Thursday, August 17, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor, wife and deacons: child molestors

PINEVILLE MO - Sexual abuse charges spanning four decades were filed Tuesday against a McDonald County pastor, his wife, and two church deacons.

The charges were filed by Steve Geeding, McDonald County prosecutor, and Daniel Bagley, the county's assistant prosecutor.

Raymond Lambert, 51, pastor of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, located in Washburn, has been charged with one count of first degree child molestation, four counts of second degree child molestation and three counts of statutory sodomy in the second degree for events which happened between Feb. 15, 1995, and April 4, 2004.

Lambert's wife, Patty Lambert, 49, faces a count of second degree child molestation and a count of first degree endangerment of a child in a ritual or ceremony which took place on April 3, 2004.

Tom Epling, 51, was charged with five counts of first degree statutory sodomy for events happening between July 16, 1977, and July 15, 1982.

And Paul Epling, 53, faces two counts of first degree statutory rape and five counts of first degree statutory sodomy for events which happened between Nov. 7, 1978, and July 15, 1983.

Warrants for the arrests of the individuals were issued Tuesday as well, the prosecutor said in a prepared statement. However, McDonald County Sheriff Don Schlessman reported his office had not received the warrants as of late Tuesday afternoon, nor had any arrests been made as of Tuesday night.

Geeding was not available for additional comment Tuesday evening.

Schlessman said Deputy Mike LeSueur, an investigator with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, had more information on the case.

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, LeSueur said several former members of the church had come forward in the last six months, claiming they had been molested for several years. They alleged the abuse started when they were children and continued into adulthood, he said. One victim said the abuse started at the age of 4. LeSueur said incest was involved.

“My understanding is this is the third generation of pastors who have participated in this kind of abuse,” LeSueur said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “One of the victims said to me, ‘Why would a man plant a fruit tree and then not sample the first offering of fruit from that tree.' ”

Charges against Raymond Lambert allege the incidents took place on May 31, 1995; July 4, 2000; March 5, 2001; April 3, 2002; and April 3, 2004. Charges against Mrs. Lambert say the incidents she was allegedly involved in took place on April 3, 2004.

In charges against Paul Epling filed Tuesday, the prosecutors listed the dates of occurrences as Nov. 7, 1978, and on July 15 of 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983.

And on charges alleged against Tom Epling, the incidents allegedly took place on July 15 of 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982.

The church and more than two dozen surrounding homes has been described as a “compound” by long-time McDonald County residents, as well as church members, LeSueur said. The Lamberts reside at 589 Cecil Epling Lane, while Tom Epling lives at 584 Cecil Epling Way and his brother, Paul Epling, resides at 362 Cecil Epling Way.

Court dates for the four have not been set as of late Tuesday evening. However, McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage has been assigned the case.

If convicted, Raymond Lambert could face 10 to 30 years or life in prison for the first degree child molestation charge; up to seven years in prison for the second degree statutory sodomy count; and up to five years on each of the second degree child molestation charges.

Patty Lambert faces five to 15 years in prison on the child endangerment charge and up to five years on the second degree child molestation count.

As the charges against Eplings are unclassified felony counts, their sentences are up to a judge or jury to decide.

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AND MORE:

Pastor, deacons to surrender

PINEVILLE - A McDonald County church pastor, his wife and two deacons accused of child sexual abuse are expected to turn themselves in to authorities Monday afternoon.

Gregg Sweeten, chief deputy with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, said Wednesday an agreement had been reached with the group's attorney, Robert Evenson, that Raymond Lambert, pastor of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, his wife and two deacons would turn themselves over to the sheriff's department sometime Monday afternoon.

Lambert, 51, his wife, Patty, 49, and deacons Tom Epling, 51, and Paul Epling, 53, are accused of child abuse charges stemming from incidents which allegedly occurred between 1977 and 2004.

Raymond Lambert faces a Class A felony count of first degree child molestation, four Class D felony counts of second degree child molestation, and a Class C felony charge of second degree statutory sodomy.

His wife faces a Class B felony charge of endangering the welfare of a child in a ritual or ceremony and a Class D felony count of second degree child molestation.

Tom Epling has been charged with five unclassified felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy and Paul Epling faces two unclassified felony charges of first degree statutory rape and five unclassified felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy.

In a probable cause statement, Deputy Mike Le Sueur, an investigator with the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, said Raymond Lambert, fondled a 12-year-old girl in 1987. As time progressed, the deputy said in his report, the girl was required to perform oral sex on Raymond Lambert. The incidents happened repeatedly until 2005, when the girl left the church compound.

Le Sueur said in a probable cause statement that Patty Lambert, compelled a 16-year-old church member to strip, whereupon she was allegedly fondled by Raymond Lambert while Patty Lambert was naked in the bed with them. The deputy added that in permitting the contact between the pastor and the young church member, Patty Lambert endangered the welfare of the teenager.

Le Sueur said in a probable cause statement that Tom Epling fondled a church member between 1976 and 1978, beginning when the child was only four years old.

And according to a probable cause statement, Paul Epling reportedly fondled the same child during 1977 and 1978, telling her “he was preparing her body for service to God.” When the girl was 10, the statement concluded, Paul Epling allegedly attempted sexual intercourse with her, stopping “only after she protested due to pain.”

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Le Sueur said several former church members had come forward in the past six months, claiming they had been molested for several years. The deputy said incest was involved, adding he understood that this was the third generation of church officials who participated in child sexual abuse.

Bond has been set at $50,000 each for Raymond Lambert, Paul Epling and Tom Epling. Patty Lambert's bond was set at $30,000, according to court documents.

Court dates for the four have not been set as of mid-Thursday morning.

Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church sits on a large tract of land near Powell, surrounded by more than two dozen homes of church members. The area has been described as a “compound” by both church members and long-time McDonald County residents.

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