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Thursday, September 24, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested in Internet predator sting

A South Carolina pastor is arrested after an Internet Predator sting by Greenville Police.

44-year-old John David Helmuth, of Pelzer, was arrested on September 22.

Investigators say he was attempting to solicit sex from a 13-year-old girl over the internet.

He was actually talking to an undercover police officer.

Police say he arranged a meeting with the “girl” and he was arrested at the predetermined location.

Investigators searched his home and his office, and took two church computers.

News Channel 7’s Kristen Nastasia reports Helmuth is a pastor at Tabernacle of Faith in Piedmont.

Senior Pastor Mahlon Helmuth released the following statement:

“All of us at Tabernacle of Faith” are deeply shocked and saddened at the news of his arrest. He evidently got entangled in a sin that has affected so many others. Our prayers go out to all who have been touched by his ministry and ask that you please remember him and his family in your prayers.“

Tabernacle of Faith is affiliated with the Piedmont Christian Academy.

Below is the release from South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster

Greenville Police Arrest Pelzer Pastor in Internet Predator Sting

Columbia, S.C. - September 23, 2009 Attorney General Henry McMaster announced today that John David Helmuth, 44, of 9 Beattie Street in Pelzer, South Carolina, was arrested on September 22, 2009, in an Internet Predator sting conducted by the City of Greenville Police Department.

The City of Greenville Police Department is a member of the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.

Helmuth was arrested on ten (10) counts of Criminal Solicitation of a Minor (§16-15-342), a felony offense punishable to ten (10) years imprisonment on each count, and one (1) count of Attempted Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor (§16-15-342), a felony punishable to twenty (20) years imprisonment.

Arrest warrants allege that beginning on June 23, 2009, Helmuth solicited sex on the Internet from an individual he believed to be a thirteen (13) year old girl. In reality, he was soliciting sex from an undercover Greenville Police officer. Helmuth further arranged to meet the “girl” for sex and a predetermined location in Greenville. He was arrested upon his arrival at that location.

Helmuth was assigned a bond of $100,000. A booking photo is available through the Greenville County Detention Center.

Search warrants executed on Helmuth’s residence and church office resulted in the seizure of two (2) computers. The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office (also a Task Force member) assisted in the case.

This is the one hundred seventy-second (172nd) arrest for the Task Force.

The case will be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office.

McMaster stressed that all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.


Sunday, September 20, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Are Evangelical Christians really this stupid?

In a discussion on the Rachel Maddow Show about the harm that Evangelical Christian thinking has done to the United States, Frank Schaeffer, the son of the prominent Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer, speaks out about how extremist views in religion have led a third of our population to reject facts in favor of faith.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back

One in 33 women are sexually targeted by religious leaders

One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader, a survey released Wednesday says.

The study, by Baylor University researchers, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations, religious traditions and leaders.

"It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers," said Diana Garland, dean of Baylor's School of Social Work, who co-authored the study.

It found that more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.

Carolyn Waterstradt, 42, a graduate student who lives in the Midwest, said she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a married minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 18 months. He had been her pastor for a decade, she said, and told her the relationship was ordained by God.

"I believed him because I was looking for direction and for help," said Waterstradt, who ended the relationship years ago and entered therapy. The pastor was removed from the clergy.

Waterstradt said she has suffered lasting psychological and spiritual consequences from the relationship, including depression and a deep distrust of organized religion. "It's very difficult for me to walk into a church," she said.

A growing number of denominations are moving to do something about such problems, particularly since the Catholic Church's highly publicized sex scandal involving its clergy.

At least 36 denominations have policies that identify sexual relations between adult congregants and clergy as misconduct, subject to discipline.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, uses investigating panels to look into complaints against rabbis. It notes that the "power imbalance between clergy and those to whom they minister makes it clear that sexual contacts in these situations are by definition non-consensual."

In the United Church of Christ, ministers must attend a workshop on clergy sexual abuse every three years, and those seeking jobs in the ministry must have their names checked against government sex offender lists, said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, spokesman for the 1.2 million-member denomination.

Locally, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia requires clergy members, other employees and volunteers to receive training in prevention of adult sexual misconduct and prevention of child abuse, spokesman Henry Burt said.

The diocese "takes very seriously its obligation to make its churches and institutions safe places for children and adults to grow in their faith in the church," Burt said.

Lawmakers are also taking note. Clergy sexual misconduct is illegal in Minnesota and Texas. Texas law, for example, defines clergy sexual behavior as sexual assault if the religious leader "causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person's emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman's professional character as spiritual adviser."

For its study, Baylor used the 2008 General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample of 3,559 respondents, to estimate the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. Women older than 18 who attended worship services at least once a month were asked in the survey whether they had received "sexual advances or propositions" from a religious leader.

