Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Black Collar Crime (Nov. 2019)

Vol. 36 No. 09 November 2019

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Yunior Beltres, 54, Miami, FL: 2 counts of sexual battery on a minor. Beltres, pastor at Ministerio Evangelistico Columnas de Fuego [Columns of Fire] and a citizen of the Dominican Republic, is accused of molesting girls ages 9 and 10 at his home in May and June and forcing them to watch each other’s assaults. Source: Miami Herald, 9-14-19

Ke Nguyen, aka Thich Hanh Hieu, Bauxite, AK: 2nd-degree battery. Nguyen, president of Bat Nha [Buddhist] Temple, is accused of physical abuse of a 9-year-old boy for whom he is legal guardian. The boy came to school with marks on his body.

Nguyen came to the temple from Vietnam in 2006. Source: KARK, 9-9-19

Paul D. Burdick, 48, Hillsboro, OR: 15 counts of 3rd-degree sexual abuse. At least 20 alleged victims have been identified as being involved in incidents from 2012-18. Burdick taught driver education at Portland Community College and was bishop of the Hillsboro ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He’s been removed from both positions.

He’s accused of groping high school girls during driving lessons and making them do jumping jacks while he recorded them on his cellphone. Source: KGW, 9-5-19

Robert L. Brennan, 81, Perryville, MD: 4 counts of making false statements to federal authorities. Brennan, defrocked in 2017 as a Catholic priest, is accused of lying to the FBI in April about knowing accuser Sean McIlmail, his altar boy brother and their parents during his 9 years at a Philadelphia parish.

Brennan was indicted on sexual assault charges in 2013 but the case was dropped when McIlmail, 26, died of an accidental drug overdose before trial. Pursuing a novel legal strategy, he was charged with a fresh crime instead of with abusing McIlmail from 1998-2001. Source: AP, 9-5-19

Benjamin “Gus” Harter, 80, Cumming, GA: Child molestation. Harter, pastor of Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church in Sandy Springs since 2014, is accused of molesting a girl under age 16 in his home on multiple occasions from 2012-15.

Harter spent 30 years with Bethany Primitive Baptist Church in Suwanee until 2000, when he moved with his wife to the Philippines. There he led 2 churches, founded an orphanage and adopted 19 children before returning to the U.S. in 2008. The Harters have 5 biological children. Source: WXIA, 9-4-19

Francis Trauger, 74, Brooklyn, NY: Indecent assault and corruption of minors. Trauger, a defrocked priest, is charged with molesting 2 altar boys when he was pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic in Tullytown, PA, from 1993-2003.

Trauger was transferred between parishes multiple times after abuse allegations in the 1980s and ’90s but couldn’t be charged since the statute of limitations had expired on the earlier cases. Source: nj.com 9-3

Joseph “Jack” Baker, 57, Waterford, MI: 1st-degree criminal sexual conduct/sexual penetration with a person under 13. Baker, pastor at St. Perpetua Catholic Parish, is the 6th priest charged as part of a state probe of abuse in the Catholic Church.

Baker is accused of assaulting a 2nd-grade boy in 2004 in a storage room at St. Mary Catholic Church in Wayne. Afterward, “I went back [to catechism class] and tried to hide, hide inside myself,” Baker’s accuser, now 23, told a reporter, adding that when he got home he saw blood in his underpants so he threw them away. Source: Oakland Press, 8-29-19

Sherman S. Smith, 73, Monterey, CA: 7 counts of wire fraud involving over $2 million and connected to his time as executive pastor of Sonrise Church of Clovis. “Smith collected cash, checks, and rolled-over retirement accounts to fund the church’s project, but he did not disclose to investors that he used the money for personal expenses, to operate a publishing business, and to invest in foreign ventures,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott in a statement.

Fraud is alleged between February 2015 and July 2016. Smith, who also wrote Christian-themed, financial self-help books, was sentenced to 37 months in prison in 2004 after pleading guilty to securities fraud. Source: Fresno Bee/Religion News Blog, 8-29-19

Gary D. Wiggins, 49, and Meghann S. Wiggins, 34, Baldwin County, AL: Trafficking of persons charges, which accuse the married couple of knowingly trafficking 4 underage boys “through force, fraud or coercion” and making them “engage in forced labor or services” between May-July 2018.

