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Tag: Grooming Children for Sex

Black Collar Crime: Youth Pastor Jesse Vargas Accused of Sex Crimes

pastor jesse vargas

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.

Jesse Vargas, a youth pastor who worked at The Incredible Journey to Christianity retreat in Michigan, stands accused of sexually assaulting a teen girl.

In March 2021, the St. Louis Dispatch reported:

A New York youth pastor charged with the sexual assault of a teenage girl in Hazelwood met the teen at a Christian retreat in Michigan before he was invited to stay with the girl’s family, Hazelwood police said Tuesday.

Jesse Vargas, 37, of Nassau County, New York, was a youth pastor who worked at The Incredible Journey to Christianity retreat in Michigan where he met the teen, Hazelwood police Capt. Mark McKeon said. Hazelwood police began investigating reports in December that Vargas repeatedly sexually assaulted the girl in January 2013 while he was staying with her family.

Vargas was charged in St. Louis County in February with five counts of statutory sodomy. He was arrested in New York on Friday where he is also facing charges that include sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He’s accused of sexually assaulting a teen girl at his home there. Police would not say if it was the same teen who reported the assault in Hazelwood.

In November 2021, Fox-2 reported:

Explicit text messages from an old iPhone show the lengths to which a youth pastor allegedly groomed a juvenile for years before he allegedly sexually assaulted her, Hazelwood Police said. That pastor now faces several state and federal charges and authorities believe there could be more victims.

“No matter how careful the parents are – the kids need to be educated on the types of techniques used by the predators,” Hazelwood Police DARE Officer Ed Novak said.

The alleged victim, who is now an adult, said she met youth pastor Jesse Vargas at a church retreat in Michigan. Vargas had lived in Long Island, New York.

She was 11 at the time. He was 25.

“He was actually the one at the registration table, the very first day that I went in. So I was 11, and I was in this new place full of strangers,” she said. “He was the first person to give me my nametag and make me feel comfortable. He was one of the spiritual leaders of the entire camp.”

FOX 2 is not naming the woman to protect her identity.

The woman, who is now 25, grew up in Hazelwood. She said she visited the camp twice a year. It was when she turned 13 that she said Vargas initiated more direct contact.

“After camp in 2011, he asked for my phone number and asked to take a photo of me. And he took that, and immediately started a friendly conversation,” she said.

She said the friendly conversations over texts were innocuous at first. Vargas, she said, insisted that he help guide her on her spiritual journey.

He began to text her, send her seemingly innocent tokens of affection, including a mix CD, a journal, and other items. Vargas’ wife had even sewn a dress for her.

But the subtle messages began to build into something dangerous over time, she said.

“He would talk to me about his work concerns, his marital concerns, his personal history, and also go on and on how well he wanted to treat me, and how he wanted to come there and buy me my favorite snacks,” she said. “And he wanted to transfer to St. Louis so he could take me out to lunch once I went to high school.”

The two became closer and while the alleged victim had concerns, she said she would ultimately trust Vargas, an authority figure.

Vargas, she said, even earned the trust of her family, even visiting and staying with them on more than one occasion.

Her first sexual contact with him happened when she was 15, she said.

“Inappropriate touching. Sexual stimulation. Oral sex, in my parents’ basement. He would come and stay with my family, he had earned their trust as well. But in the middle of the night, in my parent’s house, is where this would occur,” she said.

The methodically placed gifts, affection, and abuse continued. The alleged victim’s said her family was unaware of what was happening and that her parents allowed her to visit Vargas and his wife in New York.

The woman said she eventually broke off contact and lived with the secrets for years. It wasn’t until 2020—seven years after the initial relationship—that she came forward. She said a family member of Vargas—someone who she had never met—messaged her, saying she learned of what had been happened. She said the family member apologized to her for what Vargas had done.

That was when the woman, now 25, said she wanted to break her silence.

“I contacted Hazelwood Police,” she said.

She was aware that her case would be hard to prove, given that the alleged incidents took place seven years after the fact.

But two pieces of evidence helped bring charges against Vargas: an old iMac and an iPhone 5.

She still had possession of the old iPhone, which had the social app Kik on it. Vargas had instructed her to use the encrypted messaging system to communicate during the relationship.

“Even though it was encrypted and isn’t hosted online, it was still sitting there on my phone. The pages of conversation that we had had were right there waiting for the phone to turn on,” she said.

Hazelwood Police and the FBI were able to recover the texts. There were dozens of pages of evidence, revealing Vargas’ years-long efforts to groom his victim, police said.

“There were able to pull my phone backups off of that. Even though pretty early on in the grooming, he had instructed me to stop backing up my phone to that computer…we still had everything up to that point,” the woman said.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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: Southern Baptist Pastor Joey Krol Charged With Sexually Grooming Teenager

pastor joey krol

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

Joseph “Joey” Krol, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church in Rochester, Illinois, and operations manager and an on-air host for Christian radio station WLUJ, stands accused of sexually grooming a fifteen-year-old girl through Snapchat. Krol also pastored Galilee Baptist Church in Decatur, Illinois. Based on various news stories, Krol was the pastor of Galilee Baptist when the grooming took place. According to a statement on Galilee’s website, Krol left the church in June 2021.

