Plainfield pastor accused of abuse getting 'lots of community support,' attorney says in court

My Central 20, 2008

Elizabeth - A well-known figure in Plainfield's religious community who is accused of molesting six young girls is "getting a lot of support from his family, friends and community,'' the man's attorney said Monday morning.

George C. Benbow, 56, made his first appearance in state Superior Court to answer charges that he molested six girls during an eight-year span while serving as founding pastor of Christian Fellowship Gospel Church.

During a two-minute appearance before Judge Joan Robinson Gross, Benbow's defense attorney, Philip Nettl of New Brunswick, waived a reading of the four counts of second-degree sexual assault on a minor and two counts of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child that the pastor is facing. Clergy abuse, sexual abuse, George C. Benbow,

Gross set a pre-disposition hearing for the morning of Dec. 17 before Judge John S. Triarsi. Benbow and his attorney at that point could avoid sending the case to a grand jury by entering into a plea agreement with prosecutors or potentially enrolling Benbow into a pretrial intervention program offered to first-time offenders, Gross said.

Immediately after the appearance, Nettl said Benbow is looking forward to having his case heard and to talking with prosecutors "to make sure justice is done.''

"Lots of people get accused of a lot of things, and that's why we rely on the justice system,'' Nettl said.

When asked if Benbow is preparing to fight the charges or enter a plea, Nettl said he hasn't "gotten to that stage of discussions yet.''

"We're going to let it all come out in the justice system,'' he said.

Benbow is free on bail after posting $150,000 bond shortly after his arrest in September. Nettl said Benbow was accompanied to court by one of his sons.

Prosecutors have said they launched an investigation of Benbow in July after several city residents contacted police with allegations of abuse by the pastor. The probe revealed that the alleged abuse took place from 2000 to 2008 at "multiple locations on the church grounds,'' according to authorities.

The incidents involved "inappropriate touching'' of the clothed girls, who were either 8 or 9 years old at the time of the alleged abuse, authorities have said.

Benbow, who founded Christian Fellowship Gospel Church in 1981, has also served as head of the Concerned Urban Clergy of Plainfield and Vicinity, a coalition of congregational leaders of multiple religions throughout the Plainfield area.

He married his wife, Anita, in December 1975, and the couple have two sons, according to the church's Web site, which describes one child as a member the Air Force and another as a musician at the Johnston Avenue church.

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