The married couple ran the Joshua Home, a religious boarding school for troubled boys near Bertram, TX, as well as Joshua Home Lawn Care and Joshua Home Moving. Authorities removed 8 boys ages 10 to 17 from the home.

The Wigginses earlier operated Blessed Hope Boys Academy in Robertsdale, AL, where boys alleged to ABC “20/20” in 2017 that they were subjected to solitary confinement, withholding of food and various gay conversion therapy tactics. After the school was ordered closed with no charges filed, the couple set up a similar operation in rural Missouri.

Blessed Hope operated without oversight because of a loophole in state law, since changed, that exempted schools operating as a church ministry from state inspection. Source: al.com/KXAN, 8-27-19

Joseph Rizzuti, 55, Worcester, MA: Disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, interfering with a police officer, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. Rizzuti, an evangelist preaching at Cornerstone Bible Baptist Church, allegedly accosted police investigating a child custody dispute at the storefront church.

His son, Joseph Rizzuti, 30, and Karissa Rizzuti, 29, were charged with interfering with a police officer and resisting arrest for allegedly interfering during the elder Rizzuti’s arrest. Source: Worcester Telegram, 8-25-19

Brian E. Couch, 55, Yorktown, IN: Sexual misconduct with a minor and 10 counts of child molesting. Couch, pastor at Yorktown Church of the Nazarene until resigning in May, told police he needed to talk to them about “inappropriately touching” a juvenile over the course of several years, court documents said. The victim told authorities the escalating sexual abuse began at about age 6 and continued “almost daily.”

His wife, Londa R. Couch, 54, faces charges of neglect of a dependent and failure to report. She allegedly became aware of the abuse in November 2018. Source: Fox 59, 8-24-19

Brian Stanley, 57, Coloma, MI: Felony false imprisonment. “Stanley is accused of secreting away a teenage boy and holding him against his will in the janitor’s room of St. Margaret’s Church in 2013,” stated a news release from state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office.

Pastor Stanley then allegedly immobilized the boy by wrapping him tightly in plastic wrap and covering his mouth and eyes with masking tape for over an hour before letting him go. According to Nessel’s office, “this type of conduct is a sexually motivated crime.”

The incident was reported to the Diocese of Kalamazoo in 2013 and Stanley was put on leave but was reinstated after law enforcement didn’t file criminal charges. Since then the diocese has learned of additional allegations involving Stanley and reported them. Source: mlive.com, 8-22-19

Austin Greenway, 19, Odenville, AL: Counts of sexual abuse of a child younger than 12 and school employee engaged in a sex act with a student younger than 19. St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray said his office was contacted by the Margaret Police Department about alleged incidents at North Valley Church Early Learning Center, an after-school program where Greenway worked as a teacher for 2 years. Source: Anniston Star, 8-21-19

Joseph McLoone, 58, Downington, PA: 18 counts related to the alleged theft of $98,405 from 2011-17 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, where he was pastor. Msgr. McLoone is accused of using the money for a beach house, travel and dining with adult men with whom he had sexual relationships, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office announced.

According to the indictment, McLoone deposited the money into the “St. Joseph Activity Account” he opened at TD Bank. Source: pennlive.com, 8-21-19

Bret A. Welty, 48, Boise, ID: Sexual abuse of a minor under 16 years of age. Welty is pastor at Hard Rock Revival Church, which he runs out of his home. He’s charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl who was staying with him and his wife on a weekend visit in August to get counseling for ongoing anxiety issues.

He was affiliated earlier with Calvary Chapel Church and Common Ground Riders Church. Source: CBS 2, 8-20-19

Shannon Coutouzis, 29, Houston: Indecency with a child/sexual contact. The allegations stem from an incident on Nov. 13, 2018, with a 15-year-old Richmond boy when Coutouzis was youth pastor and administrative assistant at The Crossing Church of the Nazarene. Source: Houston Chronicle, 8-20-19

Geoff Drew, 51, Cincinnati: 9 counts of rape stemming from alleged incidents with an altar boy in 1988-91 when Drew was a music minister at St. Jude’s Catholic School in Bridgetown, OH. He was ordained as a priest in 2004 and was removed in July as pastor at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish.

