Union County, New Mexico - Due to a legal error, the leader of a New Mexico cult may soon be a free man after being convicted of sex crimes against young girls.
Wayne Bent, the leader of the Strong City Cult, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crimes, but the conviction was tossed recently because the grand jury's term had expired months before it indicted Bent.
Action 7 News traveled to Union County recently to meet with Bent's son and tour the religious sect's compound.
Bent's son, Jeff Bent, said his father isn't upset or even mad about his conviction because he believes he's a sign of the second coming of Christ. Jeff Bent said his father believes that he's a living prophecy and that will bring him back to his people in the near future, even after the conviction.
The compound is more than 300 miles north of Albuquerque.
"Our people here have suffered a great deal, not because he went to prison, but because he does not belong there, even the witnesses said he doesn't belong there," Jeff Bent said.
Wayne Bent went from pastor to prisoner when authorities arrested the cult leader, charging him with sex crimes against several underage girls. The religious leader maintained that he was healing the naked teens and not molesting him. He stayed in the media spotlight when he refused to eat while in custody.
"My dad's case is the product of evil imaginations around him, not because of the facts," Jeff Bent said. "So when he's ready to come home, I'll bring him these (clothes) to change into (and) out of his prison clothes."
The younger Bent said a lot has changed since his father went to prison. Jeff Bent said the group doesn't meet very often at the community's house of worship since their leader went to prison. Half of the residents of the compound have left since Wayne Bent was arrested.
When Action 7 News was at the compound, there were few view people on the property. Jeff Bent said there are only a handful of children still on the property because he's told members not to bring them into the area. He said he's worried about the state coming in and taking them away.
Jeff Bent's warning came after the state took custody of several teenagers shortly after Wayne Bent's arrest. As for those who remain, the younger Bent said his father will pose no sexual threat when he's released from prison.
"Those things are not here. We don't have those things here. My dad has none of those elements in his life or his character," Jeff Bent said. "There have been no sex crimes here."
The younger Bent said the religious sect no longer practices the healings that sparked the charges against his father.
Jeff Bent said the group is waiting on the Appeal's Court to decide if and when Wayne Bent will be released. The Attorney General's office is preparing to appeal the decision overturning Bent's conviction.