A former church leader for a Flagstaff church has been indicted on 17 counts of various child molestation and abuse charges by a Coconino County grand jury.
Bennie Mark Mabon, a former church elder for the Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, was charged earlier this month with 11 counts of sexual abuse of minors, two counts of sexual assault of a minor, two counts of child molestation and two counts of sexual conduct with a minor.
Mabon, 49, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Jan. 14.
The investigation began in May 2001, and investigators identified three victims from 13 to 17 years old. The charges on the indictment state the assaults took place from 1990 to 1999. According to reports, the crimes occurred while the victims were visiting Mabon's family members.
During the same 10 years, Mabon served as the director of the Flagstaff Mission to the Navajos, as a church elder with the Christian Fellowship and also worked with the Flagstaff Evangelical Free Church. The mission provides support to Navajo Christian churches and pastors on the Navajo Nation.
"He was one of our elders when he was the director about seven years ago," said Senior Pastor Steve Cole of the Christian Fellowship.
Elders are nominated by church members or the elders themselves. They go through a screening process and a background check, Cole said.
"We ask questions like, 'Does your wife approve of your being an elder?'," he said. The screening also asks people in church if they know the character of the person being nominated.
"We ask the candidate themselves a lot of personal questions," Cole said.
Church elders make policy decisions, approve programs and sign off on budgets.
Elders are also the first to screen new staff members.
At the Christian Fellowship, Cole said elders must have been churchmembers for two years and that the governing board also follows guidelines established in the Bible.
As part of the screening process, nominees are asked if they had ever molested children.
"We also ask if they were abused as children themselves," Cole said.
The different charges against Mabon range from sexual intercourse with girls under the age of 15 to sexual contact with girls over the age of 15.
Sex abuse consists of various forms of touching with a sexual motive without the person's consent.
Sexual assault is a more extreme form, involving penetration of one form or another without consent.
"When you get in the area of child abuse, they all become really serious," said Coconino County Deputy Attorney Tim Linnins.
Both the assault and abuse charges are being considered dangerous crimes in the cases where the child is 15 and under.
Charges from the indictment state Mabon has been charged with eight counts of sexual assault, child molestation, sexual abuse and sexual conduct with a child under 15 years old. Each crime is considered a Class 2 or Class 3 felony and each is considered a dangerous crime against children.
The classification adds a special enhancement to each of the charges, potentially adding more prison time if Mabon is convicted.
Molestation charges typically carry a 10-year to 24-year sentence. Assault charges carry a 13-year to 27-year sentence, without the special enhancements added, Linnins said.
Mabon's attorney, Bruce Griffen, did not return phone calls.