His accuser, now 41, told investigators the rapes occurred in Drew’s office after school hours. The announcement of his suspension in July drew ire from parishioners who hadn’t been told about complaints about Drew in 2013 and 2015 when he was at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Liberty Township. Source: Cincinnati Enquirer, 8-19-19

Paxton Singer, 24, Aurora, IL: Disorderly conduct and misdemeanor sexual exploitation of a child. Singer, youth pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel, “knowingly enticed a person under 17 years of age to remove their clothing for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification of the defendant or the child,” an affidavit said.

It’s alleged that between October 2016 and August 2017, he asked a 16-year-old boy for nude photos, inquired about the teen’s sexual habits and suggested they spend the weekend together. Three more male teens from the church have alleged Singer behaved inappropriately with them. Source: Newsweek, 8-18-19

Maurice Lyn, 44, Coral Springs, FL: Lewd and lascivious molestation and lewd and lascivious conduct. Lyn, pastor at Deerfield Beach Church of God of Prophecy, is accused of molesting a 15-year-old from from the church.

An affidavit said Lyn picked the boy up at his home to buy school supplies and after learning later that no one was home, pinned him against a counter and kissed and fondled him. Source: WPLG, 8-14-19

Justin White, 34, Hugo, OK: 2nd-degree rape and lewd molestation. White, youth pastor at Clayton Avenue Baptist Church and former baseball coach at Smithville Public Schools, is accused of incidents involving 2 female students. During the 2013-14 school year, “he allegedly had sexual intercourse with a female student several times at his residence located on school property,” an affidavit said.

At the time he was youth pastor at Spiro Baptist Church, where an underage girl alleged he inappropriately touched and kissed her. Source: Tulsa World, 8-12-19

Emanuel Rodriguez, 44, Council Bluffs, IA: 2 counts of 3rd-degree sexual assault of a child. Rodriguez, pastor at Calvary Assembly of God Church and leader of the Christian rock group 70xForgiven, is accused of assaults on girls last May and in 2016. He allegedly groped them under blankets at his home. One girl was 11.

70xForgiven’s latest album is titled “Reckless Love.” Source: KETV/NY Daily News, 8-11-19

Todd Spain Jr., 26, Pelham, NH: 2nd-degree assault and 2 misdemeanor counts of domestic violence/simple assault. Spain, student ministry leader at Crossroads Church, is accused of attacking his wife on a July 6 hike after admitting he was having an extramarital affair. His father is Crossroads’ lead pastor.

An affidavit stated he hit Molly Spain in the back of the head with a rock while they were on a mountain ledge but she was able to flee. She told police she continues to fear for her life. Source: Eagle-Tribune, 8-9-19

Fazlur Rahman, 45, Narayanganj, Bangladesh: Rape. Rahman, imam at Baitul Hafez Jame Masjid, is accused of raping an 8-year-old girl in the mosque in August. Her father told police he’d taken her there several times to be treated for recurrent nightmares. Five members of the mosque’s management committee were charged as accomplices.

At least 4 more imams were arrested for assaulting children sexually in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chandpur and Brahmanbaria between May and July. Source: Dhaka Tribune, 8-7-19

Pleaded / Convicted

Jonathan Chang, 63, Cupertino, CA: Guilty by jury of 4 federal counts of wire fraud and 3 counts of money laundering. Chang, an elder at Home of Christ 4 Christian Church in Saratoga, was accused of funneling $6 million of donations and loans from a church member into his own accounts.

A jury was unable to reach a verdict on related charges against his wife, Grace Chang, 60. Source: Mercury News, 9-11-19

Amy M. Krohmer, 43, Roanoke, VA: Pleaded no contest to embezzlement. Krohmer, a secretary at West End United Methodist Church, was accused of embezzling nearly $200,000 from the church, which only has about 65 members. She was an employee from 2009 until September 2018, when discrepancies were discovered. Source: Roanoke Times, 9-10-19

Melissa Sistar, 42, Ft. Mohave, AZ: Pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation, reduced from the original forgery charge. Sister, treasurer at Valley Christian Church in Bullhead City, “falsely completed” a check for $230.50 from the church and deposited it into her account, said prosecutor Amanda Claerhout. Source: Daily News, 9-5-19

Hurmiz Ishak, 66, Sterling Heights, MI: Guilty by jury of criminal sexual conduct. Ishak, a subdeacon and sacristan at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Troy, was convicted of assaulting a 14-year-old boy at the church in 2017.

