Florida: Evangelical pastors arrested on child sex charges

Four arrests of Christian pastors in one week on charges of sexual abuse of minors.

An Evangelical church pastor was arrested on December 17 near Orlando FL on five counts of sexual battery on a child. Arnold Mathis (40) remains in custody at a Polk County facility after being arrested at his home in Winterhaven. The alleged perpetrator of the crimes is scheduled to appear before a local court later this week, having now secured a court-appointed defense attorney.

Mathis is an assistant pastor at Higher Praise Ministries, in Lake Wales FL. Officials say the incidents occurred in 2005 while Mathis was senior pastor at Saint City Power and Praise Ministries in Winterhaven. Mathis is alleged to have been a mentor to the young male victim, having met her at a basketball game, but then subjected him to abuse. The sheriff’s department claim that Mathis approached a boy and offered financial help, as well as new shoes. The fatherless boy apparently felt that Mathis was trying to serve as a father figure. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said of Mathis, "He's a monster." The sheriff added, “Arnold Mathis was the master of grooming. He had grooming children down to an art."  "Children are not safe around him," Judd said.

This is fourth such arrest of a church pastor in Polk County in which alleged perpetrators have been charged with one or more child sex-related crime.

Polk County Sheriff Department said the boy victim advised on December 16 of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Mathis six years ago in Mathis’ home and other places. The then 34-year-old Mathis met the victim at a local park, according to reports, and took him to his home and engaged in oral copulations with the 14-year-old boy. Mathis then allegedly gave the boy $100 and told him to buy a prepaid phone to allow communication between the two. Over the succeeding months, Mathis continued to assault the then 14-year-old boy and provide gifts and money. The victim is now 21 years old.

History of sexual abuse

Despite having a history of abuse, Mathis was serving as an associate pastor in an unpaid position at the Higher Praise Ministries church. Mathis was arrested by Polk County Sheriff's deputies in August 2004 and in January 2011 for failing to register as a sex offender. He had been required to register, following a 1997 conviction in Leon County for which he served 4 years in prison. Judd said "the shock of this investigation is, he's already a sex offender, he's already been to prison and he's still a youth pastor or associate pastor? That's terrible."

Also arrested this week were Mulberry FL youth pastors Ricardo Navarro, 28, and Edward Demoreta, 30. Navarro was a youth pastor at First Assembly of God church in Mulberry until he was asked to leave one year ago. The alleged 14-year-old victim in his case received text messages from Navarro asking her to send nude photographs of herself. He has admitted to inappropriate relations with the girl.

Demoreta was found to have engaged in sexual relations with the same girl when she was 13 years old. Demoreta was also a teacher at a local public school.

On December 11, a 25-year-old youth ministry leader at an Auburndale church was arrested following an investigation that began in November 2010. Darryl Leonard Taylor, Jr. is facing lewd molestation charges. The boy revealed to a church elder and his father of the abuse.

Topping off the sex crimes in Orlando, home to DisneyWorld, the head football coach at a high school in nearby Lakeland was arrested on December 13 and charged with having sex with a 17-year-old girl, according to Sheriff Judd. Matt Thompson (30) stands charged with having sex with the female student on at least three occasions.

Elsewhere in Florida, another coach, Robert Francis of St. Petersburg College is out on bond after being arrested in a December 6 sting operation. According to Orange County sheriff’s deputies, Francis (31) had planned to engage in sexual behaviour with a 14-year-old girl he met on line. The unwitting Francis did not know that in reality he had been communicating with an undercover sheriff’s deputy who suggested the hook-up near Tampa.
 



Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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