pastor, Trent has been a speaker at convention-related events for adults in the recent past,” the statement said. “He underwent background and reference checks prior to his participation in those events. We are not aware that he had any contact or dealings with minors as part of those events. The care and protection of children and minors is both a biblical and moral mandate that we take very seriously. We are praying for everyone who has been impacted by these alleged heinous crimes. N.C. Baptists are offering support to the local association and the church as they face these challenging times, as well. We stand with any and all victims of abuse and are committed to cooperating with authorities during their investigation. We encourage you to contact the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office if you have any relevant information.”

According to WLOS news, on May 18, detectives with the Special Victims Unit of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at Holbert’s residence. During the execution of the warrant, Holbert was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, and electronic devices were seized from the home.

Holbert’s church bio page (which has been scrubbed from the church’s website) states:

Pastor Trent is a gifted communicator and a relational junkie. He loves people and gets his fix from being a positive part of their lives. His ministry mindset is holistic. He believes that God’s plan and design for humans doesn’t stop at spiritual needs. He holds a degree in theology, but as a certified personal trainer and holistic health coach, Trent teaches us how to know our Creator better through optimal physical, emotional, and spiritual health. You can hear him weekly on the Fit For the Kingdom Podcast.

Black Mountain News article on Holbert starting The Ridge Church.

In October 2021, ABC-13 reported:

Newly returned warrants allege Trent Holbert groomed the teen by first befriending her parents who joined The Ridge Church.

Investigators said, because the parents had limited means, Holbert offered their daughter a bedroom in his home and began buying her undergarments as the two started a relationship.

Warrants also allege Holbert asked the teen’s parents to sign a parental waiver so that he would be able to take care of her in case they died. Investigators said Holbert called DSS on the teen’s parents as well, accusing them of neglect. Warrants show a DSS worker found this claim to be unsubstantial.

On May 18, 2021, detectives with the Special Victims Unit of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at a residence on Tucker Road in Black Mountain. During the execution of the search warrant, Holbert was arrested. He resigned from the church in June.

This week, Holbert pleaded guilty and will spend a minimum of seven years in prison.

The Citizen Times reports:

A former Black Mountain pastor has pleaded guilty to attempted statutory sexual offense, ensuring that he will spend at least the next seven years behind bars.

Judge Sharon Tracey sentenced Trent Brandon Holbert, 43, to serve between 94 and 173 months imprisoned, according to Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams’ office. The victim approved of the plea, according to Williams. Williams announced the plea in a Jan. 25 tweet.

In search warrants reported on by the Citizen Times in 2021, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office said that Holbert – former pastor at The Ridge Church – schemed against the victim’s parents.

The Sheriff’s Office began investigating after the parents contacted deputies about their child “engaging in a secret and sexual relationship with their former pastor,” one search warrant said. 

Holbert bought the victim gifts, including clothes, underwear and feminine hygiene products. A search warrant said that he also gave the child one of his T-shirts after she told him that she had a bad dream so “his smell would help (the child) sleep.”

When Holbert reported the child’s parents to the N.C. Division of Social Services with allegations of neglect, the claims were found to be unsubstantiated.

According to one of the search warrants, Holbert asked the parents to sign a waiver giving him parental rights if they died. They declined and said the request bothered them. 

According to a Google search, The Ridge Church has closed its doors.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Youth Pastor Adam Lewis Arrested on Child Porn Charges

adam lewis

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.

Adam Lewis, a youth pastor at Rock Mountain Lakes Baptist Church in McCalla, Alabama, a school teacher, and a wrestling coach, stands accused of possession of child pornography.

AL.com reports:

A Pelham middle school teacher and wrestling coach who also doubled as the youth director of a McCalla church was arrested and jailed Wednesday on child porn charge.

Adam Jeremy Lewis, an eighth grade teacher at Pelham Park Middle School and an assistant coach for the school’s wrestling team, was charged with possessing child pornography. He was released from the Shelby County Jail after posting $15,000 bond, jail records showed.

….

Lewis was also youth director at Rock Mountain Lakes Baptist Church in McCalla.

The church said Lewis is no longer working there and that Lewis and his family “need our prayers in a major way.”

“This is a devastating moment for our church family, but I know God is working,” the church said in a message to parishioners on its Facebook page.