Jurors heard from 2 other alleged victims, a teen girl and an adult woman, who testified Ishak acted inappropriately with them at the church. The adult was a teen at the time and was allegedly told by her mother to keep quiet so she wouldn’t be ostracized and “treated like damaged goods” by the Chaldean community. Source: Oakland Press, 8-30-19

Kenneth E. Hogue, 66, Butte, MT: Pleaded guilty to wire fraud for embezzling $288,757 from United Pentecostal Church, where he was pastor from 1982-2018. The money was stolen from June 2012 to July 2016. Source: KECI, 8-29-19

Ronnie Gorton, 41, Atoka, TN: Guilty by jury of 24 counts of exploitation of a minor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, furnishing alcohol to minors, sexual battery by an authority figure, statutory rape and continual abuse of a child. Gorton was accused of assaults on a teen boy while he was a youth pastor at Awakening Church. The boy testified the sexual touching started the day he moved into the Gorton home in 2016.

Prosecutor Walt Freeland called the upstairs bedroom in the house Gorton shared with his now ex-wife a “chamber of horrors” and said Gorton was a “ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing. As the shepherd of a flock, he didn’t pray for the flock, he preyed on the flock.” Two more trials are pending. Source: WMC 5, 8-28-19

Charles N. Pelkey, 50, Avon, MN: Pleaded guilty to 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct on the day his jury trial was scheduled to start. Pelkey, former pastor at Avon Community Church, was charged with having sex with a woman who had gone to him for counseling in 2017-18. Minnesota bars sexual relationships between clergy and congregants; consent is not a defense.

Pelkey resigned as pastor in July 2018 and no longer serves as volunteer chaplain for the Avon Police Department. Source: St. Cloud Times, 8-27-19

Sentenced

Arthur Perrault, 81, a Catholic priest who fled from New Mexico to Morocco, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after a jury convicted him of abusive sexual contact with a minor under 12 and 6 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Perrault most recently was pastor at an Albuquerque parish and a chaplain at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Charges stemmed from abuse of an altar boy at the base and at Santa Fe National Cemetery. Both are within federal jurisdiction not subject to the state statute of limitations. Source: AP, 9-13-19

Menachem M. “Mendy” Weiss, 48, Los Angeles: 6 years in prison. Rabbi Weiss pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault in New Jersey for molesting a boy between the ages of 13 and 16 in 1999 when he ran the home-based Pascack Valley Outreach Chabad Center. When arrested in 2018, he was director of the Israel Center at Milken Community Schools, a Jewish day school in Los Angeles. Source: Daily Voice, 9-11-19

Samir el Rifai, Helsingborg, Sweden: 250-euro fine ($275) for engaging in hate speech. At a July 2017 protest in Helsingborg against Israel for canceling prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after 2 Israeli police officers were killed there, el Rifai called Jews “the progeny of monkeys and pigs.”

El Rifai claimed at trial he was referring to the state of Israel, not its inhabitants, an argument the court discounted. Source: JTA, 9-5-19

David R. Holmes, 82, Oskaloosa, IA: 8 years in prison for having sex with a 14-year-old boy he met on the gay dating app Grindr in 2017. Holmes, who retired as pastor at Central United Methodist Church, met the boy in a hospital parking garage, where they engaged in oral sex. Source: Queerty, 9-3-19

Aryeh Goodman, 37, E. Brunswick, NJ: 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to interstate travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise. Goodman, who with his wife ran Chabad of East Brunswick and a Hebrew school out of their home, admitted he answered an ad and met a 17-year-old girl at a motel for sex in 2018.

The girl was being pimped out by a couple who allegedly forced her to have sex with over 30 men. Goodman was already a registered sex offender for a 2013 Pennsylvania conviction. Source: nj.com, 8-28-19

Thomas P. Ganley, 64, Phillipsburg, NJ: 4 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault. The victim, now 42, claimed Ganley assaulted her at least 12 times starting when she was a freshman in high school in 1990 and he was pastor at St. Cecilia Catholic Parish in Woodbridge.

