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Tag: Elohim Church North Bergen

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

gregorio martinez

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

NJ Advance Media reported in August 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

….

In December 2016, NJ Advance Media reported:

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hudson TV adds: (link no longer active)

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser