A Plainfield pastor accused of molesting six girls over an eight-year span rejected a plea deal Wednesday that would have given him the possibility of parole after serving nine months in jail, sending his case to a grand jury.
George C. Benbow, 56, is facing four counts of second-degree sexual assault on a minor and two counts of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child.
Benbow declined comment through his attorney, Philip Nettl, who said he anticipated a grand jury indictment and that he and his client are preparing for trial.
State Superior Court Judge John Triarsi warned Benbow before he declined the offer from prosecutors that he could face up to 28 years in jail if convicted of all charges.
Triarsi, sitting in Elizabeth, added that any convictions would have to be served consecutively.
A well-known figure in Plainfield's religious community, Benbow is founding pastor of Christian Fellowship Gospel Church. He is free on bail after posting $150,000 bond shortly after his arrest in September 2008.
Prosecutors have said they launched an investigation of Benbow last summer 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 started his 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.