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Christian charity: Managers knew for years that missionary abused kids

MILLERSBURG, Ohio (NBC News) – A Christian nonprofit has stated that two managers knew for years that an employee had confessed to a history of sexual offenses against minors but still allowed him to serve their organization as a missionary to Haiti.

Jeriah Mast, 38, from Millersburg, Ohio was indicted in a Holmes County court on July 3 with seven felony charges of gross sexual imposition and seven misdemeanor charges of sexual imposition.

Those crimes, which according to court documents allegedly involved children under the ages of 16 and some under 13, took place in Ohio between 1998 and 2008, Holmes County Prosecutor Sean Warner said. Mast pleaded not guilty to all charges, his lawyer John Johnson Jr. told NBC News.

Jeriah Mast/ Holmes County Sheriff’s Office via NBC News

Mast also faces allegations of sexually abusing minors during his time serving Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, according to the Berlin, Ohio-based nonprofit.

“It is already well known that our former employee, Jeriah Mast, has confessed to molesting boys while working for our organization in Haiti,” Christian Aid Ministries’ board of directors wrote in an open letter on June 17.

Christian Aid Ministries said in the same letter that two managers at the organization had known about Mast’s behavior since 2013, when he had admitted to Christian Aid Ministries staff to “sexual activity” with boys under the age of 18 “that had taken place several years prior in Haiti,” Robert Flores, an attorney representing Christian Aid Ministries, told NBC News.

The managers did not return repeated calls and messages seeking comment.

By 2013, Mast had already been working for the organization in Haiti for six years. He had several roles there, including post-hurricane aid, distributing medicine to clinics and a school aid program.

“The minor victims in Haiti that we are aware of were taking part in local schools or programs to which CAM was providing assistance or support, such as food or materials,” Flores said.

Christian Aid Ministries’ board of directors emphasized that it had no knowledge of Mast’s alleged crimes in Ohio or Haiti, however, until he unexpectedly returned to the U.S. in May 2019.

According to accounts from both Christian Aid Ministries and Mast’s church in Millersburg, Shining Light Christian Fellowship, Mast confessed to his church immediately upon returning to the U.S. that he had sexually abused boys.

“Jeriah spent hours on his face weeping and wailing over his sins and feeling such remorse over the hurt he caused so many people,” the Ministry Team wrote in a statement on the front page of the church’s website.

Mast then voluntarily turned himself in to Holmes County Sheriff’s Office, where he “made admissions to alleged crimes in Holmes County, Ohio and Haiti,” Chief Deputy Richard L. Haun Jr. told NBC News. “Those admissions included at least some identification of potential victims,” he added.

Haun also said that the FBI was investigating Mast’s alleged crimes in Haiti. An FBI spokesperson told NBC that he “could neither confirm nor deny the existence of criminal investigations” into Mast.

Christian Aid Ministries said that the managers had both been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation into what was known about Mast’s alleged actions. “Both men recognize that their failure to properly investigate and inquire into Jeriah’s conduct was a serious failure in judgment and should have severe consequences,” the letter from the organization read.

A new ministry team has been working for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti since the allegations, and is being overseen by different staff at its Ohio headquarters, Flores added. The organization said it was planning to provide updated training to its employees on “how to take more effective action should they become aware of inappropriate behavior or abuse,” according to a September 20 update from the board of directors.

Ludwig Leblanc, an attorney based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, told NBC News that he had previously represented five young men from Titanyen, a village 12 miles north of the capital, whom police had interviewed as part of an “open inquiry for investigation” into Mast’s alleged crimes in Haiti.

Leblanc’s former clients were minors at the time of the alleged abuse, and are now aged between 23 and 27, he said. He also confirmed Christian Aid Ministries’ account that they had met Mast through the non-profit’s aid programs, although Leblanc said the alleged abuse had not taken place on its property in Haiti.

Leblanc said that the young men had chosen to each take a $10,000 payment from Christian Aid Ministries, and that no civil action was taken against Mast in Haiti as a result.

“You need to understand the economic situation of our country. These kids don’t go to school and need money,” Leblanc wrote in an email. “We were in the process of building a strong case with psychologists and doctors but they decided to take the money. After that, I decided not to continue to represent them.”

“What some have been calling ‘settlements’ are best described as aid to victims of Mr. Mast that have been recorded by a Notary Public in Haiti,” Flores said. “There is no provision that bars disclosure and there was no effort made to silence any victim with whom a civil agreement was reached,” he added.

Amounts paid went as high as $20,000 “depending on the specific needs of the victim and may have included housing and other requested assistance,” he added.

Haitian authorities did not respond to multiple inquiries about whether charges had formally been brought against Mast in Haiti. But Flores said he was “not aware of any open criminal cases against Mr. Mast that have been filed by a Haitian Prosecutor.”

“Although CAM no longer has any control over Mr. Mast, the Board believes it would be the right thing for him to appear in Haitian court to answer for his confessed crimes,” Flores told NBC.

Christian Aid Ministries describes itself as a nonprofit that “strives to be a trustworthy and efficient channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups.”

Responding to a growing awareness of sexual abuse in Amish and Mennonite communities and an increase in allegations, in 2015 the U.S. Mennonite Church issued a statement regretting its former inertia on the matter.

“We confess that we have often responded with denial, fear and self-preservation. We have tended to listen to voices who have positional power, rather than to those who have been violated and those who are most vulnerable,” the Church wrote.

“In this way, we have enabled sexual abuse to continue while silencing and disregarding the testimony of victims. We lament that our inaction permits abuse to continue and the ways we obstruct God’s healing,” it added.

Johnson, Mast’s attorney, declined to comment further to NBC News while his client’s case was pending in Ohio, adding that he did “not represent [Mast] in any matters involving Haiti.”

Mast was presented with a plea offer at a Sept. 30 pretrial hearing in Holmes County, Ohio for his alleged crimes in the U.S. The hearing is expected to continue on October 9, and a jury trial is set to begin on November 5.

 

NBC News

NBC News

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