HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Five members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Pennsylvania are now facing multiple charges after allegedly sexually abusing children.
Pennsylvania’s Acting Attorney General Michelle Henry announced the arrests and criminal charges against the men, saying several of the cases involve young family members.
“These children deserve a community where they can grow, play, learn and pray and not be preyed upon,” she said.
The five men recently charged are between the ages of 42-74 with victims reported between the ages of 5 and 15.
The defendants are being prosecuted by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General for the following offenses:
- Marc Brown, 65, of Allegheny County, is alleged to have sexually abused two young female family members who were between the ages of ten and 13, and for whom he was the legal guardian. Brown has been charged with Aggravated Indecent Assault, Indecent Assault, Endangering the Welfare of Children, and Corruption of Minors.
- Raymond Shultz, 74, of Beaver County, is alleged to have sexually abused female family members when they were between the ages of five and ten years-old. Shultz has been charged with Aggravated Indecent Assault, Indecent Assault, Endangering the Welfare of Children, and Corruption of Minors.
- Abimael Valentin-Matos, 42, of Lancaster County, is alleged to have sexually assaulted a 15 year-old girl, who he was supposedly “courting” to eventually marry even though he was twice her age. Matos has been charged with Indecent Assault, Indecent Exposure, Endangering the Welfare of Children, and Corruption of Minors.
- Kevin Isovitsch, 51, of Butler County, is alleged to have sexually assaulted a female family member, who was nine years-old. Isovitsch has been charged with Rape, Aggravated Indecent Assault, Indecent Assault, Endangering the Welfare of Children, and Corruption of Minors.
- Norman Aviles, 44, of Lancaster County, is alleged to have molested at least three young children between the ages of five and ten. Aviles was an elder in his congregation, which helped him gain the trust of many parents and afforded him access to their children. Aviles has been charged with Aggravated Indecent Assault, Indecent Assault, Endangering the Welfare of Children, and Corruption of Minors.
“It is my solemn pledge that I will be here to help survivors,” said Henry. “This office will do everything it can to hold these men accountable.”
According to the 49th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report, the alleged abuse by Valentin-Matos was reported by the survivor to congregation elders after he allegedly convinced her to perform a sex act. The Grand Jury discovered the alleged assault while investigating an alleged offense against the survivor by Norman Aviles.
Aviles was reported by the grand jury report to be a member of the Lancaster “East” and “West” Spanish-speaking congregations and an elder in the Lancaster “East” congregation.
The report states that Lancaster City Police had investigated allegations against Aviles in 2010 after a ChildLine report. The Grand Jury found the Lancaster City Police investigation to be credible and comprehensive, however, the matter was closed due in part to a lack of investigation that the Grand Jury has since obtained.
The full press conference with the Attorney General’s office can be watched below.
The charges announced Tuesday are an extension of the investigation that previously resulted in four arrests involving Jehovavh’s Witness members announced last year. The Attorney General’s office says survivors reached out to their office after offering a hotline for victims to reach out following the initial four cases.
“Many courageous survivors came forward and called the hotline,” Henry said. “They came and they told us what had happened to them, and they make our community safer.”
“The details of these crimes are sad and disturbing, facts which are made even more abhorrent because the defendants used their faith communities or their own families to gain access to victims,” said Henry. “Our office will never stop working to seek justice for those who have been victimized, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute anyone who harms the most vulnerable in our society.”
For some advocates, this is just the beginning of a larger story.
“I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg for the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said Mike McDonnell, communications manager for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
McDonnell said he is certain there are more cases of child sexual abuse in that community.
“Accused at age 60 or 65, the first thing that comes to our mind is this is not their first attempt,” he said.
However, he hopes the new charges encourage more survivors to come forward, and he said this is one step towards healing for those who did share their stories.
“As a survivor myself and certainly listening and hearing the stories of many survivors, I can tell you that the biggest step that they made is seeking that justice today,” McDonnell said.
Anyone with information regarding child sexual abuse is encouraged to report information to the Office of the Attorney General’s office hotline at 888-538-8541. Anyone with information regarding child sexual abuse should make a report to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.
The Acting Attorney General said this is an ongoing investigation and would not comment on whether congregations were aware of the alleged abuse. The investigation also involved police in Idaho.
These cases are being prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Jones.