Richmond pastor charged with 4 felonies in Texas

Leader of S. Richmond church is accused of assaulting Texas minors

Richmond Times-Dispatch/May 22, 2013

Richmond - Texas authorities now say a Richmond pastor accused of sex crimes has now been formally charged with four felonies related to two alleged victims.

A Richmond General District judge this morning set bond for Geronimo Aguilar of the Richmond Outreach Center at $50,000.

Prosecutors, who opposed the bond, have until the end of the day to appeal. They said they consider Aguilar to be a flight risk.

Aguilar, who was still being held this morning, must turn himself in to Texas authorities by 4:30 p.m. Friday. The senior pastor has been accused of assaulting two minors in Texas.

The District Attorney's office in Tarrant County, Texas, said in the case of the first alleged victim, Aguilar is charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14, which are first-degree felonies punishable by up to life in prison. In the case of the second alleged victim, he is charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child, which are second-degree felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Aguilar's attorney, David Carlson, said this afternoon that he is willing to waive bond if Texas authorities pick up his client within 24 hours. That left open the possibility of another hearing today before General District Court Judge David E. Cheek Sr.

If that doesn't happen, Carlson said he is prepared to bail his client out later this afternoon barring a circuit court judge decision to overturn this morning's bond ruling.

Carlson said that he could not comment on whether his client will continue as head of the ROC but that a private board meeting is scheduled for this evening to determine the pastor's future.

Geronimo Aguilar, senior pastor of the Richmond Outreach Center, was arrested Tuesday afternoon by U.S. marshals for allegedly sexually assaulting two minors in Texas — charges that could land him in prison for decades.

Aguilar, 43, surrendered at his home in Richmond to a U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force at about 4 p.m., authorities said.

He is charged with sexually abusing two females, who are adults now, as children in Texas. Aguilar is due in court this morning and could be released on bond or extradited to Texas.

Aguilar heads the South Richmond church known as The ROC.

"We're going to fight like hell. This man is innocent," said David Carlson, Aguilar's attorney, on Tuesday evening.

He said no decision has been made on whether Aguilar will fight extradition.

Carlson said he was disappointed with how the arrest and the issuance of the warrant were handled by Fort Worth police, adding that Aguilar was prepared to meet with police to discuss the case and would have turned himself in once the charges were filed. "I was ready, willing and able to take my client to Texas," he said.

The arrest has many area religious leaders wondering about the future of the church and its parishioners, who were left reeling by the charges.

"It needs a fresh look from an outsider," said Donald N. Blake, president and chairman of the Virginia Christian Alliance, a religious advocacy group.

Several area pastors have been trying to get Aguilar to step down as word of the Texas investigation became public.

"The ROC has done a lot of good, and we want to keep it going," said Rev. Joe Ellison, a local pastor. Ellison said several pastors will approach The ROC's leadership in the next few days about helping to keep the operation going as Aguilar deals with his legal issues.

Blake said he would like to see The ROC taken over by a team of pastors who would hire an executive director to run the day-to-day operations and maintain all its current functions.

Blake said he also would like to see The ROC's church designation stripped and for it to be allowed to continue operating as a nonprofit.

Last week, Aguilar reorganized the church's leadership, shifting the responsibility for running the business side of the church to an executive team to allow him to focus on pastoral duties, according to a statement.

The ROC, according to financial statements filed with the Internal Revenue Service, operates about 10 separate nonprofit organizations. The church also owns several properties around the Richmond area and operates after-school and homeless programs.

Texas authorities first became aware of the allegations against Aguilar when police in Anaheim, Calif., notified them in 2007 of alleged abuse they had uncovered during an investigation. Anaheim police forwarded the case to Fort Worth police's Crimes Against Children Unit in 2008.

Fort Worth detectives, who said last month that recent developments had helped spur the investigation forward, issued two warrants this week charging Aguilar with aggravated sexual assault of a child younger than 14.

The charges are first-degree felonies and are punishable by prison sentences of five to 99 years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.

The accusations stem from the late 1990s when two girls accused Aguilar of sexual improprieties, according to Aguilar's attorney. He said Texas authorities cleared Aguilar at the time and that Aguilar denies the charges.

Last week, Jason W. Helmlinger, 41, an executive pastor at The ROC and a former Henrico County police officer, surrendered to authorities and was charged for making threatening and obscene phone calls against an Aguilar critic. The charge is a misdemeanor.

Jack Schaap, a friend and mentor of Aguilar's and the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Ind., was sentenced in March to 12 years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old parishioner.

In a sermon last year, Aguilar told his congregation that he supported Schaap unconditionally.

"When I'm a friend, I'm always a friend. I don't care what you do."

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