Ganley was the first defendant to be charged and plead guilty in a case filed by the Clergy Abuse Task Force formed by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in 2018. Source: nj.com, 8-26-19

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Westchester Day School, Mamaroneck, NY, and Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy, Bronx, NY, are defendants in suits filed by 7 men who allege the Orthodox schools negligently employed serial pedophile Stanley Rosenfeld, who taught at both schools at different times from 1969 through the 1980s.

The suits were filed under the recently enacted Child Victims Act that significantly lengthened the statute of limitations for bringing civil cases against abusers and employers. Rosenfeld was convicted of molesting a 12-year-old bar mitzvah student while serving as a cantor in Rhode Island after leaving New York.

Allegations from several students surfaced early last year, including numerous complaints from the Ramaz School in Manhattan, which has admitted it failed to act after receiving reports in the early 1970s. Source: forward.com, 9-5-19

William T. White, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York and the Church of the Resurrection in Rye are being sued by “W.F.” of Connecticut. He alleges White molested him multiple times in 1972-73 when he was 11 and 12. White has also been accused of molesting children while he was an administrator at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains and at Holy Cross in Manhattan.

White, now 86, was defrocked in 2002 while working in Florida and is believed to still live in W. Palm Beach. Source: Journal News, 8-30-19

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is being sued by Wayne Bortle under the Child Victims Act. He alleges he was abused at age 15 by Robert P. Conlin in 1980 when Conlin served at St. Mary’s Church in Pavilion.

“The one image that always stands out in my head is trying to get out of that house and I could just see this bolt lock,” Bortle said, referring to a rectory door. Conlin died at age 66 in 1997. Bortle wants Conlin’s name removed from the parish hall. Source: WIVB, 8-29-19

The Catholic Diocese of Scranton, PA, former Bishop James Timlin and current Bishop Joseph Bambera are defendants in a suit brought by 4 men, ranging in age from 45 to 57, who allege sexual abuse in the 1970s and ’80s by Michael Pulicare, a priest who died in 1999.

The plaintiffs declined to enroll in a diocesan victim compensation program, calling it inadequate and a way for the diocese to avoid public airing of its dirty laundry. Source: AP, 8-28-19

A graduate of the Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas is suing the school and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, alleging he was sexually abused as a student by a priest and former school president who is on the diocese’s “credibly accused” list. Mike Pedevilla, now 54, accused Patrick Koch, the priest, of molestation and the diocese of covering it up.

Koch died in 2006 at age 78 but never faced criminal charges. Source: Morning News, 8-27-19

The Catholic Diocese of Albany, NY, Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard and Francis P. Melfe were sued in August by 5 siblings who allege Melfe, who was a priest from 1954 until resigning in 1979, secretly lived with their mother while he was pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Schenectady. Melfe died Sept. 20 at age 91 after the suit was filed and was buried in Our Lady of Angels Cemetery.

The older siblings — Sandra Sculli, Joann Steve, John Steve and Robert Steve — allege they endured repeated sexual abuse by Melfe, that he made them complicit in the alleged theft of funds from the church and that he gave them sips of martinis and beer and alcohol-soaked olives while molesting them. It’s also alleged he fathered the youngest child, David Melfe, born in 1972. Source: Daily Gazette, 8-26-19

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hudson Falls, NY, and the Diocese of Albany are defendants in a suit filed by “John Doe,” who alleges he was molested from about 1982-1985, starting when he was 10, by St. Mary’s associate pastor Richard A. Severson.

The suit, one of over 500 filed in New York since Aug. 14 under the Child Victims Act, alleges there are more victims than the plaintiff, whose mother worked at the church. Severson died at age 71 in 2007. The suit asserts he manipulated the plaintiff to make him feel like he had done something wrong, then told him he forgave him and had him recite a Hail Mary. Source: Times Union, 8-26-19

A Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in San Dimas, CA, and several of the church’s governing bodies are being sued in Los Angeles by Kevin Ramirez, who alleges he was molested in 1999-2001 starting when he was 6 years old by Humberto Ramirez, a church elder who is not related to Kevin Ramirez.

