FLeming Island, Florida -- A pastor accused of secretly recording video of women changing clothes in his office at a Fleming Island church 10 years ago spoke out for the first time Wednesday, calling the allegations malicious. A law enforcement examiner also said Berean Baptist Church Rev. Greg Neal passed a polygraph test.
Neal was accused of hiding a camcorder behind a plant in his office in the spring of 2001 while female church members changed clothes. Investigators said the tape shows Neal handling the camera before and after the women used his office to change into clothes for a music program.
"I categorically state that I am innocent of the allegations of the video voyeurism," Neal said.
A criminal investigation into what prosecutors called video voyeurism was closed in August because the statute of limitations had expired. The state attorney's office says the evidence against Neal is "overwhelming," but because the video was shot more than 10 years ago, the case is too old to prosecute.
Flanked by dozens of church members at a news conference, Neal denied having any knowledge of the video or knowing who made it. He said he didn't see it until August, when it was released to the public.
"The recording itself proves that I did not make the recording," said Neal, noting that the camera was moved while he was seen in the room.
Protesters, however, argue that the movement has to do with how the video was recorded.
"For anyone to stand there concealed would be impossible," protester Kathleen Cochran said.
Clay County authorities said that Neal and his father, senior Pastor Tom Neal, refused several attempts to be interviewed by investigators or provide statements.
"I have fully cooperated with investigating officials," Greg Neal said. "I have not discussed this case with the Clay County Sheriff's Office because my attorney informed them that I would not talk with them until they were ready to make a presentation of evidence or charges. They choose not to talk to me."
Detectives said the VHS tape was discovered in 2002 when a church employee was viewing videos of basketball games that were given to him by Neal. The secretly recorded tape was included with the basketball tapes.
Document: Sheriff's Office Voyeurism Investigation
The report said the employee took the tape to Neal's father and the senior pastor of the church, Tom Neal, and was told "the matter would be dealt with in the appropriate manner." Investigators were told that both Greg Neal and Tom Neal denied to the victims and to church members that the videotape existed.
The voyeurism allegations are not the church's only problem. Berean Baptist filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2010. Court documents show that the church was more that $6.5 million in debt, with money owed to more than 50 creditors.
At Wednesday's news conference, both pastors said the allegations and slander of Greg Neal have caused the church to lose about 100 members and about 100 students at an associated Christian school. Tom Neal blasted the church's accusers.
"Your goal was clear. Through your malicious slander, your harassment and through your false accusations of video voyeurism, you set out to destroy this church," Tom Neal said. "You should be ashamed."
Greg Neal added: "To my accusers: First of all, I forgive you. And despite your efforts, the church will go on." His words were followed by applause from the members standing behind him in support.
Neither Neal would answer questions from reporters. Behind the television cameras recording the news conference, protesters, many of whom were former church members, held signs saying "Your A Liar" and "Berean A Cult?" Some former church members have said they were bullied from the pulpit when they spoke out about the allegations.
"This was our church family. You just don't walk out on your family without letting them know something," said Cochran, who left the church over the allegations.
As for the church's financial situation, it will be entering into a mutual agreement with its lender to be able to remain in the church at least until the end of May. The church is in the middle of foreclosure. Barry Fuller, the church's attorney, says the church has a good relationship with the lender, and it believes it will be able to stay longer.
Fuller said that because of members and students leaving, the church couldn't make a payment it was supposed to have made as part of the bankruptcy proceeding.
"The church is built around funds to support the academy, and tuition, based on those 100 students, tithing and so on, based on those other members, that is a very significant amount of money the church is losing," Fuller said.
The attorney said a motion to dismiss was filed in federal court .
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