The Herald & Review reports:

The former pastor of a Decatur church grabbed his phone and tried to wipe it of evidence he had been sending sexual messages and images to a 15-year-old girl when he realized the police were knocking on his door, a sworn affidavit said.

“Prior to answering the door, (Joseph M. Krol) is seen grabbing his cell phone and manipulating the buttons while standing in the kitchen area,” said Sgt. Roger Pope with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office.

“Deputies immediately located his phone, but (he) had factory reset the phone in an attempt to wipe all of the data.”

But the affidavit said it was already too late for the 36-year-old, who now pastors a church in Rochester, and was arrested Friday morning at an address in Dawson.

Pope said the family of the girl, who lives in Oreana, had previously turned over her phone to deputies. Evidence on the phone showed Krol had played sexually suggestive games with her and wanted nude photos.

“(She) allowed me to take over her Snapchat account and act as her while conversing with Krol,” said Pope in the affidavit. “During our conversations, Krol requested photos of (the girl) in her underwear. Unsolicited, he sent her Snapchat a video (showing the outline of his genitalia). He also asked her sexually explicit questions about … her fantasies to include her interest in older men.”

Pope said Krol tried to be careful and, believing he was speaking to the girl, would ask her to pan the room with her phone camera so that he could be sure no one else was present. He would then send her sexually explicit content.

Krol was booked on a preliminary charge of grooming, which is the offense of attempting to seduce, solicit, lure or entice a child to commit a sex act.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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: 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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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 Daniel Ramos Charged With Possession of Child Porn

daniel ramos

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 Ramos, a youth pastor at Victory Worship Center Church of God in Chicago, Illinois has been charged with possession or exhibition of child pornography, indecent solicitation and grooming.  According to the Chicago Tribune, in August 2017 church leaders were made aware of allegations against Ramos and promptly reported them to law enforcement. Kudos to the church for reporting the alleged crimes.

Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Ronald Burning Granted Parole After Only Serving Six Years for Sexual Assault

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.

Ronald Burning, former pastor of Johnsfield Baptist Church in Ohsweken, Ontario — located on the Six Nations Indian Reservation — was granted parole after only serving a six year prison sentence for sexually assaulting children, women, and men over a thirty year period. Burning was affiliated with Old Time Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York — a staunch King James Only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church.

The Brantford Expositor reports:

Six Nations pastor Ronald Burning, convicted in 2012 of a series of sexual assaults on children, women and men over 30 years, has been granted full parole from prison.

Now 65, Burning was sentenced in 2013 to 10 years for four counts of indecent assault of a female. two counts of sexual assault, indecent assault of a male, forcible confinement and criminal harassment, He received credit for his pre-trial custody on a 1 1/2 days for every one day served, giving him a total of 612 days of credit.

At his trial, the minister pleaded not guilty. He launched an appeal of the verdict by Justice Kim Carpenter-Gunn but abandoned his fight in May 2014.

It wasn’t until last June, when Burning was before the parole board, that he confessed his full guilt.

He later admitted he had been trying to protect himself and his family by denying his offences.

Before his arrest, the preacher also was principal of an independent school associated with his congregation, Johnsfield Baptist Church on Fifth Line. Throughout his trial, he received strong support from members of the church and American members of the church’s umbrella organization, Old Time Baptist Church in Buffalo, N.Y.

Victims who testified during Burning’s trial included: a woman who was sexually groomed and assaulted as a teen; a second woman who Burning assaulted for 11 years, beginning when she was a pre-schooler; a female church employee who was blackmailed into performing sexual acts; a woman who caught Burning peeping at her through a vent in the women’s washroom in the church; and two men who said the pastor molested them when they were young.

Last December, Burning was granted day parole and has been living in a federal halfway house at an undisclosed location.

According to the Parole Board of Canada’s decision to grant him full release, Burning has been spending weekends at his wife’s home, where he now will take up residence.

The report said Burning has made significant progress since being on day parole.

He has enrolled in a college program where he’s been attending daily classes. And he took a computer course through a native employment centre.

He also has been working on a self-management plan to identify triggers to the “distorted thinking patterns” he had in the past, said the parole board report, adding that Burning had a healing plan that he’s worked on with a church and his wife and daughter, who remain supportive.

The parole board said that Burning is considered a low risk to re-offend because of his “high levels of accountability, motivation and reintegration potential.”

He also is in poor health, the board notes.

“It is the board’s opinion that you will not present an undue risk to society if released and your release will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating your reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen.”

The board noted that Burning caused long-lasting psychological harm to his victims.

He faces strict conditions, including avoiding contact with his victims and all children under 18 years old. He also must report his relationships to his parole officer and not be in any supervisory role or position of authority over children.