Humberto Ramirez allegedly told the plaintiff he “would not be accepted into paradise if he did not allow the molestations to occur.” Kevin Ramirez said Humberto used his position to molest multiple boys in Defendant Congregation. The church did nothing after his parents reported the abuse to other church elders in 2001, Kevin Ramirez said. Source: CBS-LA, 8-22-19

Yeshiva University High School for Boys, Yeshiva University High School for Girls and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary are defendants in multiple New York suits filed by 38 former students who allege molestation by 3 rabbis and other school officials from 1955-86.

“Our clients have patiently waited for years to get through the courthouse door to obtain the justice they so rightly deserve,” lawyer Kevin Mulhearn said in a statement.

At least 47 alleged victims have also filed suit against the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn since the Child Victims Act took effect. One plaintiff, now 74, alleges Sylvester Marsh of St. Matthias Catholic Church in the early 1950s molested him when he was 7. Another alleges 1973 abuse by Robert Mistretta, a baseball coach at Nazareth High School. Source: NY Post, 8-22-19

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and Holy Family Institute are being sued by a Pittsburgh man alleging he was subjected to the “torture” of sexual abuse by 2 priests as a boy living at the Emsworth children’s home in the 1970s.

The alleged perpetrators are identified as Larry Smith, a retired diocesan priest, and “Father Gerdes.” Smith denies the allegations.

The suit says Gerdes belonged to the religious order of Spiritans (Congregation of the Holy Spirit), but according to the order’s U.S. province, no priest with that or a similar name ever belonged to the order. Joseph C. Girdis, a Diocese of Pittsburgh priest, served as chaplain at Holy Family Institute in the 1970s, according to newspaper archives. He died in 2003. Source: Post-Gazette, 8-20-19

The Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha and the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus are defendants in a $10 million suit filed by Kathleen Chafin, who alleges she was forced in 1968 to give her son born out of wedlock up for adoption. Thomas Halley, a now-deceased Jesuit priest, is accused of manipulating her and removing her son from the hospital.

Nebraska courts dismissed the case due to the statute of limitations but Chafin, who lives in Seattle, refiled it in federal court. She was finally reunited with her son in 2015 and they have since kept in touch. Over 1½ million women were told during that period to give up their children for similar reasons, resulting in it being termed the “Baby Scoop Era.”

Chafin can’t forget the day Halley sat with her and her parents to tell them she was pregnant. “I have his words etched in my brain. He made me sound like a slut, like a streetwalker, like the worst person in the world.” Source: Washington Post, 8-20-19

New York City rabbis Joel Kolko and Joel Falk are named in a suit filed by a Florida man who alleges he was molested as a student in Brooklyn between 1978-80. Baruch Sandhaus claims the rabbis intentionally touched his genitals while he was a student at Yeshiva Torah Temimah.

Falk, 74, now serves as principal of Hebrew studies at Toras Zev in Lakewood, NJ. “It is devastating for me to hear that Falk is still working at a yeshiva,” said Sandhaus, a Miami businessman. “This man should not be around kids.” Source: NY Post, 8-16-19

Civil Lawsuits Settled

Muslim cleric Zia Ul-Haq Sheikh, 50, was ordered by a Texas judge to pay $2.55 million to a woman who says he groomed her for sex after counseling her at her family’s request for several years when she was in her teens. Sheikh was hired in 2005 as head imam of the Islamic Center of Irving, where he remained until his forced resignation in 2017. It was there that he met plaintiff “Jane Doe” in 2010 when she was 13.

When Doe was 18, Sheikh allegedly offered himself as a potential spouse even though he already had 2 wives. He then started “grooming Jane to become more sexualized and to ultimately engage in illicit sexual acts with him” at a motel in 2016, the complaint stated. Source: Religion News Service, 8-15-19

Finances

Michael J. Bransfield, 76, who resigned in September 2018 as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.VA, spent nearly $1 million on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as bishop. A newspaper investigation published Sept. 12 reported that during his last year as bishop, Bransfield took at least 19 trips in a chartered luxury jet.

He’s also been accused of sexually harassing adult males. In July he was prohibited from living in the diocese and ordered to make unspecified “personal amends for some of the harm he caused.” The amends are to be determined by his successor, Bishop Mark Brennan.