Rock Mountain Lakes Baptist released a statement yesterday, asking prayer for Lewis and his family. No mention was made of children portrayed in the alleged pornographic images.

rock mountain lakes baptist church
bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Daniel Owens Pleads Guilty to Medicare Fraud

pastor daniel owens

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.

Daniel Owens, pastor of Life Springs Dream Center in Sanford, North Carolina, and the director of the Dream Center, an affiliate of the church that combats human trafficking, addiction, and homelessness, pleaded guilty in November 2021 to medicare fraud. Owens is expected to be sentenced next week.

WRAL reports:

Court documents state Pastor Daniel Owens netted more than $10,000 in kickbacks and bribes as part of a Medicare fraud scheme.

Owens is a pastor at Life Springs Dream Center in Sanford. He is also the director of the Dream Center, an affiliate of the church that combats human trafficking, addiction and homelessness.

In November 2021, Owens pleaded guilty to federal Medicare fraud charges.

Owens is set to be sentenced federally on Jan. 23. The maximum penalty for the crime is 10 years in prison.

….

Court documents show between January 2020 and April 2020, Owens is accused of conspiring “to offer, pay, solicit and receive illegal heath care kickback payments in exchange for the referral of patients for cancer tests that were submitted to Medicare for reimbursement.”

“We’ve known about that for two years,” Sauls said of Owens. “He’s walked. He’s cooperating with authorities. He’s admitted what he did. He didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.”

Federal documents detail a scheme to recruit people to undergo unnecessary cancer screening tests.

The Rant adds:

The Life Springs Dream Center posted a Facebook video Thursday acknowledging the organization’s leadership had been aware that pastor Daniel Owens – who has been central in Life Springs Church’s effort to obtain $500,000 in county funding for the center – pleaded guilty to federal Medicare fraud charges in 2021 and will be sentenced later this month.

Owens appeared in the video with lead Pastor Dale Sauls, who did most of the speaking. Sauls said the situation was “not fortunate” and “bad.”

“We found out that on social media, has surfaced some information about my twin brother Pastor Daniel that has been less than flattering to say the least. So we felt like that we needed to give some sort of explanation about that,” Sauls said. “In this particular situation, we knew about this situation before it happened, during it happened, and after it happened.”

Neither Sauls nor Owens responded Wednesday to multiple attempts by phone and email to reach them for comment about Owens’ November 2021 guilty plea in a Philadelphia federal court. Questions posed by email included “if you or the church in general were aware of the guilty plea, why was the information that a leader of your efforts had recently pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges not disclosed at the time of LSAT’s application for funding?” and “do you feel like the taxpayers and commissioners from whom your organization was soliciting money deserved to know that you’ve pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges?”

Those questions were not addressed in the video.

Instead, Sauls explained that Owens was deceived by a previous employer and that it was “too late” to avoid charges by the time he learned he’d broken the law.

Explaining that Owens was working part time with Life Springs because “we were not in a position in those days to pay him full time,” and that he eventually found employment through the website Indeed.com, Sauls said “the job involved helping people get pre-cancer screening. So he began to work for the company, they said you do this and we’ll pay you this. Didn’t make a lot of money but, nevertheless, that was his job. Come to find out later on that the company he was a part of, while he was very well intended, his idea was ‘I’m helping people,’ they were not so well intended. And they were doing things illegal, and when he found out about it, it was too late. He immediately said ‘yes I work for the company, yes I did what they said, and they said ‘okay well if you will cooperate with us during this, then we’re gonna take care.’”

The charging document in the case doesn’t mention what company Owens was working for at the time of his fraud – which prosecutors say involved recruiting people to undergo unnecessary cancer screening tests, sending them to a lab out of state and then receiving a kickback after the testing was billed to Medicare – but it does say that Owens is “the owner of People Loving People, a corporation located in Sanford, North Carolina that purportedly provided marketing and consulting services.” Owens is listed on the North Carolina Secretary of State website as the registered agent for People Loving People.

The November vote to award funding to the Life Springs Dream Center has since come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons – first, its speed (the grant was approved the night it was introduced, even after County Manager Dr. John Crumpton recommended further study), and later because it was determined that LSAT did not have necessary IRS approval as a nonprofit entity. That means the county is unable to enter into a contract on the Dream Center proposal until nonprofit status is approved.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Dustin Spillers Accused of Child Molestation

dustin spillers

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.