The study found that close to one in 10 respondents -- male and female -- reported having known about clergy sexual misconduct occurring in a congregation they had attended.

Researchers say they don't know whether the incidence of clergy sexual misconduct had changed over the years. Nor do they know whether sexual wrongdoing by clergy is more, or less, frequent than in other well-respected professions.

But, Garland said, "when you put it with a spiritual leader or moral leader, you've really added a power that we typically don't think about in secular society -- which is that this person speaks for God and interprets God for people. And that really adds a power."


Saturday, September 19, 2009                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested for theft and money laundering

The pastor of the Solid Rock Christian Center in Ventura and his wife were arrested Thursday for allegedly duping an elderly man into signing over the deed to his home.

Alonzo Gene McCowan, commonly known as the Rev. Lonnie McCowan, 49, was charged with two counts of theft from an elderly person and two counts of money laundering in an amount that surpassed $500,000, according to a felony complaint.

His wife, Kimberly Ann Oglesby McCowan, 45, is charged with one count of grand theft and one count of money laundering in the same complaint.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Miles Weiss said the McCowans, who live in Camarillo, were booked Thursday with bail set at $500,000 for McCowan and $40,000 for his wife.

Phone calls to their attorney and Solid Rock Christian Center were not returned.

Alonzo Gene McCowan is accused of taking advantage of Leo Gilmond, now 86, by getting him to sign over the deed to his Ventura house in October 2004. In exchange, the pastor promised to pay Gilmond $460,000. McCowan told Gilmond “he wanted to buy the home so he could use it as a rental for church dignitaries and students,” according to an affidavit filed by Frank Huber, investigating officer for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.

When negotiating the purchase, McCowan told Gilmond he needed a signed grant deed that “would be held in the church office solely for the purpose of verifying the purchase of the property to church leaders and to demonstrate his authority to rent the property,” the affidavit states. It adds that Gilmond “knew signing a grant deed was risky but he trusted (A. McCowan) because he represented himself as a religious man; it was these religious representations that made Gilmond more trusting of (A. McCowan).”

In the years that followed, the McCowans made installment payments totaling $10,000 according to the agreement, said investigators. A balloon payment of $450,000 was due in January 2008. When Gilmond tried to collect it, he found his home was in foreclosure, according to court records.

According to the investigator, “Gilmond was in disbelief. (A. McCowan) admitted to Gilmond that he had taken out a $420,000 loan on the property and had lost the money in the stock market.”

McCowan offered to continue the monthly payments while he worked with the bank but Gilmond went to his son, Gary Gilmond, and attorney Greg Jones to find out how McCowan was able to take out the $420,000 loan, according to the affidavit. They learned the McCowans had withdrawn $420,000 in equity by refinancing the property in Kimberly McCowan’s name.

Gilmond filed a civil lawsuit against the McCowans. It was settled a year ago, but the details were unavailable Thursday. And Jones would not disclose the amount without the consent of his client, Gilmond, who could not be reached for comment.

Huber, the DA investigator, stated he stumbled upon evidence this summer that indicated McCowan purchased a $480,000 property on Sonora Drive in Camarillo “about five to six months after the $420,000 was allegedly stolen” from Gilmond. The evidence was seized in Palm Desert, while Huber was investigating a Ponzi scheme operated by Terry Tucker and Cheri Tucker, both of whom are awaiting sentencing in federal court on Sept. 28.

The Tuckers, the former proprietors of Tucker Realty and Tucker Mortgage, pleaded guilty in March to two counts of bank fraud. They had homes in Thousand Oaks, San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, as well as property in the Palm Springs.

McCowan “told me some of the money for the ($143,000) down payment on the Sonora property was borrowed from the Tuckers,” Huber states in the affidavit.

Investigators allege the Sonora Drive property — which has been foreclosed on — was purchased by McCowan with a $336,000 loan from Downey Savings and Loan Association, and the mortgage broker was Terry Tucker.

The Tuckers’ files held loan applications in the name of “Jene Lonny McCowan,” an alias used by McCowan, according to Huber. The mortgage loan application prepared by Terry Tucker showed McCowan’s employment as director of Solid Rock Christian Center, “where he purportedly earned $35,200 a month.”

Court records show McCowan told Huber “this was not true and his church income was less than $5,000 a month,” and that the $35,200 a month was money he earned from investments and speaking events.

McCowan advertises “multiple streams of income seminar programs” on his Web site “”

“He has learned how to create multiple streams of income,” according to the Web site. “Mr. McCowan says, ‘It is an absolute phenomenon!’ and he wants to teach others how to do the same thing.”

The Solid Rock Christian Center, 5105 Walker St., has 1,500 members, according to the church’s Web site.

If convicted, McCowan faces a maximum of 15 years, four months in prison, with $1.74 million in fines plus restitution. His wife faces a maximum of six years and four months in prison, with $250,000 in fines plus actual restitution.