Pastor in child abuse case was in youth safety group

He wanted to be a chaplain and also was on a city task force on youth safety. He is accused of abusing a teen

The Press-Enterprise, California/April 5, 2012

The pastor arrested this week on allegations of abusing a 13-year-old boy applied to be a Corona police chaplain last year and was involved in the mayor's task force on youth safety, city and police officials said Thursday.

Lonny Lee Remmers, 54, leader of the Heart of Worship Community Church, posted $35,000 bail Thursday and was released from the county jail in Riverside. He is charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting injury on a child. Two other men — Nicholas James Craig, 22, and Darryl Duane Jeter Jr., 28 — remained in custody Thursday. They are charged with kidnapping, assault and other felonies.

Investigators say Craig and Jeter drove the teen to the desert March 18, forced him to dig a grave, threw dirt on him and beat him with a belt. Remmers later used a pair of pliers to inflict pain on the boy, police said.

His physical injuries were not serious, authorities said.

On Thursday, police were still investigating the boy's mother. She had turned him over to Remmers and the others for intervention because she believed he had been involved in sexual misconduct, police said. It was unclear if she knew how the men were planning to discipline her son, Corona police Capt. Jerry Rodriguez said.

Remmers applied in 2011 to serve as one of several Corona Police Department chaplains but failed to pass the department's criminal and personal background check, Rodriguez said.

"He felt that he could offer a service to the department and the community as a police chaplain. But there were factors that he didn't pass," Rodriguez said, without citing specific disqualifications.

Remmers had served federal prison time in 1998 for an investment fraud scheme. He was sentenced to 46 months and released in 2001 following charges stemming from a telemarketing operation that lured investors into a phony satellite-TV distribution scheme, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Corona police chaplains cannot have a felony criminal conviction, must be connected to a religious body, have at least five years of experience in a religious role with recent involvement in Corona, be a U.S. citizen and in good standing with the International Conference of Police Chaplains or be eligible to enroll, Rodriguez said.

"We look at all of those factors when we're looking at a person. You want someone with high ethics and character," he said.

Remmers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

When police learned of his criminal background in May last year, he was forced to leave the Corona police citizens academy.

The nine-month course provides an inside look at the department through monthly, two-hour classes that cover topics including investigations and SWAT tactics. Remmers had completed about five months of the program, including firearms training and a handgun safety course in which volunteers shoot at a gun range.

Both he and Jeter were dismissed from the program after failing background checks to become Police Department volunteers. Craig, who is Remmers' stepson, had served as a police volunteer for nearly a year, patrolling shopping centers and other properties until he was forced to leave after his arrest this week.

The discovery of Remmers' criminal record prompted Corona police to pass a new policy last year to conduct background checks on citizens academy volunteers, Rodriguez said.

In 2005, a few years after Remmers was released from prison, he served on a 13-member Mayor's Task Force on Racial Conflict and Youth Safety Issues. The team was put together to advise the city after a Centennial High School student was stabbed to death.

Corona Councilman Steve Nolan was on that task force. He had met Remmers in May 2005 on a separate task force formed to assist the Circle of Hope Shelter by organizing fundraisers.

Nolan said he was stunned to hear about Remmers' arrest.

"He's a very dedicated man," Nolan said. "He's very true to his beliefs. His goal has been to create shelters for these homeless families, ladies and men."

Corona police said they received new leads this week in the abuse case and are asking for the public's help in identifying any potential additional victims.

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