Proceeds from the $1.2 million sale in August of Bransfield’s home will be used to provide professional counseling, psychological and spiritual support for victims of sexual abuse, Brennan said. The home was sold to David H. McKinley, the son of Republican U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley. Source: CNA/News-Register, 9-14-19

The Catholic Diocese of Rochester, NY, has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. “Litigation cost and settlements or jury awards will exceed our resources and the diocese will be unable to litigate or settle these claims,” said Bishop Salvatore Matano.

Court papers listed 275 creditors, including an entry that reads “various sex abuse claimants.” The diocese is listed as a defendant in 59 legal claims filed under the Child Victims Act. The window for new claims closes in August 2020.

The filing estimates assets of between $50 million and $100 million and liabilities of between $100 million and $500 million. Source: Democrat & Chronicle, 9-13-19

Legal Developments

Lawrence Ventline, Port Austin, MI, an inactive Catholic priest accused of child sexual assault, had his counselor’s license revoked for at least 3 years by the Michigan Board of Counseling, which also fined him $5,000. Ventline was restricted from public ministry within the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2016 because of the allegation, detailed in May when Attorney General Dana Nessel announced charges against 5 other Catholic priests.

The statute of limitations prevented the department from prosecuting Ventline criminally, Nessel said. An administrative complaint accuses him of raping an 11-year-old boy who was a student at a school associated with Ventline’s parish in 1989-90.

Ventline maintained an active educationally limited professional counseling license starting in 1999. As recently as September 2018, he presented himself as a board certified professional counselor without clarifying limitations on his license, the complaint said. Source: Detroit News, 9-6-19

George Pell, 78, former Vatican treasurer and cardinal, will remain in prison after an Australian court rejected his appeal of his 6-year sentence for sexually assaulting 2 choirboys aged 13 in the mid-1990s. A panel of 3 senior judges rejected the appeal’s 13 claims and ruled it was possible for the jury to have found Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt based on evidence presented at the 5-week trial last December. Source: CNN, 8-20-19

Allegations

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO, released a list of 24 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. Of the 24, 19 were diocesan priests, 3 were under the jurisdiction of other dioceses and 2 served in the diocese but belonged to religious orders. Thirteen of the 19 are deceased, 2 have been permanently removed from ministry and 4 have been laicized.

Bishop James Johnston Jr. said the list, which covers the period from 1956 to the present, has been shared with the Missouri attorney general. Most of the priests had multiple allegations. Source: Kansas City Star, 9-6-19

Potter’s Field Ministry, an evangelical Christian ranch near Whitefish, MT, was abruptly shut down in August by the Calvary Chapel Association, its California-based sponsor. It was operated by Michael Rozell and his wife Pamela. The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating. Tax records show the Rozells made $5 million in 2016 alone.

Dawn Marie Grice, who came to the ranch in 2000 at age 20 from an abusive home, is among a dozen former staffers to detail alleged wrongdoing by the Rozells, which they say included emotional abuse, sexual harassment and forced labor. The Rozells have a multimillion-dollar business empire and operated the MudMan hamburger chain until the current controversy erupted.

Grice, who was Michael Rozell’s personal assistant for 11 years, said his abuse sometimes turned sexual. “He would just repeat whatever you said and make a masturbating gesture with his hands near his crotch.”

Several other former ministry members said they were periodically asked by Rozell if they had “struggled with sexual sin.” One woman, who joined Potter’s Field in 2017, said he once asked her if she “ever let a dog lick [her] down there.”

Pam Rozell is a former Miss Georgia who has recorded 10 Christian albums. Source: Daily Beast, 9-3-19

The Catholic Diocese of Burlington knew at least 40 Vermont priests were accused of sexually abusing children over the past 70 years but did nothing to alert the public or police, according to a lay-led church committee. The committee, given unprecedented access to files previously seen by only church leaders and lawyers, issued an online report that named the accused clergy and acknowledged the diocese covered up claims in order to prevent lawsuits and scandal.

“While most of these allegations took place at least a generation ago, the numbers are still staggering,” Bishop Christopher Coyne said. “These shameful, sinful and criminal acts have been our ‘family secret’ for generations.” Source: vtdigger.org, 8-22-19

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