Dustin Spillers, a former youth pastor at Abba’s House in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and president of the PTA at Wolftever Elementary School in Ooltewah, Tennessee, stands accused of child molestation and aggravated sexual battery. Based on scant news reports, the alleged crimes did not take place at the church or school. Spillers was extradited to Georgia to answer the charges against him.

WJAC-6 reports:

A former youth pastor at the Abba’s House church in Chattanooga, Tennessee who was also a former PTA president at an elementary school in Hamilton County is facing child molestation charges and aggravated sexual battery charges, according to court documents.

Online records show Hamilton County deputies arrested 34-year-old Dustin Spillers.

Spillers was extradited to Troup County, Georgia, where he faces the charges.

Abba’s House Lead Pastor Dr. Ronnie Phillips, Jr. confirmed Spillers was once associated with the church as a volunteer youth pastor and left the church in 2015.

“Dustin Spillers moved to Chattanooga from Louisiana in 2008 following a former youth pastor, Chris Brooks,” Phillips told WTVC in an email. “He was never on staff nor received any financial compensation from Abba’s House. He left the church in 2015. There were no inappropriate actions by Dustin Spillers known by Abba’s House while he attended here. We are praying for the Spillers family, any alleged victims, and all other churches, individuals, and families that may be affected by the alleged actions.”

Several posts on the Abba’s House Students Facebook page from 2012 share events that list Spillers’ involvement.

Spillers was also the president of the PTA at Wolftever Creek Elementary School.

In a Facebook post on January 2, Principal Gail Huffstutler told parents that Spillers “stepped down from his role on the PTA.”

Hamilton County Schools said Spillers resigned as PTA president during the holiday break.

Sydney Moore, a friend of the Spillers family, told WTVC she met Spillers during his time at Abba’s House and knew him for several years.

This has been a complete shock to us,” Moore said. “He has been living a double life his entire life.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor John Kim Accused of Sexual Assault

pastor john kim

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 Kim, the Korean church youth pastor at Salvation Army Mayfair Community Church in Chicago, Illinois, stands accused of sexually assaulting someone under the age of eighteen.

The Korea Daily reports:

47-year-old Korean pastor in Chicago has been indicted on three counts of sexual assault against minors, local broadcaster CBS 2 News reported on the 15th.

According to the police, Pastor John Kim, who served at the Salvation Army Mayfair Community Church in Chicago, was indicted on three counts of felony sexual assault on minors under the age of 18.

Based on the video posted by the church, Pastor Kim worked at the church for a long time.

A police official also explained that Pastor Kim does not currently work at the church and that it was an incident that occurred while he was in office in the past. The arrest was reported to have been made on the 11th.

CBS 2 News apparently reached out to the church to hear their position, but did not get a response.

Instead, the Salvation Army confirmed in a statement sent to CBS 2 News that “the Salvation Army is now aware that local police are investigating.” “The allegations of employees who worked in the past directly contradict with our beliefs and values, which also aligns with our efforts to immediately respond, detect, and prevent reports of misconduct.”

According to local Korean media, Pastor Kim has been in charge of youth English-speaking worship for more than 10 years since 2005 at the Mayfair Community Church of the Salvation Army.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Update: Black Collar Crime: Former Evangelical Pastor Ronnie Hyde Sentenced to Life in Prison for 1994 Murder

ronnie hyde

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, Action News Jacksonville reported:

Ronnie Hyde, 60, was arrested Tuesday in the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Fred Laster and the FBI began searching his Jacksonville Beach home, as well as a property of his on Jacksonville’s Eastside.

….

For more than two decades, Laster was known as “John Doe” to investigators looking into his death. His dismembered body was recovered behind a dumpster on Highway 441 near Interstate 10 on June 5, 1994.

In a related story, Action News reported:

A Duval County judge denied bond on Wednesday for Ronnie Hyde, 60, who has been charged in the death and dismemberment of Nassau County teen Fred Laster.

Twenty-three years after the killing, the suspect in the case faced a judge for the first time.

