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Thursday, June 05, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Minister caught in sex sting resigns

PLANO – A Prestonwood Baptist Church minister arrested on charges of soliciting a minor online has resigned from the church, Pastor Jack Graham told his congregation Saturday evening.

Dr. Graham addressed the crowd at the start of the church's regular worship service. He said the church had accepted Joe Barron's resignation, which took effect immediately.

"You need to know that we are appalled and we are disgraced by this terrible action, an unacceptable action by a minister on our staff," Dr. Graham said. "I'm so sorry for the injury that this kind of behavior has brought to many people in our church and outside of our church."

Police arrested Mr. Barron, 52, Thursday morning after he drove from Plano to Bryan to meet with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl he had met online, authorities say.

The girl turned out to be a Bryan police officer working in an ongoing Internet sex sting.

Bryan police said Mr. Barron had spent about two weeks chatting online with the officer posing as a juvenile. They said he asked her to skip school so she could meet him in a parking lot. On the way there, he chatted with her by phone.

Mr. Barron was one of about 40 ministers at the 26,000-member Plano megachurch. He'd worked there for about 18 months, ministering to married adults, ages 42 to 58.

If convicted, Mr. Barron could face up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the second-degree felony.

Mr. Barron was released from the Brazos County Jail Friday night on $7,000 bail. Police were unsure if he had an attorney. He could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Prestonwood's executive pastor, Mike Buster, said in a prepared statement that church officials had no record or knowledge of prior improprieties, nor had they observed any inappropriate behavior in the time Mr. Barron worked on staff.

In his three-minute address, Dr. Graham said his staff worked hard to earn the trust of its congregation. He promised that the church would continue to make sure it hired ministers and staff of the "highest character."

"We've taken a hit from the enemy this week, but we will rise above and respond to the challenge ... ," he said, as church members applauded. "We are confident and certain that in the days ahead that God is preparing us for something magnificent and wonderful in the ministry of this church. ...We want to put this in our rearview mirror."

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DALLAS — A former pastor of a suburban megachurch faces six new charges of using the Internet to seek sex from minors.

Joe Barron, 52, was arrested Wednesday and was being held at the Brazos County Jail in Bryan. Bail had not yet been set for Barron, a former pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

Four of the counts accuse Barron of online solicitation of a minor and were investigated by Bryan police in Central Texas.

The two other counts are from Louisiana and accuse him of computer solicitation for sex, according to the Brazos County Sheriff's Office. Barron apparently thought he was communicating with a teenage girl in Louisiana but he had encountered an undercover sting.

A message left by The Associated Press at Barron's home Wednesday night was not immediately returned. Jail records did not show if he had an attorney.

Barron was first arrested May 15 by the Bryan Police Department after he drove nearly 200 miles in his wife's car believing he would meet a 13-year-old girl for sex. But he'd actually been communicating with undercover officers. Police said he had brought a box of 10 condoms and a Web camera.

At that time, Barron was charged with one count of online solicitation of a minor. He posted $7,000 bail and was released the next day.

Authorities also said they had evidence that Barron communicated online with more than a dozen girls.

Barron worked at Prestonwood, one of the largest churches in the country with some 26,000 members, for about 18 months and ministered to married adults. He resigned after his arrest last month.

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