Two sisters took to an online message board in May 2011 to denounce Geronimo Aguilar, the pastor and founder of the Richmond Outreach Center, a mega church in a former grocery store off Midlothian Turnpike.
Aguilar goes by Pastor G, preaches in street clothes, and isn't without critics — people, who in a letter to his congregation in early May, he writes off as "the misguided few who are trying to destroy this church and the Word of God."
But the women's message was persistent and captured Aguilar's attention: They alleged that the spiritual leader had repeatedly molested their 16-year-old niece, according to a pair of civil lawsuits filed by Aguilar in Richmond Circuit Court in August 2011. The lawsuits, each asking for more than $10 million in damages, accuse the women of defaming and inflicting emotional distress on Aguilar.
It was neither the first nor the last time Aguilar would face down such accusations. Currently, Aguilar is under investigation by police in Fort Worth, Texas, for the alleged aggravated sexual assault of a child, authorities tell Style.
"He is a sex addict and a pervert who has a history of having sex with women and young girls at this church," wrote Marsha Jackson, a Chesterfield resident, on May 17, 2011, according to court documents. Her allegations appeared on an online message board under the handle "savedsinner," according to a civil court filing.
A user later identified in court documents as Jackson's sister, Sabrina Sanchez, also posted accusations online. "Open your eyes because he is a child molester," Sanchez wrote, according to court documents.
Founded in 2001, the nondenominational Richmond Outreach Center became one of the fastest growing in the country, bringing together scripture, motorcycles and rock music in an effort to reach the area's most marginalized residents — the homeless, poor, ex-gang members and addicts. On its website, the church says it serves 11,000 people each week. In 2007 Aguilar appeared on the cover of Style when he was named a Top 40 Under 40 recipient.
According to one of the lawsuits, Sanchez wrote that she found some of the church's members — a tattooed bunch who talk openly about their rough pasts — intimidating. "I won't be silenced by these thugs," Sanchez wrote on the online message board, according to court documents. "I'm not going to be manipulated or bullied because the truth will set me and others free and I WILL continue to speak out."
Sanchez initially fought back. She filed a counterclaim in Richmond Circuit Court on Sept. 2, 2011, alleging that Aguilar's suit was the culmination of his "calculated strategy to intimidate, manipulate and cause severe stress and mental anguish" after she went public with the allegations. Moreover, Sanchez asserts in the counterclaim that "Aguilar used his position as the head of ROC to molest a 16 year old member of his congregation who is a close relative of Sabrina Sanchez."
But both women eventually signed settlement agreements — Jackson in December 2011 and Sanchez in February 2012 — drawn up by Aguilar's lawyers. No money changed hands, according to the civil settlements. Instead, the agreements prohibit the women from ever communicating with Aguilar, his church or known business enterprises. The defendants "will cease all communications of any kind including, but not limited to, electronic mail, oral conversations, American Sign Language conversations, billboards, advertisements," and a host of other communication forms, according to the settlement agreements.
Under the terms of the settlement, the women aren't even allowed to publicly acknowledge the existence of the settlement agreements or any of its terms. "If defendant is asked about the outline of the litigation, she may only respond that the 'Case has been resolved,'" the document says.
Aguilar's lawyer, David Carlson, says Richmond child protective services investigated Sanchez' and Jackson's claims and determined they were unfounded. A spokesman for the city's Department of Social Services didn't immediately respond to a request from Style to confirm that account.
Around the same time in mid-2011, Richmond police launched a separate investigation into Aguilar. Police won't say exactly what accusations were made against him, when they were reported to police or whether the investigations were connected to the claims by Sanchez and Jackson, though Carlson says he thinks they were unrelated.
"We did receive a complaint," Richmond police Maj. Steve Drew says. "We interviewed individuals and presented our findings to the commonwealth's attorney."
There wasn't enough evidence for an indictment or arrest warrant, Drew says. The investigation is closed.
Drew says Richmond police haven't had any contact with the Fort Worth detectives investigating Aguilar. As reported by WRIC-TV 8, detectives in Fort Worth recently reopened the investigation. Fort Worth police told other media outlets that the allegations Aguilar faces there — aggravated sexual assault of a child — are sought when an alleged victim is younger than 14.
Aguilar's lawyer, Carlson, says the investigation stems from accusations made by two girls in the 1990s. Carlson says Aguilar was cleared at the time and is willing to speak to investigators again.
"They haven't asked us for that at this point, so I'm hoping that, as was the case in 1996, that this is going to be closed as unfounded," Carlson says. "Apparently these [Fort Worth] girls that gave that report to Channel 8 News — they're saying one thing today and they said something completely opposite some number of years ago."
Carlson says he expects detectives to resolve the Texas matter shortly and in a manner favorable to his client. In a letter sent to members of his congregation last week, Aguilar says "the illegal and scandalous allegations are 100 percent false."
"As you probably know," he writes, "God is growing and spiritually strengthening our church like never before. However, with any move of God, Satan is out to distract us from and discredit all of the great things that God is doing."
Meanwhile, members of an online support group for former members of the church share the latest news and accusations of alleged wrongdoing by Aguilar. The founder of the Richmond Outreach Center Recovery Group on Facebook declined a request for an interview.
Carlson says Aguilar is aware of the group. He hints that some of its members might become the subject of new defamation lawsuits. "It's something we'll consider once these matters that are currently pending are resolved," he says. S