Hyde was wearing a red jumpsuit which indicates a high risk inmate. He will likely hire an attorney of his own.

Andrew Sturm was at the hearing to support him. He said Hyde is his friend and counselor.

“We recommended him to my mom and my nephew who he sees and he’s done nothing but great in my life,” said Sturm.

Sturm said he met Hyde through Crosswater Community Church.

According to Sturm, Hyde counseled his 13-year-old nephew and while he doesn’t suspect Hyde harmed him, he said he still called the FBI after learning of his arrest.

“Per my nephew’s own words, no one put words in my nephew’s mouth, Ron never did anything at all inappropriate, Ron never touched him at all,” said Sturm.

In court, Hyde tried speaking with the judge but the judge stopped him saying it was not the time to speak about his case.

Sturm said this is not the Hyde he knows.

“Ron is an extremely intelligent person, very much a loner he likes to play his guitar. He would play at county festivals and stuff like that,” said Sturm.

The Florida Times-Union added:

Authorities credited advancements in technology, increased exposure from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the assignment of a fresh detective to the cold case unit with the recent break in the case.

“All it takes is that one spark of information that can lead to an arrest,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said.

Local FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer asked the public for help as the case continues, saying Hyde traveled abroad, was “a named subject in a previous child exploitation case” and had access to numerous children over the years.

Hyde, who lists his employment as a licensed mental health counselor at Crosswater Community Church in Nocatee, previously worked as a youth pastor at Strength for Living Church in Jacksonville where he first met Laster’s family.

Rev. Jack Millwood of Hyde’s current church issued a statement: “We are working and cooperating fully with the FBI in their investigation of Ron Hyde. I am personally not aware of any victims of Ron Hyde that involve anyone associated with Crosswater. If any person or persons has any information regarding potential victims of Ron Hyde, please contact the local FBI office.”

A neighbor watching the flurry of law enforcement activity at Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach home said there was something about the place always made her uneasy as did Hyde.

“It was always a house we skipped when we went trick-or-treating,” the neighbor said.

A similar search took place throughout the day at a second home on Thelma Street in Jacksonville. Spencer said agents will continue an extensive search of the homes, but would not disclose what exactly investigators are looking for.

“The search could take several days and no stone will be left unturned, I can assure you of that,” Spencer said, asking residents for patience during the process.

Hunter said investigators met with Laster’s family in November 2015 to collect his siblings’ DNA samples, building a profile that they could possibly match with the DNA taken from the torso found in 1994. Three months later, lab tests confirmed the remains and Laster’s family members were related.

A match still left the case unsolved. A second DNA profile recovered from a flannel shirt found near the torso in 1994 had no match in a law enforcement database. But last April, investigators sifted through trash cans outside Hyde’s home and retrieved nasal swabs containing DNA that was also matched to the flannel shirt.

“I am extremely proud of the detectives who worked on this extremely difficult case,” Hunter said. “… It has allowed the family to have some closure.”

The sheriff demurred when asked whether there was a sexual nature to the case. Still, court records show Laster’s sister told authorities she and her brother had spent the night at Hyde’s home a year before he went missing and that she woke up to find Hyde nude and trying to quietly wake her brother.

Laster’s siblings said they confronted Hyde numerous times over the years, and each time he seemed to provide a different version of events regarding Laster’s disappearance. In one breath Hyde told the siblings he had dropped Laster off near Pecan Park, in another breath he said it was in the Oceanway area and in another still he said he’d taken Laster to their grandmother’s house in Nassau County.

Eventually, Lasters’ siblings gave up trying to get answers from Hyde. They said they last spoke to him in 2003.

You can read February 28, 2018, Florida Times-Union report about Hyde’s case here.

In April 2022, Hyde was sentenced to life in prison.

The Florida Times-Union reports:

A Duval County jury took a little more than three hours to find former Jacksonville Beach youth pastor Ronnie Leon Hyde guilty of killing and dismembering a 16-year-old Yulee boy in 1994.

Following a tearful victim impact statement from Travis Laster, whose brother Fred Laster’s remains were found in Columbia County behind a gas station dumpster, Hyde was sentenced to life in prison.