He remains on the national sexual offenders database for the rest of his life.

….

In July 2017, the Brantford Expositor reported:

According to the parole board report, Burning told them he denied his guilt in order to protect himself and his family. He said he decided to accept responsibility after incarceration gave him time to reflect on his life.

“You were selfish and non-accountable,” says the report.“You admitted that you knew what you did was wrong but your desire for sexual gratification was stronger than any misgivings you might have had.”

Burning used his position as a musician, pastor and principal at Johnsfield Baptist Church on Six Nations to target victims, often on Sundays.
During his trial, supporters from both his family and the Six Nations church’s sponsoring congregation from the U.S. were in the courtroom to support the minister.

….
One former member of the church, whose daughters attended the church school, said she was angry that Burning was being released. The woman left the church, horrified the group continued to support Burning, to the point of raising funds for his defence, without addressing the allegation he was facing. “I’ve spoken out against my ex-church in the last four-and-a-half years since we left,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “I’m an administrator of an Independent Fundamental Baptist survivor group on Facebook and involved in several other IFB survivor groups.”

Through testimony during Burning’s trial, it was learned that although complaints about Burning were received by police as early as 2007, it was the end of 2009 when a victim reported she had been sexually assaulted, beginning when she was 17. The woman said Burning began by kissing and fondling her but his actions progressed to fellatio and intercourse.

A second woman testified she had been assaulted for 11 years, starting when she was three or four years old. Burning began having intercourse with her when she was about seven and continued to have sex with her until she was about 15.

Another woman said she rented a house from Burning’s church and worked at both the church and the school. Burning blackmailed her into performing sexual acts, threatening that she would lose her house and job if she didn’t comply.

Another woman reported she saw Burning watching her through a vent in the women’s washroom at the church. Her husband found a chair and mirror at the vent that allowed for a view of the genitals of anyone using the washroom. Another peephole was located in another bathroom.

Two men reported assaults. One said Burning fondled him while he slept and another said when he was seven to nine years old, Burning fellated him on at least 160 occasions.

….

The parole board questioned Burning about the fact that his “pool of victims” included four children under the age of 14.“You were asked why you offended against children. You said they were crimes of opportunity, the children were dependent on you and you felt they would not denunciate you. “You felt entitled and used the power that your position gave you to groom some of your victims and manipulate them.

”Burning confessed to the board that he still thinks of children in a sexual way but he has no inclination now to act upon his feelings. He outlined examples of how he plans to cope with such desires.

….

I find it appalling that Burning only served six years for his crimes; that the parole board determined he was no longer a risk to society. What is the h-e-l-l were they thinking?

In 2012, the Brantford Expositor reported:

A 59-year-old Six Nations pastor sat with his head in his hands after guilty verdicts were read out on 13 of 14 charges Friday afternoon in Brantford Superior Court.

Ronald D. Burning was taken into custody after the verdicts were read, bringing to a conclusion a two-week trial where the six-man, six-woman jury heard from two men and five women in relation to an original 19 charges. The witnesses cannot be identified due to a court-ordered publication ban.

Jurors had deliberated over 14 of the original 19 charges starting Thursday at 10 a.m. At 8 p.m. Thursday they were sequestered for the night and resumed deliberations at 10 a.m. Friday. They rendered their verdicts shortly before 3:30 p.m. Friday.

Burning, pastor of Johnsfield Baptist Church, was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault, four charges of indecent assault, sexual intercourse with someone under the age of 14, forcible confinement, indecent assault, voyeurism, criminal harassment, indecent assault and gross indecency. These charges, some committed on men and some on women, related to incidents that took place between 1971 and 2009.

He was found not guilty on a single charge – sexual assault on a male.

Three of the original charges were stayed by Justice Kim Carpenter-Gunn, who directed acquittal on two other charges because no evidence was presented.

During their deliberations, jurors returned to the court mid-morning Friday to ask a question of clarification. Jurors wanted to know if they could find guilt on a charge where there was only the testimony of one witness and no other corroborating evidence from exhibits presented during the trial or other witness testimony.

The judge said that jurors could use any evidence or testimony to help them assess the context of the witness testimony in question and use that to determine how much weight to give to what that person told the court.

The judge revoked Burning’s bail following his conviction, requiring that he stay in custody until his sentencing hearing.

Defence lawyer Howard Staats had asked his client remain on bail, given he has lived under those conditions for almost two years and had caused no problems.

Assistant Crown attorney Patricia Vadacchino argued for custody.

She also reviewed for the judge how two of the guilty verdicts carry minimum life sentences, three carry minimum five-year sentences and one carries a minimum 10-year sentence.

“Now that we’ve had the jury come back … finding the accused guilty on 13 of 14 charges and the defendant is looking at significant jail time, I don’t see the wisdom of releasing the accused,” Carpenter-Gunn said.

….

Bruce Gerencser