Hyde, 65, stood motionless as Judge Tatiana Salvador read the sentence just after 3:30 p.m., his attorney Ann Finnell at his side. The verdict came after four days of witness and evidence presentations to the jury, wrapping with Hyde testifying in his own defense.

Standing at a courtroom podium, not looking at Hyde, Travis Laster said his entire family all lost someone who “was loved dearly.” And since no one knew the remains were his until a 2016 DNA test, his grandmother died never knowing what happened to her grandson, his brother said.

….

When Hyde addressed the court in his own defense Thursday and again when he was questioned by the prosecutor the next day, he denied having done anything to the boy who he knew and spent a lot of time with.

He said the teen was upset over a dispute with his sister when he last saw him and he had bailed out of Hyde’s car on U.S. 17 in Nassau County and disappeared.

…..

Laster’s torso was found on June 5, 1994, behind a Lake City dumpster and missing the head, legs and hands, police said. Evidence was collected but his identification wasn’t unknown for years.

In 2014 the case was advertised on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website and prompted Laster’s twin sister to contact staff saying it could be him. More DNA samples were obtained and submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which compared results to the evidence found at the 1994 scene.

That led to his identification in 2016 and eventually to Hyde, believed to be the last person to see Laster whom he met in the mid-1980s and formed a relationship with the Laster family, according to the investigation.

A search warrant at Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach home uncovered more evidence and led to his arrest in 2017. He was charged with first-degree murder, plus 25 child-pornography possession counts that will be processed separately in court.

A motive was never clear.

On January 4, 2023, Hyde pleaded guilty to three counts of possession of child porn and was designated a sexual offender. Hyde was sentenced to seven years in prison, which will run concurrently with his murder sentence.

News 4 reports:

Ronnie Hyde, who was convicted last year of killing 16-year-old Fred Laster, pleaded guilty Wednesday in the possession of child pornography case against him, according to Duval County court records.

Court records show Hyde, 66, pleaded guilty to three counts of possession of child porn and was designated a sexual offender.

Hyde, a former youth pastor, was sentenced to seven years in prison, and that sentence will run concurrently with his life sentence for his conviction in the murder of Laster, whose dismembered remains were found in 1994 behind a Columbia County gas station.

Hyde’s attorney successfully lobbied for the child pornography charges to be tried separately. Hyde had originally been charged with 25 counts of possession of child porn.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Update: Black Collar Crime: IFB Youth Pastor Sean Higgins Pleads Guilty to Sexually Blackmailing Underage Teen Boys

sean higgins

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

In October 2020, Sean Higgins, a youth pastor and music director at Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport, New Jersey, and a teacher at Harbor Baptist Academy (located in the church), was accused of posing as a teen girl and persuading 13 boys on social media to send him nude pictures and videos of them masturbating. Harbor Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation, pastored by Pat Higgins. The church was started by Higgins’ father. Sean Higgins may be related to Pastor Higgins, but I could not verify this information.

The Burlington Daily Voice reported:

A Burlington County teacher and youth pastor has been indicted for coaxing underage boys on social media to send him nude pictures and videos, then using that material to blackmail his victims into performing sexual acts on themselves for his enjoyment, authorities said. 

A grand jury indicted Sean Higgins, 31, of Palmyra on 75 total counts that included charges of aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, cyber harassment, child endangerment, and obscenity to a minor, they said.

Thirteen of the counts were first-degree charges, according to Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia L. Bradshaw.

Higgins is accused of committing these crimes in 2020 while serving as the youth pastor and music leader at Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport, and serving as a teacher at the Harbor Baptist Academy, a private K-12 school that is housed in the same facility.

The indictment includes 13 victims, ranging in age from 12 to17, who resided in Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Tennessee, Bradshaw said.

….

The investigation revealed that Higgins would adopt the persona of a teenage girl and utilize Snapchat and Instagram to begin a conversation with a juvenile male, introducing himself as Julie Miller. After establishing a rapport, he would suggest that they trade photos. Higgins would then send pictures of an unidentified female teenager, the prosecutor said.

In return, Higgins would often receive nude photos that the victims took of themselves. Immediately upon receiving those images, he would take a screenshot of the victim’s friends list that was visible on the forward-facing social media platform. Higgins would send that screenshot back to the victim and threaten to send the nude photos he had just received to the list of the victim’s friends unless the victim did exactly what Higgins demanded, Bradshaw said.

In most of the cases that were investigated, Higgins then demanded that his victims go into the bathroom at their residence and place the phone on the floor, or at an angle looking up, and would instruct the victims to masturbate or perform sexual acts on themselves. Higgins would record what was transpiring.

According to the videos made by Higgins that were obtained during the investigation, victims would often beg Higgins to be allowed to stop engaging in sexual conduct, but Higgins would demand that they complete his instructions, or face the consequences of having the recordings he was making of the incident be sent to their list of friends.

….

The investigation began after a youth in Berks County, Pa., contacted Snapchat and reported that he sent nude photos of himself to someone he believed to be an unknown female. The unknown female, who in actuality was Higgins, had threatened to expose his nude photographs after they exchanged pictures. An underage male in Alabama also reported his communications with Higgins to law enforcement authorities.

Last week, Higgins pleaded guilty and will face a minimum of twenty-seven years in prison for his crimes. He is expected to be sentenced on March 3, 2023.

The Courier Post reports:

A former youth pastor has admitted he tricked boys on social media into sending him nude pictures, then used the photos to blackmail the youths into performing sex acts on camera.

Sean Higgins, 32, of Palmyra faces a 27-year prison term under a plea agreement, said the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.

An investigation found Higgins would pose as a teenage girl, Julie Miller, to begin conversations with boys on Snapchat and Instagram, the prosecutor’s office alleged in a statement.

Higgins would suggest they trade photos and would send a picture of an unidentified teenaged girl. The boys often responded by sending nude photos of themselves, the statement said.

Higgins then would threaten to send the boys’ photos to people on their friends lists “unless the victim did exactly what Higgins demanded.”

In most of the cases that were investigated, Higgins ordered the boys to perform sex acts on camera.

“Higgins would record what was transpiring,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Videos made by Higgins showed victims often begged to be allowed to stop engaging in sexual conduct, the prosecutor’s office said.

But, it said, Higgins would tell the boys to follow instructions “or face the consequences of having the recordings he was making of the incident be sent to their list of friends.”

The offenses did not include physical contact with the victims.

An investigation began after a victim in Berks County, Pennsylvania, contacted Snapchat. A boy in Alabama also reported his experience to law enforcement authorities.

“Multiple state and local agencies assisted in confirming the identities of additional victims,” the statement said.

Higgins allegedly committed the crimes in 2020 while serving as the youth pastor and music leader at Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport. He also taught at Harbor Baptist Academy, a private K-12 school in the same facility.

The crimes to which he admitted guilt did not involve members of the Hainesport church or students at the school, the statement said.

Higgins pleaded guilty Tuesday to four counts of endangering the welfare of children, the prosecutor’s office said.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor Garrett Biggerstaff Accused of Sexually Grooming a Child

Pastor Garrett Biggerstaff

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.

Garrett Biggerstaff, pastor of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield, Illinois, stands accused of sexually grooming a child. Pleasant Grove is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. After his arrest, Biggerstaff resigned from the church. Biggerstaff was also an employee of Spring Garden Consolidated Community School District in Ina, Illinois.

The Christian Post reports:

A former pastor and Illinois school district employee has been arrested and charged with two counts of sexually grooming a child, following a months-long investigation.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office posted an update to Facebook announcing the arrest of 28-year-old Garrett S. Biggerstaff of Mcleansboro. 

According to authorities, the investigation into Biggerstaff began last September when “the Benton Police Department received information from a juvenile claiming to be the target of some form of sexual exploitation.”

“Officers handling the complaint in Benton contacted Detectives from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and a coordinated investigation [began],” stated the sheriff’s office.

“Evidence was collected and examined by the Sheriff’s Office member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. From this work, a second juvenile victim was identified.”

After Biggerstaff was arrested Thursday, he was transported to the Jefferson County Jail and booked on felony charges. His bond was set at $150,000.

Biggerstaff was a pastor at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield, but was “suspended immediately,” reported Baptist Press about the church which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon being arrested, he offered his resignation, which church leadership accepted on Sunday.  

Additionally, Biggerstaff had also been employed at the Spring Garden Consolidated Community School District in Ina, Illinois, resigning last November as the investigation continued.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser